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Sun Oven - solar oven review

 
steward
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What is a Sun Oven®?



THE ALL AMERICAN SUN OVEN® harnesses the natural power of the sun to cook or bake the most delicious food while being prepared for an emergency, reducing energy costs, and benefiting the environment.

For the past 28 years, the Sun Oven® has been proudly made in the U.S. It is a solar oven, sometimes known as a solar cooker. Or, considering all the ways it can be used, it's also called a solar appliance. Solar ovens are popular with off-grid homesteaders and those passionate about ditching fossil fuels as much as possible, though I think you might learn there's more to the Sun Oven® than that.




Why would I bother with a solar cooker? I'm not living off-grid.
Do you live in an area with hot summers? Do you still like cooked food in those months? The Sun Oven® keeps the cooking heat out of your kitchen. This means a cooler house, or less energy spent on AC to cool your house. A cooler house in the summer? Yes, please!

The Sun Oven® uses the free energy of the sun which saves money, whether you are on the grid or off, and cooks in a safer, less error-prone way. Temperatures in a Sun Oven® rise slowly and evenly, allowing complex carbohydrates time to break down into simple sugars, emanating subtle natural flavors. This is where the "delicious food" claim comes in. The even temperature of the Sun Oven® prevents burning (this is a saving grace!), so you do not need to stir your food while it is cooking.



How and what could I cook with a Sun Oven®?
Oh, let me count the ways! First, there are two main methods of cooking with the Sun Oven®.
  • like a regular oven (reaches temps of 360 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit!):  simply refocus the oven every half hour or so to follow the sun
  • like a crockpot or slow cooker:  point the oven where the sun will be approximately halfway through the cooking time, and walk away!

  • Folks use it to:
  • Bake, boil or steam foods
  • Boil or pasteurize water
  • Re-hydrate freeze-dried emergency preparedness foods
  • Dehydrate fruits, vegetables or jerky


  •  
    Jocelyn Campbell
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    I give this oven 8 out of 10 acorns!

    We received the Sun Oven with all of its accessories a while back and I really enjoy using it! It's brilliant for keeping the oven heat out of the kitchen in the summer, reducing your power or gas bill and/or for cooking off-grid. We're not off-grid at base camp, though we can have weeks in the summer that are 90 to 100 degrees F and we don't have air conditioning. So keeping any additional heat out of the house and kitchen is a HUGE help when it's that hot.

    I'm not a wonderful food photographer, though I'll do my best to show you some fun things that are easy-peasy to bake in this solar oven.

    As I did for the Solarvore Sport, here are my personal pros and cons:

    PROS:
  • arrived with loads of accessories - pots, pans, stacking racks, parchment paper, burner for low sunlight conditions
  • glass top
  • reflectors are always attached
  • safe to use, little chance of scorching or burning food
  • bonus info and gadget about water pasteurization
  • great cooking pots
  • heats up quickly
  • easy to clean
  • secure from flies and critters
  • made in the USA
  • affiliate program
  • free online class for solar cooking

  • CONS:
  • it's still plastic inside the wood and glass box (we're trying to move away from plastic)
  • adjusting leg at bottom back is a little difficult to use
  • only holds one pot at a time - not big enough for feast night quantities
  • it's a little heavy to move around
  • reflectors are always attached (this can be a downside if you want a slower cooking temp)


  • Sun Oven berry cake:


    Deviled eggs from "hard-boiled" eggs made in the Sun Oven:


    I also love making eggs in the Sun Oven. So easy, and again, less heat in the kitchen in summer and cooked eggs are such good, handy food to have for meals.

    This is the Sun Oven in the November sunlight at base camp. The lower the sun is in the sky, and with all of our hilliness and trees, we need to move it more often, though this picture shows that it's still very usable in the fall and the spring, not just the summer.


    Besides the Sun Oven, and the Solarvore Sport mentioned above, we also have one of the GoSun Grills (like this one though maybe not that model). Three awesome solar ovens that we love to let our ATC students experiment with. It's worth noting that it's been several years in a row now that most students prefer the Sun Oven over the other two models.

    In order to add your review of the Sun Oven to this thread, please use  "I give this oven # out of 10 acorns" as your first sentence.  With a little thread finagling (by me), we might get our solar oven reviews on our gear review grid!


     
    Jocelyn Campbell
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    Here's the instructional video for the Sun Oven:



     
    pollinator
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    I've had a Sun Oven for a while now. I'll give it 9 out of 10 acorns. My number one complaint is that you can't pop off the reflectors. Not being able to pop them off makes carrying and storing the unit awkward and difficult.

     
    Jocelyn Campbell
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    Su Ba wrote:I've had a Sun Oven for a while now. I'll give it 9 out of 10 acorns. My number one complaint is that you can't pop off the reflectors. Not being able to pop them off makes carrying and storing the unit awkward and difficult.


    Awesome to hear Su. If you move "I give this oven 9 out of 10 acorns" the the first sentence of your post, our custom software can find it to add to the review grid.

     
    Su Ba
    pollinator
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    I give this oven 9 out of 10 acorns.

    Jocelyn, thanks for the instructions. Got it!

    My number one use of the oven is dehydrating. The lid needs to be cracked open so that moisture can escape. Plus I lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top rack of food so that the sun doesn't over cook or toast the stuff. Right now I'm dehydrating my turmeric crop that I intend to store for my own use. Next in will be macadamia nuts that I'll be using for Christmas presents. You need to keep an eye on the temperature when using the oven for dehydrating. Since I'm off grid, I'm not going to use an electric dehydrator.

    I also routinely cook fish, mainly because hubby objects to the smell of fish in the house. And eggs, which is simple. I'll preheat pots of soup or stew, finishing it up on the propane stove. That saves a lot of propane for me. I'll sometimes be able to finish the cooking in the oven, but I often don't get much sun after 12 noon, so it's difficult to rely upon cooking dinner via the sun oven alone.

    Because I do my own veterinary care on my livestock, I've used the sun oven to sterilize needles, syringes, and surgical equipment.

    I've had my sun oven for a while now, so I figure it's more than paid for itself in propane savings. (Propane costs $5 a gallon here.) The only hassle with using it is that you have to be around to adjust its position with the sun. Thus I only use it when I'm working someplace nearby or figure on going by the oven frequently. But since it's so portable, I'll take it into the garden area with me....or any other location where I plan to be working for a couple hours.

    Oh I should mention, I don't bother using the adjustable leg. I have leftover chunks of 2x4 and 4x6 lumber from building my house, so I just use them to adjust the height needed. Works easy enough for me.

    I don't try cooking a large, multi dish meal with it. We are into eating one-pot meals, like soups and stews, so the sun oven meets our needs. I don't use it every sunny day, but I use it frequently.
     
    pollinator
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    I run a solar group on MeWe,  I have multiple solar ovens,  I love the sun oven for the volume of food it can cook.

    https://mewe.com/join/solar_cooking

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    steward
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    I give this gear 9 out of 10 acorns.  We've had our Sun Oven for a year.  It's in use every other day from mid May through to September.  

    It makes the best bread!  We use a bread machine to make the dough and then pop it in the sun oven.  We have yet to dry out or overcook a loaf.  It's always gummy/chewy/savory.  

    We're at 45 degrees latitude so my biggest issue is the tilt.  The leg is a bit challenging to extend or retract, especially if you only have one free hand.  When it's fully tilted (often happens here), the capacity inside is reduced.  We'll often have 5 quart mason jars in the oven cooking away but when the tilt is maxed out the jars hit the glass door.  Also, if it's fully tilted and the wind kicks up from behind, it can tip over.  Despite that, the flimsy seeming reflectors can handle a decent amount of wind and several face plants.

    I'm planning on building a sundial-like rotating platform to permanently mount the sun oven to.  Then it can be bolted down for wind protection and it can be turned easier.

    Jocelyn, for getting lower temps (with the reflectors attached) we cover the food with a dish towel and/or aim the unit partially away from the sun.
     
    pioneer
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    I give this oven 9 out of 10 acorns.

    I like it so much, I had to get a second one when all the kids lived at home.  The second one came with smaller, stacking pots do that 2 things can be cooked at once, which is good sometimes. Having 2 meant that I could cook large pots of 2 items, for example soup and bread or casserole and apple crisp.

    These are extremely helpful when you are busy and not at home, the food will cook and then hold at an edible temperature until you make it home.  Someone needs to just tell all those other parents that this is quicker and cheaper as well as healthier than getting fast food.  You get home late from xyz practice and the food is ready and if you are an hour late it still won't burn.  youngest offspring did 4H and when you have animals at the county fair, you end up camping in the fairgrounds parking lot all week.  I was getting pretty tired of it, so young person helped prep and plan (it was that or not go) and what we had was premade  meals, frozen ahead of time, in the cooler and the solar oven. Just put in that frozen soup or casserole in the pot in the sun oven, point it midway, and there is dinner that night after the animal shows.

    These are well made, I forget it outside and it is still alive, lessor wood trim would not take the occasional rain shower and intense sun with no care from me.

    2 things to be careful of, at least in my ridge top location with intense sun:  I almost started a fire because I left the sun oven out overnight (of course) but I did not close up the reflectors. Meanwhile some had draped a cloth over the deck railing to dry, so the next morning the east sun hit the reflectors at an odd angle and the cloth was smoking and would have caught fire- but we were home. So do think about your surroundings when you leave for the day( I have never had trouble with trees or deck railing only that thin cloth).  Second thing I had happen was once when the sun oven was too close to the wall of the house the intense summer sun here reflected off of my house wall and melted the back of the sun oven.  You wouldn't think that greyish-green painted plywood would reflect that much heat, but it realy can be intensely hot up here.  This was no fault of the well built sun oven, and it is just a small slump at the top of the back just a peak of the insulation, and I still use it just fine ( the solar sport had a much worse melting problem)
     
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    I give this oven 9 out of 10 acorns.

    Su Ba wrote:I give this oven 9 out of 10 acorns.


    My number one use of the oven is dehydrating. The lid needs to be cracked open so that moisture can escape. Plus I lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top rack of food so that the sun doesn't over cook or toast the stuff. Right now I'm dehydrating my turmeric crop that I intend to store for my own use. Next in will be macadamia nuts that I'll be using for Christmas presents. You need to keep an eye on the temperature when using the oven for dehydrating. Since I'm off grid, I'm not going to use an electric dehydrator.

    I've had my sun oven for a while now, so I figure it's more than paid for itself in propane savings.

    I don't try cooking a large, multi dish meal with it. We are into eating one-pot meals, like soups and stews, so the sun oven meets our needs. I don't use it every sunny day, but I use it frequently.



    I couldn't have said it better myself Su Ba!  I use it to dry herbs and mushrooms and other food stuff.  I will try out the wood rather than the leg since I do find the leg hard to move up and down.  Other than that, I really love the sun oven.
     
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    My parents have had one of these for years. They built a stand for it so they would not have to crouch, which works unless there are high winds - those reflectors make great sails!
    We mostly roast veggies in it. They make a great soup.
     
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    wow, this is a super timely and helpful thread. I finally got around to deciding what kind of solar oven to get or make, thanks for the experience reports. Very helpful!
     
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    I just purchased a Sun Oven e a few minutes ago. I had it on my cart already. But I thought I’d check-in and see what other permies had to say.
    It’s really hard for me to spend money, esp on something that I maybe able to build myself. But the good reviews I read convinced me to buy it.
    I’ll post an update once I’ve received and used it. Thank you all for your helpful input.
     
    Tina Lim
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    Lina Joana wrote:My parents have had one of these for years. They built a stand for it so they would not have to crouch, which works unless there are high winds - those reflectors make great sails!
    We mostly roast veggies in it. They make a great soup.



    Why didn’t I think of building a stand? I put mine on a regular round picnic table we already have. I’m about 5’ tall. I have to stand on a platform to reach-in and grab the pot out of the interior.

    Although part of the problem is that my arms are almost too short to reach in because of the bottom sail getting in the way. Sometimes, I unfold the sails first to put the pot in or out of the compartment and use my head to hold the sails up and out of the way - not the most elegant, but I make it work.
     
    Mike Haasl
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    I'd like to make a stand that has a rotating platform on top that is tilted a bit.  Then attach the sun oven to it.  Have the rotating part clamp wherever you want it so you can unclamp it, turn a bit and reclamp.  By angling the platform the height adjustments wouldn't need to be changed as often as you go across the sky.
     
    steward
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    I have a 55 gal drum turned upside down with plywood on top of that.  It is basic, but it does allow for rotation.  I use some short boards to adjust for latitude.
     
    gardener
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    Sounds like this would make a great  Off Grid Slow Cooker: throwing a bunch of meat and veggies into a pot and putting it out in the morning and coming back to it after a full day working on the property.  

    Might be particularly useful in regions that have a lot of solar potential? Southern half of the US? Maybe in the North during long, hot summers...


    Another thread: https://permies.com/t/174340/kitchen/Sun-Oven-box-oven-solar
     
    pollinator
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    I give the sun oven 8 out of 10 acorns.

    I got my sun oven a few years ago, and love it for cooking meals in the warmer months.  I have a spot on my deck behind the house (which keeps the wind issue manageable) that gets sun exposure really well during the summer.

    The oven does a great job cooking as long as you watch the thermometer to keep your temp in the right range for your foods, and set it out in time to warm up, which takes quite awhile some days.

    Aside from the above mentioned issues with the reflectors, my issue with it is that the leveling rack makes it really difficult to place more than one pot in the oven at a time.  The rack swings to balance itself after each addition, which can easily dump one or two pots as you try to add another!  It was a real comedy of errors the first time I tried this, LOL!  Some kind of built-in clamp that can be tightened once the rack is level would be a great addition to prevent spillage when cooking multiple dishes.  Removing them is much more difficult than putting them in due to the heat factor.  You almost need two people to remove hot pots while maintaining the balance of the others still on the rack!

    I'm really glad we have this though, as I'd hate to have to fire up the woodstove just to cook if the power were out long term in warmer weather.

     
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    https://www.permaculturenews.org/2014/05/20/solar-tyre-cooker/

    Several years back I made a cooker very similar to this. All I needed was a sheet of plywood, an old used tire, old newspaper to act as insulation inside the tire, and aluminum foil to go on top of the paper on the inside of the tire to add a reflective surface. As I recall I also put aluminum foil on the plywood under the tire as well, but unlike in this older post, I did not put it on top of the the tire sidewall. The glass I used was just an old window, still in the frame. I don't know how important it was but I used a cast iron Dutch oven figuring how well cast iron was at distributing heat. You have to move it every once in awhile to make sure it's lined up as best possible to the Sun, and I also used some old mirrors and just set them on the edge of it and angled them to reflect sunlight directly into the cooking chamber, and I just used poles driven in the ground to lean up against the mirrors. And of course these had to be changed as the Sun moved as well to keep the maximum amount of sunlight going into the cooking chamber. I will say that one of the best baked potatoes I've ever made was in that suncooker. Also cooked some pretty good chicken leg quarters. I didn't have much else cuz I didn't have much money, and was kind of trying not to starve at the time.
    Bad memories.
    But anyway it was part of my survival strategy, and I'm sharing this, because I think it's important to know and remember, that you don't always have to have a lot of money to spend to buy something pre-made, when it's possible sometimes to build what you need in a difficult situation out of scrap. Necessity being the mother of invention, ect.
    Thank you for your time.
     
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    I give the Sun Oven 7 out of 10 acorns. I've used mine nearly every other day for over 4 years and for the amount of money this thing cost, it's beginning to fall apart. I emailed them wondering if they refurbished their units and received no response. But first off, let me say I love it! Especially in summer, I always sing about how I LUV MY SUN OVEN! In summer, I've made three-course meals in it and that's without doubling up on the pots! Even during the winter, with clear skies and careful management, I can cook up a pot of beans in the shorter days. I have used it when temperatures only reach into the 20's Fahrenheit. I've often wished they would manufacture one for the upper northern hemisphere, built with a steeper but less-precarious-for-cooking angle for winter use. I have just begun using it for dehydrating, which is easier in the winter. It's a challenge to keep the temperatures from rising too high but I just had a thought - I wonder if covering up the bottom reflector might help keep temperature down a little easier. It's true that the adjusting leg is a little difficult to use and the oven is definitely heavy to move around, especially if you cheat by not taking out your food - a back breaker!

    When the stove finally craps the bed I will buy another. That said, the brackets holding the door hinges are made of aluminum and are experiencing metal fatigue and are no longer holding the glass in place; steel would have been a better choice. The heavy window glass is only attached to the wooden framing that tops the unit and over the years, the screws holding the glass have stripped out of the wood and you need some creativity to reattach them and it's not going to be a long-lasting the solution. You can't attach bolts and nuts because you can't access the area for the nuts - it's inside the oven walls. My advice to Sun Oven is forget the wood and use longer lasting material for the framing. The wood looks lovely but it's not practical. I use a bucket of rocks to hold it in place, especially important when the angle is steeply tilted in the winter. It has held up to some pretty stiff breezes. It's true that it will set things on fire! We use shade cloths over our south-facing windows in September and October and it has melted holes in them! But like I said, I'll buy it all over again!
     
    John F Dean
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    I give my Sun Oven 8 out of 10 acorns. Frankly it is difficult to sort out any problems with the oven versus problems with our climate.  Problems with clouds and cold weather enter the picture somewhere.  So, it may deserve a somewhat higher rating.  After 2+ years of use, I have not had any problems with its construction … other than the feeling that, for the price, it should have been made out of better materials.   I get t use it maybe 30 to 60 days a year.   So, it does effectively offset the use of lp . But the payback wi be over 10 to 15 years unless I get braver and use it more.  I have not given it a fair test in cold weather.    When I do use it, it does what it is supposed to, but it’s function does drop off in colder and cloudy weather.
     
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