The Most Popular Designs and Types of Solar Cookers

The most popular designs will vary depending on who answers your question. The best design for a survivalist will not be the same as the best design for solar cooking in the back yard of your home.

There are some general designs of solar cookers that are commonly used and even in each category there are variations in design.

Knowing the pros and cons of various cooker designs can help you decide which one best suits your needs or fits your imagination.

Panel Solar Cooker

Solar Panel Cooker

An advantage of a panel solar cooker is that most can be collapsed into small cookers that are easy to transport. These panel cookers can be very cheap to build and are easy even for an inexperienced do-it-yourselfer.

Some require large, flat sheets of cardboard while others use several small cardboard pieces that expand to form a larger area.

One of the easiest panel solar cookers to make uses a reflective surface of one of the windshield shades often found for sale in sunny climates.

These items are meant to reflect the sun from the windshield of your car when parked in hot, exposed parking areas.

The reflective surface keeps you car cooler and prevents your steering wheel from becoming too hot to touch. The plastic or Mylar surface is highly reflective which makes this shield a good solar energy reflector.

The downside of panel designed solar cookers is that they generate lower temperatures than some other solar cooker styles and cannot be used for frying foods. The cooking area is rather small and usually only one pan can be used in a panel cooker.

Box-Style Solar Cooker

Box Style Solar Cooker

Not surprisingly, a box style solar oven is exactly what it says. It is a box that is rectangular or square. These can be built from many materials.

You can start with a cardboard box or can build a much larger wooden box to increase cooking space. This design allows cooking several pans of food simultaneously in one solar cooker.

A box style cooker takes more effort and time to build but uses common household materials. You cannot fry foods in a box solar cooker and if cardboard is used (which is common) your cooker will not be waterproof.

If a box lid is used as a vertical reflective surface you may need to turn the cooker frequently to follow the sun during the day.

Box style solar cookers often provide a stable cooker with a larger cooking area and they aren't inclined to blow over in a breeze.

Parabolic Solar Cooker

Parabolic Solar Cooker

A parabolic solar cooker can cook food as quickly as a standard burner on an electric stove and you can fry foods, too. This is a more expensive type of solar cooker to build and can be tricky make.

You may need to buy additional supplies as the materials needed are more exacting for this parabolic cooker than for some other styles.

Realigning the cooker to take full advantage of the sun is required throughout the day and this cooker cannot be used to bake bread.

A major drawback - and a critical element if you have children - is that reflected sunlight from a parabolic solar cooker can be bright enough to cause eye damage.

Trough Solar Cooker

Trough Solar Cooker

The trough design is a modification of a parabolic cooker. Rather than the circular form (which looks a bit like a satellite dish), the trough is longer and narrow.

Reflective panels curve to form a shallow trough that captures as much of the sun's energy as possible. The heat generated by this type of solar cooker is sufficient for the cooker to act as a grill.

Getting Started

If you are new to solar cooking I recommend you can start with this completely free easy to build solar cooker plan. With $5-10 of supplies (many of which you may already have at home) you can build a basic solar cooker.

A pizza delivery box lined with aluminum foil (shiny side up) is a staple solar cooker for many youth camps and adult campers, too.

All you need is a way to prop the lid of the box at a 90 degree angle and attach the foil to the inside of the box and inside of the lid so it stays in place.

About once an hour turn the box slightly as the sun moved across the sky. You can bake biscuits or fry bacon in this basic solar cooker.

From there you can try one of the home made box solar cookers for a larger version of the pizza box model.

Eventually, you may choose to build a large solar cooker that can be used for several years or may choose to buy a commercial product made for cooking with the sun.

A commercial solar cooker will cost from $200-400 and you can choose the cooker for size and cooking area or for portability.

There are cookers designed for survivalists and wilderness campers that are capable of cooking daily meals but can be folded into a small package that is easily carried in a backpack.

Now when you know more about different cooker designs you might be interested in finding out how different types of alternative energy sources work.