Cooking with fire or coals is the classic outdoor cooking methods, but nothing quite brightens up my outdoor experience more than solar cooking. With the help of Solar Cookers International, a worldwide company headquartered in Sacramento, cooking with the sun is as much fun as it is easy. From solar cooking basics and recipes to volunteer projects and opportunities, they’re the one-stop shop for everything solar cooking.
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If you’re looking to try out something shiny, new, and innovative, here are some solar cooking essentials to help you and your girls get started.
First, how does it work?
In short, sunlight reflects off the foil and hits the black pot, which transfers the heat to the pot as well as the food inside.
There are several ways devices you can use, such as solar cookers, solar ovens, and solar grills. I usually recommend the CooKit model to Girl Scouts, because it is the cheapest and easiest model for girls to handle (the same one they use in this video taken in Eritrea, Africa).
To make the “CooKit”, check out these instructions on how to build a solar cooker, available in several languages, including Spanish and English. Simply print out the “CooKit” template, lay it out on cardboard, cut carefully, and glue on aluminum foil. Once it’s dry, fold carefully as indicated, and you have a cooker!
Some Requirements for Solar Cooking
The sun, of course – the higher in the sky the better. Winter is not the time to try solar cooking, although I have had some success with easy-to-cook items, like hard-cooked eggs in June in South Africa. They took about 3 hours, though since June is there coldest month. Clear access will also work better, so avoid locations covered in the shade or shadows of trees and clouds.
Black pots, preferably made of thinner material. Thick pots take too long to heat up before food can begin to cook.
Oven-roasting bags that don’t melt, even under high temperatures.
Pot holders to protect your hands from the heat.
Time, lots of time. Allow 3-4 times the normal cooking time, and remember to keep moving the cookers to keep them facing the sun.
Pros and Cons
Pros: As I mentioned, these solar cookers are pretty inexpensive to make. Another advantage is the fact that the food comes out amazingly tender without the addition of any oil. And since there are no flames, solar cooking is a safer option when younger children are nearby.
Cons: Unfortunately, you cannot brown meat or fry food with a solar cooker. You also can’t stir your food while it’s cooking in the solar cooker, because the pot must stay covered and inside a special oven-roasting bag.
Normal recipes work fine but require much less liquid than usual. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t come out perfect the first time – It takes a bit of practice to adjust regular recipes to the solar cooker. I would also skip items, like cookies, s’mores, or burgers that taste a lot better when cooked quickly. Solar Cookers International has a book, Eleanor’s Solar Cookbook, which I have used and recommend.
In addition to adding some flare to your troop’s outdoor cooking trip, solar cooking is a wonderful way for Girl Scouts and Girl Guides to make a real difference in the world. To learn more about the impactful role that solar cooking plays in countries suffering from fuel shortage, see what these Girl Guides are doing in Malaysia. My Senior Girl Scout Troop recently went to the Caribbean, where they taught solar cooking to Girl Guides and adults in Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, and the Dominican Republic – it was such a rewarding project.
Our GSNorCal offices are currently putting together solar cooking resources (flash drives and CDs) for volunteers to checkout. For more information, contact your local office, Michelle McCormick at email@example.com, or myself, Barby Pulliam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What to do next:
- Visit Solar Cookers International for more information on solar cooking or contact them at email@example.com.
- Build your own solar cooker with this CooKit template.
- For a related read, check out Classic Outdoor Cooking Recipes for Your Next Troop Campout
Barby Pulliam—Barby has been a Girl Scout since 1937. Yes, that’s 71 years! Troop leader since a freshman in college, she has run the gamut of jobs – camp counselor, trainer, Cabaña Committee, national trainer, song-leader trainer, council president. For WAGGGS, she was a personnel management trainer for three countries, solar cooker trainer for 51 countries. Currently Honorary Associate of WAGGGS, member of OBPS, emeritus member Cabaña Committee. Her husband, Carl, has a 40-year pin, her two daughters were staff members in two councils, camp counselors, etc. Girl Scouting and music have been her life.