We’re in the tropics. There is a lot of sun. We can cook with the sun. It makes sense, right? Still, you don’t see a lot of solar ovens on boats- and that’s too bad.
1. Your galley stays cool.
This is an excellent feature for retaining the sanity of the primary cook aboard (moi) because I don’t have get cranky while I drip sweat in a hot galley, or heat our boat while I’m cooking (it kills me that for the gold plated price they command, Force 10 – like most boat ovens – are not insulated. why, people? why?).
2. You use less propane.
Sometimes, it’s very hard (or very inconvenient) to refill propane. In Papua New Guinea, the islands we visited didn’t have roads or electricity, and they definitely didn’t have propane available… local cooking is done over a wood or coconut husk fire. Indonesia? A strangely unique fitting is used locally, and most places wouldn’t refill our US tanks (we did get them topped up in Bali). We can go about three months on our two cylinders. Being able to extend that time with a solar oven is really helpful.
3. Dinner is cooked while you’re doing other things
Point it into the sun, and during peak hours the oven heats up to 200-250F; more if you use the reflectors. That’s kind of like having a crock pot on deck, which slowly turns out a delicious meal over the course of an afternoon and meanwhile… there are far better things that I can think of to do with that time!
4. Food cooked by the sun is DELICIOUS.
I am not clear on the underlying science, but vegetables cooked with minimal added moisture retain flavor better- I suppose because it’s not lost into steam? Whatever it is, veggies keep a brightness that’s lost on the stovetop or oven. Tough meats (which is mostly what we can find) tenderizes nicely with slow cooking. A whole chicken (stuck into raw rice with a little water) cooks to falling-off-the-bone deliciousness, in about 4 hours. It bakes a carrot cake that was to die for. Back in the less humid Mexican climate, we’d also dry fish jerky and make sundried tomatoes. Too humid in SE Asia, unfortunately.
If you’re planning to go cruising, this is a great galley gadget to try in advance- kind of like a pressure cooker. Have fun with it and get used to it in advance- why not? When we first picked ours up, it was delivered to my family in northern Michigan (on our Escape from Hurricane Season grand road trip of 2009). Up there at latitude 43 or so, it made delicious ratatouille, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, hard boiled eggs, and more.
What’s the catch?
It’s just the bulk, really. It’s a big box, it doesn’t collapse, and it does take up a chunk of space. It’s got a special corner on deck where it lives, and we really would rather minimize what’s on deck… but there’s not another option. We didn’t get the optional reflectors, so I can’t bake loaf bread well (quick breads and cakes are fine, though). That’s it. This thing is great!
I want to plug Solavore specifically- manufacturers of our awesome oven. It’s made from recycled materials, and sales of it support their extensive nonprofit work to bring these ovens to those who truly need it. [2020 update: unfortunately, at this time Solavore is not in operation.]