By April 5, 2012 Read More →

A Dollar Store Solar Cooker

<Edited by Dave>

Once the prepping bug bites, it isn’t long before “going completely off grid” becomes a dream, if not a goal.  Serious research begins, and soon the realization hits that solar power is the gold standard.   Not only is it the ultimate alternative energy source, but it also takes a lot of “gold” to go 100% off-grid.  For folks like me, it is daunting, if not impossible, to meet the cost of solar panels, inverters, deep cycle batteries, etc.   It’s just not in the cards.

But we are not out of the game entirely!  Instead of running the entire house with an expensive solar setup, maybe we could just cook dinner.

There are numerous kits, instructions, videos and blogs illustrating the construction of solar ovens.  If you have the right materials, tools, and construction skills, you can easily assemble any of the configurations demonstrated.

But what if you DON’T have the materials, tools and skills?  Or what if you want a solar cooker for your bug out location or vehicle.  It needs to be portable, and if you are like me, it has to be very, very cheap to build.

Below is a picture of the solar cooker I built for less than $10.  No construction skills needed.  No power tools.  And a build time of less than five minutes.  It is completely portable.


In the demonstration above, a one quart container of frozen food was placed on a black cake pan, and a clear Pyrex bowl was inverted over it.  I chose clear so that I could check the progress of this, my first trial.  Later, I added a cross support to brace the sides open and maximize reflection.  Then, after adjusting the position for optimal sun exposure, the frozen food came to boiling in just 90 minutes.

In subsequent trials, a dark blue Pyrex bowl or a small black covered roaster were used, with equally impressive results.

To build an identical cooker, you will need:

  • 1 bucket, 3-5 gallon size.  I used a food storage bucket.
  • 1 windshield reflector.  This one is SUV size and cost $6.  You can get smaller ones (for the three gallon bucket) at the dollar store.
  • Several “chip clips” or lightweight squeeze clamps.   (Dollar store, if you don’t have them!)
  • 1 8-10″ cake or cookie rack.  (Dollar store!)  The rack should fit into the opening of the bucket by several inches.
  • 1 8-9″ black cake pan.  (I had this on hand)
  • Dark colored (black is best) cooking vessel.
  • Something heavy to weight down the bucket in case of wind.

The instructions are extremely simple and easy.

1)    Select a spot for your build that will be in full sunlight for several hours.

2)    Place a heavy weight inside the bucket.  I used several bricks, but dirt would work just fine.

3)    Fold the longest edge of the reflector (should be the bottom) onto itself, forming a basic cone.

4)    Connect the edges which came together to form the cone with clips or clamps.  Do not use staples.  Other options:  Sew-on Velcro or even duct tape!

5)    Place the point of the cone into the bucket.

6)    Gently push the cake or cookie rack into the cone, being careful to keep it level.

7)    Place the food you wish to cook in a dark container, as above, and then put the container on the rack inside the bucket.

8)    Position the cooker to receive optimal sun exposure. Depending upon your reflector, you may need to prop the sides open a bit using a small branch or stick.  Be creative.

9)    Reposition the cooker every 30 minutes or so to maintain optimal positioning until you are ready to eat.

This was a fun project to do with my grandchildren.  We even fried hot dogs and made scrambled eggs!

Posted in: Alternative Cooking

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6 Comments on "A Dollar Store Solar Cooker"

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  1. DFosterXP says:

    Nice! I have been looking at these online and have seen them for $300. I will definitely try to make one of these. Has it worked well for you?

    • Kris Watson says:

      Exceptionally well! When looking for a simple, easy, and effective solar cooker online, I ran into multiple configurations, especially when searching for student projects. There is a goldmine of creativity out there! Because my focus is on Extreme Frugality, I chose the design which cost less. You might find a design even better s uited for your needs by conducting a similar search.

  2. DavetteB says:

    Does the bucket do anything besides hold the other items?  Could you use another type of container, and if so, what would you recommend?

    • Kris Watson says:

      I have seen the same configuration of the reflective shield just placed on the ground. I like the bucket because it brings the cooking surface up to a manageable height for me. I have also seen the same thing done using a plastic lawn chair. The ket is to be able to easily turn the structure to follow the sun.

  3. Frank Shaw says:

    What are some of the things that you have tried cooking on it, and what do you think the largest thing would be that you could cook. I have a family of 8.

    • Kris Watson says:

      I have done casseroles, chicken, frozen leftovers, things like that. With a family of eight, I think it would make sense to have multiple setups, for example, with one chicken (I flatten them for even cooking) for each of two or three ovens. Food safety ought to be a primary concern. Something large, like a turkey, is simply too big to cook quickly enough and avoid the possibility of food-related illness.

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