a woman checks her pot of food on her solar cooker

Solar Cooking Guide: How to Make a DIY Cooker

In the landscape of emergency food preparedness and survival, harnessing the natural energy of the sun is not only eco-friendly but also a practical choice.

Solar cooking is a method of preparing food that requires no fossil fuels and produces zero emissions.

It offers a sustainable and versatile solution, suitable for everyday use, and more so for survival situations where conventional methods may not be available.

In this article, we will delve into solar cooking, its types, its essential tools, the DIY approach to solar cookers, and its relevance in a prepper’s toolkit.

What is Solar Cooking?

three pots on a solar cooker

Solar cooking is a revolutionary method that harnesses the immense power of sunlight for preparing food and drink. It is a form of outdoor cooking that doesn’t depend on traditional energy sources such as gas, electricity, or firewood. Instead, it relies on the abundance and renewable nature of solar energy, transforming it into heat for cooking. This form of cooking aligns perfectly with principles of sustainability, green living, and emergency preparedness.

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At its core, solar cooking uses a solar cooker, a device designed to capture and concentrate sunlight into a specific area. Solar cookers come in various shapes and sizes, each with unique functionalities and suited for different types of cooking, but their purpose remains the same – converting sunlight into usable heat.

Solar cookers work by reflecting, absorbing, and trapping sunlight. Reflective surfaces direct sunlight to a point or area, dark surfaces absorb the light and convert it into heat, and transparent coverings trap this heat inside the cooker, creating a mini greenhouse effect. This heat is then used to cook food or boil water within the cooker.

Solar cooking is a versatile method, allowing a wide range of culinary applications – from boiling, steaming, and baking, to roasting and grilling. Depending on the type of cooker and intensity of sunlight, cooking times can vary from minutes to hours.

The practice of solar cooking is not restricted to any particular geographical location; however, it naturally thrives in regions receiving ample sunshine. Solar cooking has been adopted worldwide, proving particularly beneficial in areas with limited access to traditional fuels, or where deforestation is a concern.

It is also a practical solution for outdoor enthusiasts, campers, and survivalists, where conventional methods of cooking might be inconvenient or impossible.

Solar cooking is not just about harnessing the sun’s power to prepare food. It’s a step towards sustainable living, contributing to the reduction of harmful emissions and deforestation. It’s a testament to human ingenuity and our ability to adapt and utilize natural resources in the most efficient and sustainable ways.

What Are The Three Types of Solar Cooking?

There are three primary types of solar cooking methods: solar box cooking, solar panel cooking, and parabolic solar cooking.

  1. Solar Box Cooking: This method involves a box-like cooker that captures and concentrates sunlight into a contained area. Due to its insulated design, it maintains a constant temperature, making it perfect for slow-cooked meals and baking. The temperatures can reach up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Solar Panel Cooking: A solar panel cooker uses a combination of reflective panels to direct sunlight onto a cooking pot enclosed in a heat-resistant bag. This method is excellent for slow cooking at moderate temperatures. The design is compact and foldable, making it portable and suitable for outdoor activities.
  3. Parabolic Solar Cooking: Parabolic solar cookers, resembling satellite dishes, reflect sunlight to a single focal point, achieving high temperatures quickly. This method is ideal for grilling or frying food, but it requires frequent alignment with the sun and careful handling due to its high heat generation.

What Do You Need to Solar Cook?

Embarking on the journey of solar cooking is fairly straightforward, requiring a few fundamental elements. Here is what you’ll need:

  1. Solar Cooker: The first and most important thing you need for solar cooking is, of course, a solar cooker. These come in several types, including solar box cookers, panel cookers, and parabolic cookers. The choice depends on your specific needs, such as the type of cooking you plan to do, your budget, and the level of portability you require.
  2. Cookware: When choosing cookware for solar cooking, remember that dark, thin-walled pots with tight-fitting lids work best. Dark colors absorb sunlight more effectively, converting it into heat, while light colors reflect it. Thin, lightweight pots heat up quicker than heavy ones, and a tight-fitting lid helps to retain the heat and moisture in the pot, improving cooking efficiency.
  3. Sunlight: Solar cooking, as the name suggests, relies on sunlight. Ideally, you need a bright, sunny day for the most efficient cooking. However, solar cookers can still function under partially cloudy conditions, albeit with longer cooking times.
  4. Solar Cooking Thermometer: While not essential, a solar cooking thermometer can be helpful, especially for beginners. Solar cooking is typically a slower process than traditional methods, and a thermometer can help ensure your food is cooked at the right temperature.
  5. Oven Cooking Bags: These are useful for creating a greenhouse effect around your pot, trapping more heat and accelerating the cooking process. They are particularly beneficial in panel cookers, but can be used with other types as well.
  6. Time and Patience: Finally, one crucial thing you need for solar cooking is time and patience. Solar cooking generally takes longer than conventional cooking. The process can be similar to using a slow cooker. You may need to adjust the position of your cooker periodically to keep it facing the sun, but otherwise, it’s a fairly hands-off process.

These are the primary items and considerations you’ll need to get started with solar cooking. Remember, as with any new skill, there may be a learning curve to become familiar with cooking times and temperature control, but with some practice, solar cooking can be a simple, enjoyable, and sustainable way to prepare meals.

How to Make Your Own Solar Cooker

people checking the temp on their solar cooker

Building your own solar cooker can be a rewarding project, offering a great opportunity to learn about the principles of solar energy while creating a useful, eco-friendly tool. We will outline a simple DIY method to construct a solar box cooker, one of the most popular types of solar cookers due to its efficiency and ease of use.

Materials Required

  1. Two Cardboard Boxes: The inner box should fit inside the outer box with a space of about 2-3 inches on all sides. The size of the boxes determines the capacity of your cooker.
  2. Aluminum Foil: To reflect sunlight into the interior of the box.
  3. Glue: To stick the aluminum foil onto the cardboard.
  4. Black Paint and Paintbrush: The inner cooking area should be painted black to absorb maximum heat.
  5. Insulation Material: Old newspapers, wool, or straw can be used to insulate the space between the two boxes, helping to retain heat.
  6. Clear Plastic Sheet or Glass: This creates a ‘greenhouse’ effect in the cooker, trapping the heat from the sunlight.

Steps to Build Your Solar Cooker

  • Step 1: Start by painting the inner box and the bottom of the outer box black. Black absorbs more heat than any other color, optimizing the cooker’s heat absorption.
  • Step 2: Fill the space between the inner box and outer box with insulation material. This will prevent the heat captured inside the inner box from escaping to the outer box. You can use old newspapers, shredded paper, wool, or straw.
  • Step 3: Cut a piece of cardboard to fit the top of the inner box. Cover one side of this cardboard piece with aluminum foil, sticking it down with glue. This will act as a reflector, redirecting the sunlight into the box.
  • Step 4: Cut a piece of clear plastic or glass to fit the top of the inner box. This will allow sunlight into the box and trap heat, much like a greenhouse.
  • Step 5: Your solar cooker is now ready to use. Position it towards the sun and place your pot inside the inner box. The heat trapped inside will heat your pot and cook your food.

Always remember, safety first. Be careful when handling the cooker during and after cooking, as it can get very hot. Be sure to use oven mitts or thick gloves to avoid burns.

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Building your own solar cooker is not just an engaging project, but it also enables you to understand the principles of solar energy and thermal dynamics better. It equips you with a practical tool for outdoor cooking, emergency situations, or simply to reduce your carbon footprint.

Why Every Prepper Needs a Solar Cooker

Preparedness is the cornerstone of survival, and the ability to cook food without traditional fuels or electricity is a critical part of being prepared. That’s where a solar cooker comes into play. As a prepper, having a solar cooker at your disposal offers a range of advantages in a survival scenario.

  1. Independence from Traditional Fuels: A solar cooker relies solely on sunlight for its operation. You are not dependent on gas, electricity, or firewood, which may be scarce or unavailable during emergencies. This frees you from the constraints of traditional fuels, providing a versatile and consistent way to prepare meals.
  2. Safe to Use: Solar cooking eliminates the risks associated with open flames and combustion, such as accidental fires, burns, and toxic smoke. This makes solar cookers safe to use, especially in confined spaces or in scenarios where open fire may not be ideal.
  3. Environmentally Friendly: Solar cooking is one of the most eco-friendly methods of preparing food. It does not produce harmful emissions or contribute to deforestation. For the environmentally conscious prepper, solar cooking aligns perfectly with the principles of sustainable living and self-sufficiency.
  4. Simple and Low Maintenance: Solar cookers, especially the DIY types, are often simple in design and require little to no maintenance. They are easy to set up, use, and store, making them highly convenient in survival scenarios.
  5. Nutrient Retention: Solar cooking usually involves slow cooking, which is known to retain more nutrients in the food compared to high-heat methods. This can be a significant advantage in a survival situation where maximising nutritional intake from available food is crucial.
  6. Cost-Effective: Once you have a solar cooker, the operation cost is virtually zero. The sun, after all, doesn’t send a bill for its light. It’s a one-time investment that can serve you for years.
  7. Multipurpose: Apart from cooking food, solar cookers can also be used for pasteurizing water and sterilizing medical instruments, further enhancing their utility in a survival scenario.

As a prepper, planning for every possible scenario is crucial, and a solar cooker fits perfectly into that plan. It ensures you have a reliable cooking method that works when traditional systems fail. Whether it’s for an emergency, a camping trip, or just a way to reduce your environmental impact, a solar cooker is a worthy addition to any prepper’s toolkit.

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The slow cooking process helps retain nutrients and reduces the risk of burning food, producing healthier and tastier meals.

Solar Cooking Pros and Cons

Like any other cooking method, solar cooking has its pros and cons.


  • Environmentally friendly
  • Fuel-free and cost-effective
  • Safe to use with no risk of fires or toxic fumes
  • Food retains more nutrients due to slow cooking
  • Can be used during power outages or emergencies


  • Weather-dependent, requires bright sunlight
  • Slower cooking times
  • Requires frequent adjustment to stay aligned with the sun
  • Not suitable for all types of cooking


Solar cooking is a versatile, eco-friendly, and practical method of cooking, particularly relevant in survival scenarios.

It comes with some challenges, including dependency on weather and slower cooking times, but the advantages of sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and health benefits greatly outweigh the drawbacks.

Making a solar cooker can be an engaging DIY project, and using one should be a vital part of every prepper’s toolkit. Whether you’re an eco-conscious cook, an outdoor enthusiast, or a survivalist, solar cooking is a skill worth mastering.