Christopher Kimball: Here in the Test Kitchen, we’re not inclined to go with culinary fads, but we had heard of solar ovens for years, and we had a simple question: Do they really work? [Flails arms in emphasis] Can you do a chicken? Do you bake cookies? Does it have to be sunny out? So all of those questions we’re going to get answered. [Turns to Adam Ried] And we actually went up to the roof of the Test Kitchen to find out whether solar ovens will cook.
Adam Ried: America’s Test Kitchen takes to the friendly skies! We tested three different solar ovens, of which we have two here. [Camera zooms in on first oven] This is the SOS Sport Oven [camera pans to second oven], this is the Sun Oven. And you can see the construction’s a little different. The Sun Oven has a glass door that shuts like that [shuts glass door], and it’s got these reflectors all around it to catch more of the light from the sun and heat it up to a higher temperature. We got this oven to go up to 350 degrees.
CPK: [Raises eyebrows, looks impressed] That’s pretty high.
AR: [Agreeing] Which was pretty high. [Turns to second oven] This one doesn’t have the reflectors. It’s got a little bit of insulation here, right on the cover. It’s got insulation in the walls and the floor of it. And it didn’t get quite as hot. The SOS Sport got to 250 degrees. So as you said in the introduction, and you can see in this clip, [overlay video of solar cooker on Test Kitchen roof] I was up on the roof. It’s the only place in Boston where we’re going to get enough bright sunlight. And that’s really what these depend on. Not the heat of the sun, but the ultra-violet rays—which is how bright the sun is. You want an ultra-violet index of seven or above, and you definitely want the sun 45 degrees or more above the horizon line to be able to cook in these.
CPK: Well, just so I understand, so the U.V. index will go all the way up to, what? 11 or 12?
AR: [Nodding] Right.
CPK: That would be the top end.
AR: 11 or 12.
AR: Now, [overlay video of different food tests] we tried chicken, we tried rice, we tried broccoli, we tried cookies. Also, we tried soups and stews. You can think of these as environmental slow-cookers. They perform better with foods that have a lot of natural moisture that can withstand fluctuations in temperature. Because with this one, for instance [motions to first solar cooker], when a cloud passed by, the temperature would drop. So the chicken was all right [overlay video of slicing into solar cooked chicken]. The broccoli didn’t so that well [overlay video of a forkful of the solar-cooked broccoli], the rice didn’t do that well [overlay video of a spoonful of the solar-cooked rice], and the cookies were fine [overlay video of cooling solar-cooked cookies]. I was happy to eat the cookies on the roof. So you know, these are works in progress. They’re not something that’s going to replace our Test Kitchen oven. But they don’t weigh that much—this one is ten pounds [motions to second solar cooker], this one’s a little more than 20 [motions to first solar cooker]. You can bring them camping, you can bring them on a canoe trip. Actually, people who live in very sunny, hot climates might want to use these by setting them up in the back and cooking something during the day when the sun is bright, without heating up their kitchen. And people who have environmental concerns, or don’t want to pay the cost of fuel, can use these to good effect, also, as long as they have a lot of bright sun and enough time.
CPK: So the answer to the question is, do they work? Yeah, kind of. They’re a work in progress. They are solar slow-cookers; and the two models we tested were?
AR: This was the Sun Oven, and it was $200. This one is the SOS Sport Solar Cooker, and it was $140.
CPK: And we’re going to save them for Al Gore, if he wants to stop by the Kitchen and pick them up. [AR laughs]
View the full report of our Solar Cookers testing.
Captioned by Media Access Group at WGBH
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