How to Make a Homemade Solar Oven Out of Cardboard and Aluminum Foil

Learn how to make reflector cookers and other homemade solar ovens with scrap materials found around your home.

  • By using only the sun and some scrap materials, it is possible to make a solar oven that is perfect for cooking biscuits, bread and sometimes vegetables.
    Photo by Fotolia/Andriy Solovyov
  • In "Extreme Simplicity: A Guide to Urban Homesteading," Christopher and Dolores Lynn Nyerges provide a guide to self-sufficent city dwelling, showing the path to self-reliance, with strategies for coping with disasters as well as making the most of everyday life.
    Cover courtesy Dover Publishing

Let the sunlight do some of your cooking with a homemade solar cooker. By using scrap materials, such as aluminum, glass and cardboard, you can have a solar oven at a low cost. In Extreme Simplicity: A Guide to Urban Homesteading (Dover Publications, 2013), Christopher and Dolores Lynn Nyerges share some methods they use to utilize the sun to cook their meals. The “Breadbox” Cooker and Reflector Cooker are basic, simple and good for beginners looking to use their first solar oven. This excerpt is taken from Chapter 7, “Homestead Energy.”

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Extreme Simplicity.

Solar Ovens

We have also invested considerable time and some money experimenting with the many ways to cook food with the sun. Just imagine! You can actually take scrap materials—old cardboard boxes, newspaper, a few short cans, plastic, or glass—and create a device that cooks with free sunlight. Using the sun as much as possible is always less expensive and less harmful to the environment than using gas or electricity for cooking. Plus, although there's no way to prove this, we believe that food cooked with the sun not only tastes better, but is better.

We have a solar oven built from plans found in the early 1970s in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS. This oven, which has served us well for more than twenty-five years, is a fiberglass-insulated box with a sloped pane of glass on top, set at a 45-degree angle. We have seen these made of wood, but we made ours of sheet metal because that's what MOTHER EARTH NEWS recommended, and it was therefore easy to rivet the pieces together. Food is put in and taken out through a little door in the back. We once had rigid aluminum reflectors on this oven, but found them more trouble than they were worth, difficult to keep in a set position, and so we removed them. Even without the reflectors, on sunny days we typically get temperatures of 250 degrees Fahrenheit and above, and this is fine for our style of cooking. Usually we use the solar oven for making breads and biscuits, and sometimes for cooking vegetables.

We also purchased a commercial solar oven, the Burns brand Sun Oven. This has basically the same design as the oven in the magazine article, but the commercial one is constructed better than our garage-made model and not only achieves temperatures of 350 degrees Fahrenheit but also maintains that concentration of heat better. (Note that we do not recommend cooking foods at temperatures above 250 degrees Fahrenheit because the higher temperatures decrease the digestibility of the food.) We have found that we can put anything in this oven that we'd put into a conventional oven. Of course, there is less space in the solar oven, but with a bit of planning, we can cook a full meal in there. We've cooked squash and pumpkins, potato dishes, pizzas, stews, and soups—you name it—in the solar oven, all with free sunlight for heat.

Most folks still think of solar cookers as some sort of novelty, perhaps a good weekend project for Scouts but not especially useful otherwise. This viewpoint is unfortunate. In part, the skepticism follows from the high cost of prefab solar cookers; some of them cost several hundred dollars! Moreover, many people believe that their yard doesn't get enough sun to make solar cookers practical.



Fall 2021!

Put your DIY skills to the test throughout November. We’re mixing full meal recipes in jars, crafting with flowers, backyard composting, cultivating mushrooms, and more!


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