Adventures in Solar Cooking: Part 1

This is post from Reb Anderson, Senior Educator and Staff Scientist, and the first in ACE's Spring Into Action blog series for the month of April.

I am not a project person.

I just don’t do ‘em. Possibly because my husband has a tendency to take on too many projects or too big ones that I myself have no inclination toward projects. In fact (a embarrassing confession from a scientist): I never even like science fair projects back in high school.

But when my friend’s new boyfriend baked her a cake for her birthday in his solar oven, I fell in love right along with her. How’d he DO that? It gets up to 350º just like a real oven?!? No way. So I made an exception.

Now, gazing adoringly at my newly-minted solar oven, almost completely self-built of cardboard, I can confess: I never thought I’d get it done. Not being project-y or craft-y or really any kind of do-it-yourself-y, I was plagued with doubts the whole way through. And you know what? It wasn’t that hard! I’m serious. If I can do it, ANYONE can do it.

Disclaimer here: I haven’t cooked anything in it yet. It’s sprinkling off-and-on rain and sun outside today and I’m petrified the cooker will melt if I try it out. It is made of cardboard, after all. So for now, I’ll just share a bit about the process of making my solar oven. You’ll have to wait for a sunny day in Tahoe (we get lots) to hear what I cooked.

So, how’d I do it?

First, being a good scientist, I did a little research. Turns out you can buy solar ovens online for hundreds of dollars… or you can make your own on the cheap. Mine cost probably $15 total for glue, a sheet of glass, black spray paint and tin foil.

IMG_0015 Solar Oven

I dug around online until I found a website with thorough instructions that looked simple enough to follow. I found it here on I won’t re-write the instructions step-by-step here but instead provide a few insights on the process. Just do what the guy tells you to do and it’ll work out fine.

What’d I learn?

A solar oven is so darn simple! It’s a box inside a box, well-insulated and painted black. Put a piece of glass over it, line some more cardboard with tin foil to channel in the sunlight and voila! You’re done.

You do need a lot of cardboard, though. I scrounged my own house and my neighbors’, but still couldn’t find just the right size box to make the inner oven. Then one day while I was procrastinating going to ask stores in town if I could check out their boxes out back, Amazon delivered me just the right size box: 11x14”, just right for a baking pan. I wouldn’t recommend the technique of waiting for the mailman to deliver the perfect box, but it sure was serendipitous.

Let the cooking begin. Let the cooking begin.

And who knew? You can call up your local glass supply store and ask them to cut you a piece of 12x15” glass, double-strength, and they’ll do it in a few hours for $6.75. Easy peasy.

One last thing: One question I and other ACE educators always get from students is: Do you have any ideas for a science fair project? Now I do! Make a solar oven! Better yet, make 2 solar ovens and see which model works best and why. Put temperature gauges inside and track how quickly they warm up or what styles hold heat best. Does a slightly cloudy day still work okay?  Check out all these cool styles on The possibilities are endless.

Stay tuned for my solar oven baking debut.

Rebecca Anderson

Rebecca Anderson is ACE’s Director of Education. She came to ACE in its inception in 2008. Rebecca develops ACE's science content, manages the online climate education resource Our Climate Our Future, oversees the ACE Teacher Network, and works with schools in the Reno-Tahoe area. Prior to ACE, she did paleoclimate research in the Arctic and Antarctica.