Tucson, Arizona, which I call home these days, is blessed with an average of 286 sunny days a year. This makes it pretty much the perfect place to test out an oven that cooks by harnessing the power of the sun.
Introducing: the Solavore Sport.
Founded in 2015, Solavore is a women-owned business with a mission.
Today, almost 3 billion people still cook over wood fires, and most of those people are women. For most of us in the U.S., cooking outdoors is a fun activity while camping or backpacking. But for many women worldwide, cooking over an open fires means spending hours every day gathering wood, tending the flames, and stirring pots. It means constantly inhaling wood smoke, since most of these fires are actually indoors, and wandering far from home in search of fuel. Cook fires also have devastating impact on the environment: they lead directly to deforestation, which in turn affects rainfall, wind patterns, and agriculture. Suddenly, a simple cooking fire stops looking so simple after all.
Solavore offers a solution. Their solar-powered ovens are easy to use, and enable women and children to spend their time on school, work, and other responsibilities. What’s more, Solavore assembles their ovens in the same countries that need them and employs local women, creating a sustainable source of income for their communities. It’s a win-win.
You may be asking, then: why am I using a Solavore oven in Tucson? That’s because Solavore’s entrepreneurial model includes us, too: those for whom solar-cooking is not a necessity, but can instead be a fun alternative to our indoor ovens or crockpots. For misadventurers in particular, the Solavore Sport offers a fresh option for cooking while we’re exploring the outdoors. And every Solavore purchased supports the company’s mission to bring clean cookstoves to women worldwide—which makes buying a Solavore solar oven a win-win-win.
So: Does it really work? Should you buy one?
Yes, and yes.
This weekend, I tested two different recipes: a buffalo chicken dip, and a ground-beef chili with rice. The cooking process for both was super simple: prepare your ingredients; mix them into one of the heat-absorptive pots that Solavore supplies (or any dark metal cookware you already own); cover them with lids; and pop it all into the oven, a big black box with a plastic cover that snaps on and soaks in the sun’s rays.
Test 1: Buffalo Chicken Dip
The first afternoon that I cooked with the Solavore was an average February day for Tucson: about 70 degrees, sunny, and cloudless. Solavore provides a handy little thermometer to stick inside the oven and track cooking temperatures; amazingly, within 10 minutes flat, the Solavore Sport had reached 200-degrees Fahrenheit. The buffalo chicken dip only required an hour to heat up all the way (oven mitts definitely required!) and melt into cheesy, ranch-dressing-y goodness. My boyfriend and I sat in our courtyard and devoured the dip alongside tortilla chips and beer. In other words, my first Solavore experience was a complete success.
Test 2: Chili and Rice
The second day, I decided to cook a chili recipe from Solavore’s user guide (which, along with their website, includes all sorts of dishes to try out). Unlike the dip, the chili recipe included raw meat; and I like my chili with rice, which can also be tricky to cook right–so this was a more challenging test. To top it off, that day I started cooking in the morning, before the sun was at its peak, and it was also a bit cloudy out.
Luckily, though, the Solavore comes prepared for just these sorts of conditions, and includes solar reflectors, designed to funnel the sunlight onto the oven and trap every last bit of heat. After attaching my reflectors, it took about 30 minutes for the oven to reach 200 degrees, and about three hours overall to cook my chili and rice all the way through.
I probably could have left both dishes in for about a half hour more, to really let the spices simmer and the rice soak a little longer, but the smell when I popped open the plastic cover at the three-hour mark was absolutely amazing. (Like, knocked-me-over-amazing.) And I was hungry. The rice was a bit undercooked, but I chalk that up to my inexperience with the oven. Overall, the Solar Oven Chili definitely hit the spot.
I imagine that the Solavore Sport takes some getting used to. You will need to experiment with cook times for various dishes, and figure out the strength of the sun during different seasons of the year. But there’s no question that the oven works, and works well, and that you can cook all kinds of meals in there—and bake, too!
At $229, the Solavore is definitely not cheap, but it’s sturdy, built to last, comes with all the equipment you need, and the money you spend goes toward a really important cause. (It’s also BPA-free, and weighs next to nothing: 9 pounds!) The Solavore Sport is a fantastic energy-friendly alternative to a crockpot, and would be perfect for camping: just find a sunny spot, pop a dish in, go for a hike, and come back to a meal ready to eat. If that sounds up your alley, then seriously consider adding a Solavore to your outdoor experience. Your stomach (and those of women worldwide) will thank you.