The All American Sun Oven
This story is best told as a story. I didn’t believe at first that this oven would really work. Anyone can game Youtube videos to make a product look good, and I just assumed that the All American Sun Oven was just another gimmick being sold to preppers. First of all, I live in South Florida. If a sun oven is going to work anywhere, it is going to work here. But I had never heard that such a thing was possible. I could see a huge dish, focusing the sun’s rays on an egg or something. But to get enough consistent heat to cook a chicken, or even a loaf of bread? Not so much. Not a reality. Boy was I wrong. I don’t know how the All American Sun Oven works up in snow country, but there is no reason to think that a sunny day anywhere can’t cook food just like a regular oven. You do have to move the oven around some, but at $399 for a complete survival kit, nobody who has stored freeze dried foods and pantry staples should be without one. No fuel? No problem. The All American Sun Oven works.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t feel like an idiot when I began the tests. After initially reading up on the All American Sun Oven, before opening the box, I wanted to believe it worked. But when I told friends and co-workers that I thought it could be a decent product, every single one of them had something negative to say.
“I tried that in Boy Scouts it doesn’t work.”
“You don’t think that’s really going to work do you?”
“Those things don’t work. You shouldn’t waste your money”
So I started to question the oven’s potential, though I had developed high hopes for it after my initial research. I personally had been skeptical myself, but everyone else just took the wind out of my sails.
Sooooo… I procrastinated for several months, until one day last week I was in Walmart and decided to buy some frozen loaves of bread dough. No way was I actually making dough for what was most likely going to be a failed experiment. I followed the directions on the package, and the dough was ready to go the next day.
Day 1 The All American Sun Oven
From the very start on day 1, I screwed up. Usually I let dough rise twice, punching it down in between, but apparently store-bought frozen dough doesn’t have the veracity to withstand such punishment. So even though the dough didn’t rise much the second time, I unpacked my Sun Oven. It is made from a plastic housing, with a gasket on the top opening and glass window on a hinge. The glass window locks down with two rotating levers. Around the plastic container, you fold out leaves of thin metal. They come with a blue plastic adhered to the tops, so before you get to test your sun oven, you have probably 20 minutes of peeling to go through. Fair warning: if you pick a nice day in the sun to test your Sun Oven, peel inside. Then, as I’m unpacking the box, I read a pink sheet of very “emergency” looking paper, printed with instructions to first boil vinegar inside the sun oven, then wipe out the insides with the vinegar. Why do I have to do that? It doesn’t say! What if I didn’t have vinegar? My guess is that it has something to do with the gasket material leaking fumes or something, so, because I was not in a survival situation and did happen to have some vinegar, I followed the directions. Two demerit points though, for the blue film and the vinegar.
My next screw-up came by not making sure that the glass lid was secured down. I started my test around noon, and within twenty minutes or so the temperature of the oven got up past 212, the boiling point of water. This was really impressive, because I keep a lot of freeze-dried food, as well as pasta, rice and beans. Boiling water is all you need for all of them, and this was great news. The oven, however, advertised temps twice that and I really wanted to see that happen and to bake my bread. The day got more cloudy though, and I couldn’t seem to get the oven above 275. You can cook most stuff at that temp, so I figured I’d put the bread in and see what happens. By then I was up to mostly cloudy conditions, with blips of sun lasting less than 2-3 minutes. Because conditions weren’t ideal, I didn’t go out to turn the oven that much, because you need full sun to line up the built-in centering guides. Three hours later, the bread was cooked, but not browned. Ugly, but edible.
Imagine my shock when, as I removed the bread, I realized that the glass was not sealed. There are two flip levers that you turn to keep the glass down, and they came tightened down a little too tight. But instead of getting a screwdriver and loosening them a bit, I had lazily just hooked one on the corner, which was tight, but not secure. At some point during the day, while I was turning the oven, it had let go, and I was not aware that my test of the sun oven was a failed test, not a failed oven. That night I took another frozen dough ball out of the freezer to defrost for the next day. It is only fair to do a real test.
Day 2 – The All American Sun Oven
On the second day I didn’t punch the dough down, but it started out discouraging nonetheless. The sun wasn’t out, and the clouds seemed to be worsening. Even with the glass secured this time, the oven barely made it past 250 degrees. I really wished that I had chosen to test the oven on one of our many fully sunny days here in South Florida. This was really frustrating.
Then I realized that this is the story of the All American Sun Oven. I’m quite sure that it is capable of reaching 450 degrees under ideal circumstances, but how often does that happen in life? I wanted to get this article done for this week, not a survival situation, but it did have that component of survival that ideal circumstances aren’t just something you can wait for. You make do with what you have. On an overcast day, the sun oven will most likely still get past 212 if you turn the oven for an hour (not easy without good shadows). It will melt snow for water in the cold climates, and it might even boil on a sunny day in sub-freezing temps. This is a great survival tool, and anyone who is storing food should not be without it.
So how did the fully cooked loaf of bread here in the pictures come about? Funny story. I again put the risen loaf into the oven at just over 250 and diligently turned the oven into the sun every half hour or so. The oven comes with a leg that raises and lowers it to face the sun on an angle. The two centering circles are really easy to use, but because the sun just wouldn’t stay out, at first the bread only cooked, but didn’t brown. One last time I turned the oven, just as the sun came out from behind the clouds. It looked like a great sun window, but because I had already given up, I didn’t even think to check the bread again. Later, when I went out to put away the oven, the bread was browned, and perfectly cooked. I never did get to see how hot the oven would get, but it made a perfect loaf of bread. Stay tuned!