Most of the equipment we saw at Overland Expo came in large, XL and XXXL sizes, but there were also a few interesting accessories on show. The Solavore oven is a simple cooking device that transforms the sun's rays into baking and slow-cooking heat.
What we like about the Solavore Sport is its ultra-simple design and ample size. It's basically a portable greenhouse box. The black interior lining attracts the sun's rays and the insulated walls and polymer lid keep the heat in, turning the interior into an effective oven with temperatures up to 300 ºF (149 ºC).
The Solavore Sport is not to be confused with a propane-powered camp stove or grill, and is not the solution for racing the setting sun to get your steaks or burgers cooked. It provides an average heat range of 210 to 260 ºF (99 to 127 ºC) and is meant to work as a slow cooker. It's sold with a pair of 3-qt (2.8-L) black granite wear pots that hold your meal and slow cook it over the course of several hours.
Cooking times will vary based on food type and sun conditions, but Solavore's general rule of thumb is that it'll take twice the time of conventional methods, like home oven cooking, plus a half-hour for the oven to preheat. If you're able to get the Sport oven to around the same heat as a slow cooker, cooking time will be comparable. So on a camping trip, you could start cooking lunch or dinner in the morning, go enjoy the outdoors, then come back to a cooked meal, much like you might do with a slow cooker at home. Because of its low maximum temperature, Solavore promises that the oven won't burn your food.
Solavore constructs the base of the oven out of an injection-molded resin reinforced with glass fibers. The interior is lined with black powder-coated aluminum, and 1-in (2.5-cm)-thick water-impervious foam insulation sits between the liner and the resin base. Solavore lists the R-value at 6.5 and says that the insulation keeps the exterior cool to the touch, so that you can handle the oven while it's cooking. The double-layer transparent lid is made from a vacuum-formed polymer and sits snugly around the edge of the oven, securing with metal clips. The unit weighs 9 lb (4 kg) empty and measures about 27 x 17 x 12 in ( 68.5 x 43 x 30.5 cm).
The Sport oven is angled at 30 degrees for direct overhead sunlight and can also be placed on its side to increase the angle to 60 degrees for lower-angled winter sun. The available fold-up reflector sits around the outer edge and improves sunlight collection.
Unfortunately, we missed the carrot cake that Solavore baked up at Overland Expo, but the traveling word around the show was that it was quite good. And just the idea of baking a cake at camp with a relatively compact, solar-powered gadget is pretty good, too.
The only reservation we have about Solavore's design, outside of not actually having tested it hands on, is its shape. It surely won't be an issue if you're traveling in one of the massive, hydraulically-expanded expedition vehicles we saw at the show, but if you're camping with a more compact SUV or car, that package might be hard to wrestle inside with all your other camping gear and fellow campers. Spending a week on the road, I was tempted several times to throw my Weber Smokey Joe charcoal grill away for this very reason. The kettle grill is compact, but it's an awkward fit inside a crowded cargo area. The tilted trapezoidal shape of the Solavore Sport might prove similarly awkward.
Then again, the Solavore Sport doesn't require a bag of charcoal or propane tank to use, and could probably store other things during transport. So maybe it wouldn't be that hard to squeeze in. It really depends upon what you're driving and what else you're hauling.
The Solavore Sport retails for US$229.50, which includes the two 9-in 3-qt pots. The aluminum reflector is available separately for $39.50. Solavore makes its hardware in the US.
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