Make: a solar hot-dog oven (then learn the science)

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Once (way back when I smoked) a friend gave me a solar cigarette lighter, a bit of curved polished metal with a prong in it. I assumed it was a joke and forgot about it for a while. But one day, in the middle of a Texas summer, I thought I’d give it a go. Took a bit to aim the thing correctly but by gawd, once you did, it worked EXCEPTIONALLY well.


Its a technology known since antiquity (Archimedes solar powered anti ship heat ray), but far too little used. Solar ovens could be a great solution for poor nations in the tropics and subtropics.

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I had one of those! Got it through the Estes Rocket mail order catalogue. Prefer messing with lenses and other glass shapes to become my own modern day Prometheus. no ants were harmed in the making of these memories


Hi-tech version:

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Lots of simple solar solutions available if people use them. I’ve worn a home-brew solar backpack for about 15 years through three iterations and am still the only person I see with one as I wander around MIT and Harvard and Cambridge, MA. The latest version is simply a $10 mass market solar light and charger that I’ve attached to my backpack which I use as my bike light.

Everything I know about small scale solar is available at
The videos may not be professional quality but the information, I believe, is. I think you could teach the basics of solar in about a half hour which could be designed as a series of one minute PSAs but doubt that I’ll ever find the partners to make such a thing possible.


They’re not a great solution for most people. They’re too impractical. The cooking times are too long and unpredictable, you have to constantly adjust them as the sun moves across the sky, and they basically don’t work at all on cloudy days. The use of direct radiation to cook instead of convection means they’re prone to burning the outside of the food.

One could build a fully automated model that uses several large mirrors and monitors the temperature inside of the box to always keep it at 350F (175C) so it’s more practical, but that’s complex and needs a power source and computer and still fails on cloudy days. But you could run it on solar power with a pretty modest panel. Still overly complex but it would make for a neat addition to an ecologically conscious house somewhere for someone looking to earn some green points.

Of course the alternative to that complex mirror setup is ordinary solar panels powering an electric oven, where you get all of that electricity for use in other things the 23 hours a day you aren’t baking.

Note that the experiment in the article uses hot dogs because they’re already cooked so it doesn’t matter if the middle doesn’t get up to temperature.


…aaannnnddd bookmarked. Thanks!

When I was surfing the internets, researching how to build a solar oven, I stumbled across something horrific: Women and girls in Darfur who leave the camp to fetch firewood get maimed and usually killed. So, the camps are encouraging solar cooking rigs.

Solar cookers save lives in Chad and Darfur

This device is not nearly complicated enough to bring to market. I suggest adding servos to alter the curve of the reflector and position of the hot dog to account for plumping. Also a rotisserie motor to spin the hot dog for even cooking. With these improvements it should be about a third as reliable as the auger on a pellet stove.

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Pro: You’re saving the planet because solar.

Con: You’re killing yourself because hot dog.

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