Solar Cooking In South Dakota
With my Hot Pot Solar Cooker

My name is Christa Upton, and I am very excited about solar cooking!  I live in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota with my husband and three children.  My husband and I are both musicians, and we home school our sweet children.  (Well, they’re not always sweet, LOL but they are lovable, talented, and precious.) 

I have something called Toxic Injury (also known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Environmental Illness, or Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance).  Propane (even if vented), natural gas, wood smoke, and charcoal all make me very ill, so this is initially why I was attracted to solar cooking.  But I also love that solar cooking saves money, is great on the environment, and is a fun way to cook outside in the fresh air!

My TI is extremely severe, so I have been partially disabled since 2008.  However, this has given me time to write (when I am bedridden with heart and exhaustion problems), so for the last five years I have been writing children’s books.  I’m also a huge fan of Food Network, so this is going to be a really fun way to combine my love of writing with my love of cooking and trying new things (and being outside).  For the next six months I will be blogging about my experiences with the Solar Hot Pot!    (If you want a Solar Hot Pot,you can get one from where I got one, right here on this website)

Recipe One of my New Adventure with                     the Solar Hot Pot

Sunshine Stew 

I am so excited!!  I got my new solar cooker this week—a Hot Pot!! 


Decided to go for broke and do a whole, real meal!  (Figured if I messed up, we’d just have to make sandwiches or order pizza.  LOL) 

So we read all the directions, washed the pot (with our nice, gentle Earth Friendly dish soap), and here we go!

10 am— “swirl” of olive oil:  oil into the pot, cover, set up facing the sun, set timer for 30 minutes.

Then prep:  cut up 3/4 lb. meat (small pieces, could be any raw meat—ground meat will take longer to cook, like maybe 45 minutes): 

My very first sun-warmed food (hot oil) LOL  It already smells good! 

Oil heating in Hot Pot

Veggie Stew Prep while Hot Pot heats

10:30 am3/4 lb. venison chunks:  quickly add into pot & stir & cover; the meat sizzled when we added it—how cool is that!  Set time for 30 minutes.  

Then prep:  chop veggies fairly small, season veggies, open cans (this way all the ingredients are ready to dump quickly into pot and lose less heat that way).

1/4 onion (chopped) 2 carrots (chopped) 5 very small potatoes (chopped) 1 stalk celery (chopped) 2 chunks sweet pepper (red and green) (chopped)  1/2 can green beans, drained  1 can diced tomatoes drizzle of honey (optional) generous sprinkle parsley very, very generous sprinkles paprika generous salt (no pepper only because I have chronic heartburn struggles)

Meat after 30 minutes in pot—already browning!

Meat after 30 minutes

11:00 amchopped veggies (with herbs & seasonings) and canned veggies:  quickly add (fill the pot no more than 2/3 full), stir, cover, adjust to sun, set timer for 90 minutes


Supper’s basically done!  (Well, except for letting the wonderful, free sunrays cook it!) 

You can add any of your favorite stew ingredients or seasonings.  Sometimes I like mushrooms and/or Italian seasonings in mine.  Often we change-up the seasonings to make it “stew but not the same.”  This version (above), with the peppers, tomatoes, and paprika, has a bit of a Hungarian twist to it.    (To further add to the Hungarian feel, after serving, stir sour cream into your bowl of hot stew—oh my and yum!)  To try a Tex-Mex version, add black beans, corn, and chilies (leave out potatoes & green beans).  In the mood for Indian?  Try Indian spices (or ‘cheat’ and use curry) and cayenne (leave out potatoes), and serve over rice.  My Mom taught me how to do this—easily change the flavors of ordinary recipes to suit your mood. 


I have to say, I’m out by a river, and it is pretty awesome to be cooking to the sound of rushing water and trilling red-winged blackbirds!  I feel like a hearty mountain woman cooking out in the open!  LOL  Only no smoke is getting in my eyes or giving me asthma!!!


After two hours of cooking

12:30 pm—quickly test temperature of food by inserting meat thermometer into the middle of the ‘pile’ of veggies/food.  (This is to be sure of food safety—needs to be over 140 or 150 degrees Fahrenheit to stay safe for any time longer than 2 hours).  It was 150 degrees F.!   (Decided to leave meat thermometer in there, to watch temperature easier.  Probably should have just put it in there to begin with!  In another 15 minutes, it was up to 160 degrees F.)  Adjust to sun.  Set timer for 90 minutes. 


Always test for food safety—conditions can vary, depending on temperature of food when you put it in the pot, sun angle, etc.  Food should either be below 40 degrees (refrigerator) or above 140 or 150 degrees.  It should not be left at any temperature between these any longer than 2 hours.  Therefore, when cold or room temperature food is put into the Pot, it needs to come up to 140 or 150 degrees within a 2 hour time period, like mine did today.

2:00 pm—adjust to sun and check food temperature (it was about 180 degrees)  WITHOUT opening lid, set timer for 90 minutes

3:30 pm—adjust to sun and peek at food temp (it was over 200 degrees and boiling around the edges)  WITHOUT opening lid, set timer for 90 minutes

5:00 pm—check temp (it was 170 degrees.  By around 4 pm, we began to lose sun angle of course, but it presumably cooked a bit more as it began to cool down, and we like a 5:00 supper better than 4:00.   

Then take off lid, inhale fabulous aromas, close mouth so as not to drool into pot, stand up and yell “Dinner’s ready!” 


Oh, my, how phenomenal that we cooked this for free!!!  No fuel, no nasty propane combustion, no asthma-inducing (for me) smoke, not even any electricity.   FANTASTIC!  The veggies were cooked perfectly, and the meat was tender.  There was some rich ‘broth’ in the bottom—this was my favorite part—I could have eaten a whole bowl of that!  It took about 7 hours all together, with minimal work (basically checking temp & adjusting to sun) the last 6 hours.  

Also one thing that I LOVE (besides starting this new adventure) is this:

“When you purchase a HOT POT™, you are also supporting an international non-profit initiative which helps eliminate human health and environmental problems associated with indoor smoke and deforestation in developing countries. From Mexico to Mali, Africa, HOT POT™ solar cookers are helping people in poor communities in their efforts to live a better life.”

Very cool!!!

Finished Hot Pot Stew

Other notes: 

We are around 3,500 feet in altitude (ideal—the sun rays are less filtered).

We are located around the 43rd parallel (not ideal, because solar cookers like to be closer to the equator where the sun rays are not as slanted, I think.  However, I am guessing our altitude helped, and obviously we just cooked a meal perfectly well in this pot!) 

It is very early May (not ideal—a bit early for more ‘ideal’ summer sun cooking, but again, as you can see for my stew, it worked great!)

Mostly sunny (a few stray clouds) (almost ideal)

Light breeze kicking up to a bit more breeze off and on (almost ideal; aluminum flaps wiggled in the breeze a bit but didn’t tip over)

This was just enough to feed our family of five, although we needed a bit of dessert to fill up.    But stews are often like that anyway. 


Stay tuned—More recipes coming soon down below! 

Recipe 23 Solar Oven Challah Bread

Here is how I have used my Solar Cooker

How about YOU? What have you learned with your particular solar cooker(s) that makes you effective with it, and what advice and ideas would you share with others?

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