No matter how you approach it, summer grilling is a lose-lose situation for Mother Nature.

Are you cookin’ veggie burgers over natural, low-impact lump charcoal that you fired up with a chimney starter? You’re still also cookin' up an ample amount of air pollution.

Are you serving local veggie kabobs expertly grilled over a gas-powered flame? You’re generating less sooty particles but that gas, as you’re probably aware, is a nonrenewable resource.

What about that free-range chicken cooked over an electric grill? If it's plugged in, you're generating greenhouse gases there, too.

If you gotta grill, you gotta grill (but please, hold the lighter fluid). But let’s say you truly strive for eco-perfection and you're a backyard cooking fanatic. Tough one. That is, unless you have a sunny, cloudless sky, plenty of patience, a thermometer, and a solar oven.

Cooking with a solar oven (they even have their own society) probably won’t win you any BBQ-taste awards and may seem a bit survivalist but in terms of eco-impact, it wins hands down. No fossil fuels or carbon monoxide-filled fumes are involved, and best of all, sunlight, the last time I checked, is gratis.

Cooking with the sun requires some foresight. Here’s some sage advice from the eco-grillers at

Sun ovens work best on cloudless days when the sun is highest in the sky (more than 45 degrees above the horizon) and ultraviolet (UV) rays are most able to penetrate the atmosphere. That means from April to October in the northern hemisphere, usually from 10 am to 2 pm. In the early morning and late afternoon and during the winter months (November to March) the sun is usually too low to generate cooking-strength UV rays. As a general rule, use a solar oven when your shadow is shorter than your height or when the UV Index is seven or greater.
Also worth noting: solar cookers don’t get that hot and they cook slowly. There's no fire. So unless you’re looking to give cookout guests the gift that keeps on giving — a foodborne illness — practice caution and use a food-grade thermometer when cooking meat and other foods.

Below are a few solar cookers on the market. If you’re considering buying one for immediate use, consult the weather forecast first. And since different solar ovens are capable of reaching different temperatures, make sure the one you have your eye on matches your culinary needs before committing. Or, of course, you can build your own (even out of a pizza box). 

Global Sun Oven @ EartheasyShop ($225)

Hot Pot Simple Solar Cooker @ Gaiam ($99)

Hybrid Solar Oven @ Gaiam ($299)

 Surfer Chef Deluxe Solar Cooking System @ ($39.99)

Image: Jonstraveladventures

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

All up in your grill: Sun-cooked
After all the veggie dogs are scarfed, do backyard BBQs leave you with a not-so-green taste in your mouth? Give a solar oven a try.