Why you should care
Because, the planet.
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There’s a fiction that has emerged over years of suburban living, one that eating outdoors and summertime go together like ramma lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong (any Grease fans?). And they sort of do, if you consider that cooking indoors when it’s hot both inside and out can be a drag of the highest order. If you can’t stand the heat, of course you vacate the kitchen.
So far, so good. However, if you’ve spent any time over a hot grill, trying to duck the billowing tendrils of charcoal smoke while also struggling to keep your shish kebabs out of the flames, you know that what it gives with that back-to-nature bang, it takes away with the planet-destroying bing.
If only there was a better way …
Then, almost magically, the clouds parted and Patrick Sherwin stepped forth like some James Bond villain with his vacuum-tube-based solar grill. The world of outdoors chefs would never be the same. “I’d have laughed in your face at the prospect of solar cooking,” says Kevin Conahan, a former chef and an early proponent of California fusion who is used to flames and being able to time cooking stuff according to the working of those flames. “But I’ve drawn water from solar-heated units and it was boiling. So maybe [it’s] not that crazy.”
A thought that Sherwin had when he started solar cooking back in the late 1990s, even if he didn’t move on it until 2013 with a Kickstarter campaign that exceeded all of his crazy expectations. “My first [solar grill] was about 6 feet long and could only cook hot dogs,” says Sherwin from his Cincinnati home base. “Which is why they used to call me ‘the Hot Dog Man.’ ” But now, with a whole line of cookers — some the size of largish breadbaskets, some small enough to fit in a gym bag, and most in the $300-to-$600 range — and a company called GoSun Stove, Sherwin has made off-grid and on-grill cooking a, well, thing.
How does it work? Um, vacuum tubes, loaf pans, racks, a reflector and, before 2016 ends, a solar battery that will let you barbecue at night. The grill can get to about 300 degrees, which is probably enough to take care of shrimp, hot dogs, hamburgers, whatever. No fuss, no muss, no fire, flames or smoke.
“Screw that,” says barbecue-meister Mike Muholland, an unrepentant creator of copious amounts of carbon. “What’s barbecuing without flames and smoke? Seriously, that’s what gives it taste.”
“If we had a cook-off, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference,” says Sherwin. “And the only thing it can’t do is sear meat like a flame would.” Which is to say, with summer looming, we want. And given that GoSun has delivered thousands of stoves to more than 45 countries, we’re not the only ones.
So we’re good. Just as long as the sun holds out.