The SunPlace solar grill gives you an experience similar to that of a Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant. But instead of paying to cook your own food over hot coals, you can cook it yourself at home using the power of focused sunlight. And instead of sitting in the comfort of a fancy eatery with cold beers and warm sake, you have to sit outside, roasting under the same sun that’s cooking your food.
The grill follows the same principle as a child who uses a magnifying glass to cook ants like popcorn. A Fresnel lens concentrates the sun’s rays onto a cast iron grill, heating it to frazzling point. Then you and your friends pile it up with delicious hunks of animal and vegetable.
One oddity is that, as soon as you load up the griddle, the focused sunlight is blocked from the iron. This means that the food is being cooked direct from the top by solar radiation, while the hot metal plate gradually cools as it transfers its energy into the meat above. A cynical mind might see this as a metaphor for the universe in general.
Aside from the sun beating on the back of the chef-diners’ necks, there are further perils to avoid while you prepare your lunch (and it will be lunch, not dinner, if you want to harness the sun’s full power). “The station requires the full involvement of all its users,” say the designers, Francesca Lanzavecchia and Hunn Wai. They recommend that participants come “well-equipped, protected by gloves and special glasses.”
It sounds like a blast. Almost literally.
Lanzavecchia and Wai’s project is clearly impractical, but Fresnel lenses can and are used for cooking. This model, homemade by grill enthusiast Bruce Joseph, boils a quart of water in 20 minutes and gets so hot that Joseph recommends covering the food with an iron bacon press as it cooks, to minimize burning.
Given that a Fresnel lens is flat and easy to carry, solar grilling looks like a fantastic camping activity. Just be careful you don’t end up like one of those exploded ants.