TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. -- Take one satellite dish. Line it with tiny mirrors. Poise a skillet at just the right spot above it and wait for the clouds to part.
Now you're cooking with glass.
That was the recipe for Wes Jackson's solar cookout on the beach at Tybee Saturday.
By 1:30 or so when the clouds finally moved out to sea, Jackson's dozens of invited guests gathered just north of the pier were hungry for the sun-cooked sliders he'd promised them.
"We're not gonna starve now," Jackson said as he flipped the first eight sizzling burgers. "Everybody's welcome for 'Death Ray' burgers, that's what it's all about."
Julian Oleski had seen the cooker in action before, at Savannah's Earth Day celebration in Forsyth Park, but was still awed.
"That's crazy," he said as the meat started to sizzle.
Jackson, a nurse on Candler Hospital's oncology floor, has a background in mechanical engineering and a love of tinkering. He built his solar cooker after a "eureka" moment in which he stepped barefoot on a sun-warmed metal door threshold.
"Something about the heat right there made me want to use it," he said.
He cooked on the beach last year, also around the summer solstice. That time he brought along
a printout of Tybee's ordinance prohibiting an
open flame on the beach, with the pertinent parts highlighted. His cooker, he likes to point out, has no flame so it provides a perfectly legal way to cook out on the beach.
He cooked seven pounds of burgers, about 160 sliders in all. As passersby snapped pictures and wondered what the heck that thing was, Jackson's friends and family devoured the only meal in town cooked just inches from the surf.
Ross Etheridge fixed himself a slider on a Hawaiian bun with a Dorito on top and pronounced it "comparable" to charcoal-cooked ones, though "solar doesn't affect the taste as much as charcoal."
Jackson has cooked eggs, hot dogs, grilled cheese, Italian roast beef, fish, steak and vegetable stir fry on his cooker, which can heat a pan to 1400 degrees. He accidentally started to fry his shorts one day when he was adjusting the cooker's angle. The "Death Ray," as he nicknamed it, also burned a few holes in his truck's liner before he learned to transport it in the "off" position, that is, covered with a blanket.
He's working on a new version of the cooker that's smaller and more portable but doesn't sacrifice any of the oomph of his 3-foot satellite dish.
In board shorts and sun glasses, Jackson, 37, looked more surfer than solar evangelist.
But don't be fooled. He's just "one guy in a garage," but he has a message.
"I just think it's so cool," he said. "It's just the sun, and it's always out there. Why aren't we utilizing it more than we are?"