Rupert Holmes encourages a broad-minded approach when choosing the best boat cooker, considering options such as induction hobs and solar ovens.
Gas cookers used to be the standard choice on almost every boat, but there are good reasons why they are not necessarily the best boat cooker.
The dangers of fire or explosion are well documented, yet there are still plenty of older vessels without gas lockers that drain safely overboard.
Equally, most sources recommend changing flexible hoses every five years and regulators once a decade, but I suspect most are not.
Today there’s a wide choice of boat cookers to choose from, some of which are more economical than gas to run and easier to install.
Many other devices, from solar cookers to JetBoils, can aid preparing great food on board.
10 of the best alternative boat cookers
Like Marmite, lots of people love them, but there are also plenty of detractors. A key drawback used to be the odours caused by the additives that give methylated spirits its distinctive colour. Today, the easy availability of bioethanol means this is no longer a problem.
Alcohol hobs may not be as fast to boil water as a gas stove, but they are still pretty good. We use one on Zest that’s as good now as it was when the boat was new 30 years ago and have no inclination to go to the hassle of installing a gas system.
This makes spirit stoves an excellent easy option for older boats in which the entire gas system, potentially even including the gas locker, needs to be replaced.
Unfortunately, production of the long-running Origo brand stopped a few years ago. The German online chandlery Compass24 has reintroduced similar products – the single burner Alcohol Pan 1500 (pictured above) and twin burner Spirit Cooker 3000 (which is also available via Amazon) – but there doesn’t appear to be a gimbal set or pan clamps designed specifically for these models.
Pure alcohol is a flammable liquid, so carrying it on board demands appropriate care, but it’s soluble in water and solutions under 20% (around the strength of fortified wine) aren’t considered hazardous. A bucket or two of sea water will therefore render a large quantity innocuous.
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It’s perhaps telling that yacht surveyor Ben Sutcliffe-Davies uses a diesel stove on his boat in preference to a gas cooker.
In addition to the safety aspect, the fuel is far cheaper and very easy to source. As a result, some of the extra up-front costs can be recouped over time.
The most common by far are the Wallas 85 series hob (pictured above) and 87 series cooker and oven. These don’t use a naked flame and fumes are directed out of the boat, though electrical power is needed at start up.
The advantages of induction hobs over using a gas cooker are that burning gas creates water, which can add to condensation in winter.
In hot weather the direct heat transfer of an induction hob means the cabin is not heated as much as when using a gas ring.
Increasingly common on yachts with big battery banks and large arrays of boat solar panels, the power draw means they’re unlikely to suit most of us, unless connected to shore power, when a low-cost portable unit, like IKEA’s Tillreda (pictured above), can be used.
Slow cookers, the best known of which are Crock-Pots, also fall into a category of devices that need far more electric power than the average boat could possibly deliver.
While one could be used on shore power, their physical size means many smaller boats won’t realistically have space to stow one for occasional use.
However, there are a couple of alternatives that cook food in a similar way, without needing on-going power.
One option is a top-quality vacuum flask, such as the Thermos Stainless King Food Flask, which is rated to keep food warm for up to 14 hours.
Everything needs to be piping hot to start with, the flask needs to be pre-heated with hot water and it needs to be exactly the right size for the quantity of food you want to cook.
The flask will then keep the food sufficiently hot to continue cooking food in much the same manner as with a slow cooker.
Another option is the Wonderbag (pictured above) – a pot within a well insulated bag that will keep contents warm enough to continue cooking for several hours.
Another power-free variation on the theme of slowing cooking food over several hours, solar cookers focus heat from the sun onto the cooking area and are reported to have potential to work well, especially when preparing lunch, rather than an evening meal when the sun is lower in the sky.
GoSun’s Sport Marine (pictured above) is a folding model that encases the food in a cylinder in the focal plane of the cooker to prevent it being cooled by wind.
At the other end of the scale, the concept is so simple you can make a basic solar cooker yourself.
Tefal 6L pressure cooker
Long a favourite of the budget constrained part of the liveaboard cruising community, pressure cookers work faster than a conventional saucepan, and require little heat input for simmering, saving both time and fuel.
This is marked when preparing dried goods such as chick peas, beans and lentils. They also produce far less steam than conventional cooking, which helps keep condensation at bay in cool or damp weather.
Kelly Kettle hobo stove
The Kelly Kettle (pictured above) has many advocates and in many ways is the ultimate survivalist’s tool. It heats water in a chamber around the circumference of the device using twigs as fuel in the central void.
It’s a very neat idea, but it has a couple of drawbacks for use as a boat cooker – they cannot be used below decks and keeping sufficient fuel dry may be a challenge on smaller vessels.
JetBoil flash stove
A much better option for water heating is the JetBoil, which is among the best designed of all cooking appliances.
The outside is insulated with a neoprene layer, which minimises heat loss, while the gas flame is focussed efficiently on the base of the container.
It will therefore boil water in an amazingly short period of time, using a tiny amount of gas. They are widely used as boat cookers in the offshore racing community, while for cruisers they provide a quick and easy source of hot or boiling water.
The only downside is that, given they are aimed primarily at the camping market, you need to make up a bracket for safe installation.
PBO reader Chris Comerie adds: “As an active rock climber/mountaineer for most of my life, this is a stove that I am very familiar with, have used regularly and can vouch for its efficiency.
“I also have one installed in my small yacht, I mainly sail single-handed and find that this is a quick safe way of boiling water when you’re short-handed.
“I have a self-built François Vivier-designed Beniguet and have installed a Jetboil mounted in a quality built stainless steel gimbal supplied by Safire Associates.
“Notwithstanding that it’s a relatively expensive piece of kit, it’s a great product of which I could recommend, particularly if space is at a premium.”
Cobb Premier Charcoal Barbecue Grill
Barbecues are a long-standing boat cooker favourite, allowing convivial cooking on deck in fine weather, when using the galley stove can make the cabin uncomfortably hot.
If possible, choose a model that can be both rail-mounted and taken ashore to use on a suitable beach.
Portable barbecues are ideal for use at anchor or on a swinging mooring, though not in the confines of a typical marina berth.
One of the most popular ranges is by Cobb, which has a flexible design that can be used for grilling, baking, frying, boiling and smoking.
Omnia stove-top oven
Portable stove-top ovens, with a central void that allows heat from a hob to dissipate evenly, have been around for a long time.
They have many fans who use them for baking bread, pies and cakes, or cooking anything from fish to lasagne.
The Omnia is a classic example based on a 1940s design. It is 25cm (10in) in diameter, 15cm (6in) high and is lightweight, making it easy to stow.
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