Cooking Options For Live-aboard Voyagers—Part 1, Electric

Talk about mission creep! Three months ago I did some experimenting with induction cooking and wrote about it. And that spawned four more articles as I investigated the changes to a cruising boat's electrical system required to support high loads like those from electric cooking.

During that process, members added a lot of wisdom in the comments, not only on electric cooking, but also on alternatives.

So now I'm going to pull all this together to come up with recommendations for the right type of cooktop and oven (if required) for various usage profiles.

The options are:

  • Propane: By far the most common.
  • Electric: Induction cooktop and in most cases a small electric oven—there is no such thing as an induction oven.
  • Liquid fuel:
    • Diesel
    • Kerosene
    • Alcohol

No, I'm not getting into solar stoves and slow or passive cookers. While interesting adjuncts, these are not practical as sole cooking sources, and we have to cut this off somewhere.

Also, I'm aiming this squarely at live-aboard cruisers who spend most of their time away from shorepower and who expect to be able to cook good meals at sea offshore.

It's All About You

As so often in these things, the first step to making a good decision is to think realistically about our own needs. And in this case, our relationship with food.

In my experience, cruisers and prospective cruisers are divided into two groups:

  • Those who live to eat, who are also almost always good and committed cooks, and who will not live anywhere without full-on cooking facilities.
  • Those who eat to live, who can make do with a freeze-dried meal or sticky pasta and bottled sauce, cooked on a single burner, and think nothing of it.

I have been both. Back in the early days of my cruises to the high latitudes my idea of provisioning was a couple of cases of dried meals—came to be known on Morgan's Cloud as "barf in a bag"—and some tins of soup and bottles of pasta sauce, together with a pile of terrible-for-you snacks. We had a three-burner stove with oven, but we could have gotten away with pretty much any cooker.

But then Phyllis, who is definitely a live-to-eat person, came into my life and things got better, in a whole bunch of ways, including the food.

A quick aside on Phyllis and food. While in her twenties she named her stomach Eleanor. She doesn't remember why that particular name, but the reason was that she wanted to be on a first-name basis with a body part that made so many of her decisions, much like guys...oh, never mind.

Anyway, today Phyllis and I are total foodies who cook most of our meals from scratch and eat almost no processed food or prepackaged meals.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming any virtue or superiority over the eat-to-live crowd, just making sure you know where I'm coming from, as it colours everything that follows.

So here's the key takeaway when thinking about galley setup: The first thing each of us needs to do is figure out which of the above we are. But the thing is, that's surprisingly difficult, at least for the eat-to-live group—us obsessed live-to-eat types know it—so here's a test:

  1. Do you have a shelf full of cookbooks and/or hundreds of browser links to cool recipes?
  2. Do you have more than 20 herbs and spices in the cupboard?
  3. Do you never, ever forget to eat a meal?
  4. Does your day start with a discussion of the day's meals and probably tomorrow's, too?

If you answered "no" to any of the above, you are an eat-to-live person, or at least leaning that way. That's cool, particularly since, as we will see as we continue, you have a lot more stove and fuel options than we live-to-eat types do.

By the way, if you have a partner who is of the other persuasion, there's a simple answer. The eat-to-live one must go along with the live-to-eat program, or the relationship is doomed. We live-to-eat types are just not capable of going the other way—see, told you there was no virtue in our position.

The other thing to keep in mind is, if you are an aspiring cruiser taking advice from others, to make sure the ones you listen to are on the same side of the divide as you are. And watch out, because a lot of eat-to-live types are in denial. Perfectly understandable since they are happy with most anything put in front of them—a good attitude, too, particularly for a cruiser!

OK, with all that out of the way, let's compare the options:

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for 25 years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 20 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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