What to Know About Cooking on Board

If you’ve been watching the televised escapades of Gordon Ramsey or Martha Stewart or Jacques Pepin or Rachael Ray or any of a dozen others, you perhaps have developed a plan to create an award-winning gourmet feast aboard your boat next summer.

We’re talking four courses, scrumptious dessert, candlelight and china and a couple bottles of a complementary wine.  Sounds good, no?

Umm…no.  Not to burst your bubble, but cooking on board requires some thinking, planning and de-flation of grandiosity. 

First principle: cooking on board is different than cooking at home. Everything is smaller, including the appliances (if you have them), the sink, the counter space and even the trash can. Water, propane and electricity may also be limited away from the dock. 

If you run out of cooking fuel in the middle of your duck a l’orange you and your guests will be munching on crackers, or looking for a way to go ashore and find a restaurant that will take your party on short notice.

Now if you own a 150-foot mega yacht, you probably have a galley to make Gordon Ramsey envious, plus ample refrigeration, ice-making and fuel.

But if your boat is a 30-foot center console, you’ll be lucky to have an enclosed head, much less a workable galley. So this is where the de-flation of grandiosity comes in. You can still eat well on a smaller vessel, but you need a lot more forethought and planning to make it work.

Because space is limited in your on-board galley, plan ahead and prepare as much of your meals as possible at home, onshore, before heading out to sea. You can do all the chopping and food-prep at home, you can prepare entrees and sides at home and freeze and wrap for onboard re-heating, and you can plan to serve simple dishes that do not require a lot of food prep.

There are three basics to cooking on board. You need the ability to heat food items (remember: many boats do not have microwaves). You need to have fresh water available (for both food prep and for wash-ups). You need a way to keep food chilled (hello ice box).

For heating and cooking food on board, a propane marine grill is the answer. With the grill, you can cook meats and (freshly caught) fish or saute veggies you chopped up at home. Remove the grill and use the unit as a stove to boil water, make rice or some other simple stove-top dish.

There are also many brands of charcoal grills that affix to the rails of your boat, or sit on the deck. You don’t have the same amount of control as with a propane cooking unit, but then again, charcoal grilled fish is spectacular!

Just keep safety in mind when using any kind of cooking device. Wind and waves can upset the cooker, so have your fire extinguisher at the ready, just in case.

Some smaller boats don’t have a good fresh-water system, so you may have to rely on bladder tanks, jerry cans or just lots of bottled water.  The refillable five-gallon jugs with an inexpensive manual hand pump that fits on the top can be useful.

A cooler filled with ice, either cubes or a block, will work fine for keeping food cold during your trip.  You can spend a few bucks for a styrofoam model at the 7-11, or lay out the hundreds for Yeti’s latest fancy-dancy version. Your call. You should have a cooler that will keep your food chilled for at least a few days. Botulism is no fun at all.

Once the basics are in place, take the time to do a little advance planning. Space will be at a premium, so prepare as much of the meal as you can at home. Conserve fresh water during the food prep. Remember that cooking onboard can be tricky with all the wave and wind movement. And while you might plan for a main course of freshly caught fish, have a backup in mind. Even the best anglers sometimes strike out. Those fish seem to have a mind of their own!

But if you plan, pre-prepare, organize the cooking and it all works out …there are few better places to enjoy a delicious meal with friends and family than on the deck of your boat, with the sun going down, Jimmy Buffett tunes on the music system and the stars overhead.  Magic!