Grilling On Your Boat

By Mark Corke

After a pleasant day on the water, nothing beats firing up the grill.

Food always tastes so much better outdoors, on the water, and straight off the grill, but first and foremost it's important to be safe. Burning the ribs is bad enough, but if you are careless with the grill on board you could hurt yourself, or damage the boat.

Photo of grilling chicken on your boat

Just like on land, boat grills come in three basic but distinctly different forms: Gas, charcoal, and electric. Charcoal is the traditional method of cooking, but it's not without its problems. Firstly, you have to carry the charcoal, which must be kept dry, and secondly, it has to be lit and allowed to heat up before you can start cooking. Which grill you ultimately select for your boat depends largely on your budget and how much grilling you expect to be doing. Boat size is an important factor too, as there's no point in having a larger grill if storage space is at a premium. Many manufacturers offer storage bags and these can be a worthwhile accessory to keep grease and soot marks from transferring themselves from the grill to the boat.

Charcoal

Barbeque aficionados will tell you there's nothing to compare with a steak or freshly caught fish cooked over the charcoal, but it's not a method for the impatient, or those seeking instant gratification. Most, if not all grills come with lighting instructions and you should always adhere to manufacturers recommendations.

Photo of a stainless-steel charcoal grill

One of the most popular styles made specially for cooking aboard are the small, round stainless steel grills that clamp onto almost any convenient handrail, or with an adaptor slot into a rod holder. When grilling with charcoal on board, always ensure that when lit the grill is swung clear of the boat. That way, if any hot ash escapes, it will fall harmlessly into the water, and not onto the boat deck where it could do expensive damage, or worse, start a fire.

Charcoal is readily available but the easy to light sort is recommended, as no additional starter fluid is required, reducing the chances of spills and accidents. Charcoal grills work well, but the downside is that the stored fuel must be kept dry, can be messy if it spills, and takes up a lot of space. On the upside the lower initial cost of the grill is attractive, especially if you don't plan on using the grill very often.

Magma are one of the best known brands when it comes to boat grills and they offer a range of charcoal grills ranging in price from between $150 to $200.

Propane

To address these hazards, gas or propane grills made specifically for boats are now widely available and are the most popular kind for on board use. Sizes vary from large sophisticated models that will feed a crew of 20, to small compact units running off disposable gas canisters costing less than $100. Propane grills do not have the problem of burning embers, but they have their own specific hazards. Apart from the heat, propane is heavier than air, so never use a gas grill above an open locker or companionway. Any leaking gas will fall to the lowest point, where it can make an explosive mixture ready to ignite under the right conditions.

Propane tends to be the go-to choice for many boaters and it's easy to see why. Fuel is cheap and widely available, and the smaller disposable bottles used on all but the largest grills are easy to store when the grill is packed away.

Propane grills are available to suit almost any boat and budget, with smaller models utilizing small disposable gas bottles in the $200 range. The Frontier model from Kenyon is suitable for even the largest crew and sells close to $1,600.

Electric

If you have a reliable source of AC power on board, either from shorepower or a generator, then an electric grill is a possibility. These tend to be built into the boat, often on the flybridge or other dedicated area, and are generally a permanent installation, unlike the smaller gas and charcoal grills that can be detached. The downside to electric grills is primarily cost, which is significantly more than a comparable propane grill, and the amount of electricity needed, which can be up to 8 or 10 amps so you'll need to fire up the generator if away from the dock. On the upside the lack of open flame means you can use the grill in places where charcoal or propane might be banned, such as at a marina slip. The lack of a flame on an electric grill also means it's safer, though obviously they're still hot!

Photo of an electric grill

Like their propane-fired cousins the sky's the limit when it comes to price, but the Cabo electric model from Magma is portable so can be packed away at the end of the day, or when underway. The plug in 1500-watt model costs less than $200.

Safety Tips

  • Never grill while underway.
  • When onboard, never leave a lit grill unattended, even for a moment.
  • Never use gasoline or any other non-approved accelerant to light a charcoal grill on your boat.
  • Read, understand, and follow the instructions that came with the grill.
  • Make sure embers cannot fall from the grill onto any part of the boat.
  • Most marinas do not allow open flames, or grills, for safety reasons. Check with the marina staff before lighting the grill.
  • Always ensure that propane connections are tight, correctly attached, and leak free. If you suspect a leak, check connections with a soapy water solution. If bubbles form when brushed onto a joint, then you have a leak.
  • Put out the grill as soon as you have finished cooking, and let it cool completely before you put it away.
  • Make sure you detach and store portable grills before getting underway, or you might leave it behind in your wake.
  • If using an open flame, make sure the grill is well aft and downwind of any biminis or sail covers. 

For more about cooking aboard, visit BoatUS What's Cooking?

Mark Corke is a SAMS accredited marine surveyor and BoatUS Magazine's Associate Editor.

— Published: June 2015


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