Is your pie piping hot? Does your toast brown evenly? Does your kettle boil briskly? If not, you may need a new boat cooker. Chris Beeson tests ten of the best
Whether you’re roasting a chicken with two veg, browning a gratin and steaming new potatoes, or just warming a pasty and heating some beans, the right boat cooker makes a big difference to the comfort of life on board.
So why are thousands of us soldiering on with rusty, ancient cookers, fitted 20 or 30 years ago when our boats first left the yard, which now can’t even muster a half-decent piece of toast?
For this article, we looked at 10 two-burner marine cookers with oven and grill, to find which ones offered the best combination of performance, ease of use and value for money. You can use the results to inform your choice, but there are other considerations.
There’s budget, of course, but also how much space you have. Most northern European boats have a 450mm space, a legacy of the once-ubiquitous Flavel Vanessa oven and grill. The rest of Europe has a 500mm space but they’re no friends of toast, so there’s no grill. For a typical Brit, this is beyond contemplation.
Which brings us to the next consideration – do you choose a separate or combination boat oven and grill? The former usually allows you to use both simultaneously but means a smaller oven and a hole in the hob to vent the grill heat, which can be useful for heating food while you’re making toast but it is susceptible to hob spillages.
Choose the latter and you’ll get a bigger oven, but it will be less efficient because the heat escapes through a hole either on the hob or at the back, designed to vent the grill’s heat, and the grill itself hampers convection.
All in all, there’s a lot to consider
Best boat cooker options
The pan supports lift out for cleaning and the forward fiddle is low enough for a frying pan handle, but it’s the only one. It comes with a
rack, baking/drip tray, grill tray and harbour lock. The position of the door lock means you can open it one-handed.
The hob’s grill vent has raised sides but some spillages will get through. It boiled water in 3 minutes and 46 seconds, the quickest on test, but toasted only a single slice.
The grill tray handle was tricky to remove. It was one of two on test with a thermometer, which may not be entirely accurate, but it’s a good indicator.
The oven, second biggest on test, heated very evenly.
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LP Voyager 4500
Leisure Products, of Bolton, also make the Bainbridge (formerly Plastimo) cooker range.
The Voyager has slide-lock pan clamps and front and back fiddles, which are secure but too high for the average frying pan handle. The pan support lifts out for cleaning but the hob’s grill vent isn’t raised enough to stop spillages onto the grill burner. You also
need to fit your own harbour lock.
There is an oven setting guide in the manual so getting the right temperature isn’t entirely pot-luck. It comes with a rack and grill tray, but no baking/drip tray. The oven unlocks and opens with one hand.
It toasts two slices and took 5 minutes and 13 seconds to boil water. The oven was much hotter at the back.
Buy it now from Jackson Leisure
The two-burner Neptune couldn’t be supplied in time for our tests, so we tested the three-burner version.
There’s an all-round fiddle at a good height for a frying pan, pan supports that lift out for cleaning, and two pan clamps. It has a good-sized oven, and a separate grill with the vent at the back. One AA battery provides electric ignition, there’s a simple spring lock for the
oven door, and it comes with a rack and grill tray.
At 7 minutes and 16 seconds, it was the slowest to boil water. The grill toasted a single slice and the shortbread was burned at the back
of the oven, yet still soft at the front.
The fiddles front and back are frying pan-friendly and the pan supports lift out for cleaning. Both burners are the same size, limiting options, but are set in wells, which should stop spillages entering the hob’s grill vent.
The oven was the second smallest on test, but comes with a rack, roasting dish and baking tray. The grill tray sits in a wire fiddle which stops it sliding out accidentally. The harbour lock gimbal isn’t suitable for yacht installation so you’ll need one fitted.
There are oven settings from 130-240°C. It boiled water in 5 minutes and 26 seconds, and toasted two slices. The oven had very good heat distribution.
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The pan supports lift out for cleaning but the hob’s grill vent is prone to spillages. There are no fiddles and the pan clamps have brass knobs which heat up despite the grill’s pull-out heat deflector.
It has a harbour lock but no door lock. Nor is there a grill tray, just a rack and a baking/ drip tray. There’s no oven setting indication on the knob, which controls both oven and grill, so you can’t use both at once despite them being separate.
It boiled water in 4 minutes and 46 seconds, and toasted one slice. The big oven burner and insulation meant it warmed quickly and cooked evenly.
This French combination oven-grill has three solid fiddles plus a frying pan friendly one at the front, and the pan supports lift off for cleaning. The door lock is top left, the AA battery-powered electric ignition top right. The edge of the oven door handle was sharp.
Using the grill means deploying the heat deflector, so you can’t close the door, and the big grill vent in the top of the oven (which vents at the back) means the oven warms slowly. There are no oven settings either.
It comes with a rack and a drip tray, which must be used to stop fat falling onto the burner in the oven base. The big wok-friendly burner boiled the water in 4 minutes and 42 seconds.
This cooker doesn’t run on gas, but on bioethanol or denatured alcohol, which is not readily available in the UK but easy to get in France. We used meths, which works, but you do get that smell.
Pour the fuel into the canisters and the wadding soaks it up, preventing spills. There are two burners on the hob and a third in the oven, but no grill. The knobs move a plate that covers the canister opening, so you can control heat to an extent.
It has a harbour lock, a rack and a baking/drip tray but pan clamps are extra. Water took 5 minutes and 46 seconds to boil. The small oven took 25 minutes to reach temperature, according to its thermometer, and cooked very evenly.
Force 10 Two-Burner Compact Grill
This product stood out because the open door slides under the oven, keeping the cooker balanced so it doesn’t tip forward. Push the lock
button, lift the handle and away it goes. It’s very neat but it does result in the smallest oven on test – too small to roast a whole chicken.
The pan supports and all-round fiddle lift and remove for easy cleaning, as do the Sabaf burners. Harbour lock and electric ignition are standard, and the water boiled in 4 minutes and 1 second.
The ceramic grill looked great but toasted just one slice. The shortbread cooked beautifully, thanks to the head diffuser/drip tray that made the oven even smaller. On the downside, when lifting the door handle, I burned my knuckles against the hot door.
Levante Two-Burner Compact
This Essex company’s cookers were standard on Discovery and Gunfleet yachts as part of an integrated galley system, so the ovenware also fits the rails in the sink, fridge, and recesses on the saloon table.
The rack and grill trays slide on rails in the oven sides, so it’s easily cleaned, but this reduces tray size. The oven has temperature settings, and the hob has two super-efficient Sabaf burners.
Pan supports remove using a central bolt and the burners remove, too. There are fiddles all around with the front one frying pan-friendly. It has an oven door lock but no harbour lock, and electric ignition is powered by an AA battery.
The boil took 4 minutes and 35 seconds. The grill was excellent, easily making four slices, and the shortbread was near-perfect.
Boat cooker conclusions
We learned several things from this test. First, high-volume boatbuilders don’t buy off the shelf. They give cooker companies a low price and a spec and ask them to deliver. So the cookers you find on many new boats are unlikely to be as efficient or as well made as the models we tested.
Secondly, most of the cookers we tested are based on 30-year old technology because it’s not economical for companies to invest in R&D for a market with just 2,000 UK unit sales per year.
The exception is the Levante, which has been recently designed. It’s an excellent cooker with great galley-wide design ideas. However the price-tag shows why.
But if you’re a keen galley chef and you can afford it, get the Levante. If you can’t, go for the Spinflo Nelson, which just shaded the Techimpex (£415) because of the secure two-slice grill, the extra ovenware that comes with it, and the burner wells which will prevent
spillages dropping through the vent and onto the grill.
How we tested the boat cookers
Peter Spreadborough of SoCal in Southampton knows gas. He was part of the team that helped us blow up a yacht to make an important point about gas safety. He kindly agreed to host our test of galley cookers, adapted from a Which? test of domestic cookers.
First, we inspected the cookers. Are therefiddles all round or just at the front? Are they low enough to allow a frying pan handle to rest over them? Could the pan supports be removed for cleaning? Are the pan clamps easy to adjust and secure, with knobs that won’t overheat? Is there a harbour lock to secure the gimbals at anchor, electric ignition, a door lock and an inversion proof gimbal mount? How big is the oven, and what ovenware comes with it?
After that, we timed how long each cooker took to boil 600ml (two mugs) of water, cooling the kettle and replacing the water between each test.
Next, we gauged how well the grill toasted white bread after five minutes’ pre-heating.
Finally, we baked shortbread, – very sensitive to variations in temperature – at around 190°C to see how evenly each oven heated. Sometimes we burned it, but if it burned evenly, at least we knew the oven was achieving a consistent temperature.
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