Cooking

Table of contents 

What fuel do you use for cooking? Write up your experiences here.

(You can also see the Carbon Footprint section to work out the carbon emissions for each type of fuel).

Gas

Most boaters use Calor Gas, as it is widely available from boatyards/hardware shops. Also available is 'Flo Gas', which is much cheaper but not as easy to find. It uses the same fitting as Calor gas, so it might be worth carrying a Flo Gas cylinder for when you do find somewhere to buy it.

Pros

  • Easy and simple
  • The cheapest option because gas cookers aren't too expensive (relatively speaking), you might even find a second hand one (see cons below).
  • Relatively low hassle - all you have to do is find and transport the gas bottles! Often coal barges now carry gas and deliver to your door.
  • Clean burning - no soot and dust.

Cons

  • It's a fossil fuel, emitting carbon. It's also really nasty and polluting when they get it out of the earth.
  • It can freeze - particularly butane.
  • It is damp and can make your baot damp, ensure adequate vetilation.
  • The gas bottles are heavy
  • N.B. You need to take extra care on a boat with gas because if you do have a leak, gas sinks to the bottom of the boat as it is heavier than air. It can then sit in the bottom of your boat and cannot escape! If this happens it can be lethal for you and your boat. Drop a match and your boat could blow up. Saying this most people, including me, use gas for cooking. Just take care and be aware that this can happen.
  • If you buy a second hand cooker to use on a boat it is more than likely it was used with mains gas. It therefore needs to have the jets changed in order to work safely with gas. These are sometimes hard to get hold of for 2nd hand cookers. You can buy new cookers that are ready for use with LPG.
  • NB if you install a new gas cooker (whether brand new or second hand) it will need to have "Flame Failure Protection Device" to pass the Boat Safety Scheme - that is, the gas will switch off unless you hold in the knob while you light the burner. If you're buying a new cooker then you just have to ask for one with this device. If you're looking for a second hand cooker you'll have to pretend to the safety inspector that it's always been there and hasn't just been recently installed (the only way you're allowed to have a gas stove without the flame failure device is is to have an old gas stove already installed).

Wood

Pros

  • You can get it for free - on the towpath, from a skip, or you can start managing a woodland. Even if you buy it in it can be quite cheap.

Cons

  • You've got to saw it up!
  • It takes time to heat up your hotplate / Aga / whatever your cooker is - and it makes your boat too hot when it's summer!
  • If you buy in your wood you need to find out if it's from a really sustainable source - ideally it's a local, managed woodland, or perhaps offcuts from a local tree surgeon.

Charcoal

Does anyone know of any charcoal burning cookers? Does charcoal work well in solid fuel cookers?

Diesel

The big question with diesel cookers is whether they work with bio-diesel (or even better filtered, used cooking oil)? Biodiesel is thicker than dino-diesel, and won't wick at all - so it could only work with a drip burner. Kuranda sell diesel cookers.

Pros

  • They look ace and are really impressive.

Cons

  • They're a real faff to light - up to half an hour. Most people seem to leave them on all the time.
  • They are really, really expensive!
  • I have a Wellas stove from Kuranda. It cost around £5,000 including fitting and worked for six months. The ceramic hob cracked within weeks.  The cooker is tiny, two milk pan sized rings and an oven too small for a pizza.  It wouldn't work if the battery state was less than 98%, a real pain when you're gagging for a cuppa first thing in the morning.  When it stopped working altogether the nice man at Kuranda told me that we had to take it up to High Peak in Derbyshire to let them decide whether we were responsible for damaging it. A long way from Wiltshire by sack truck.  Sadly I still have it, being far too idle to deal with the company. Put it down to experience.  Maybe you will see it on EBay, but don't even show the ad to your worst enemy.

Other cooking tips

  • Using a pressure cooker speeds up cooking and saves gas. Additionally, if you go outside to release the pressure, you'll have alot less condensation than you would get from an steaming open pan.
  • Steamers: perhaps an obvious one, but my 'must-have' (the kind that fit into the top of another pan). It saves a gas ring compared to two pans. Leeks, caulifowers and broccoli, cabbages and other greens including peas cook well. I find carrots need to be thinly cut into sticks. Root vegetables and/or spuds go in the bottom. I like to mix up the veg in my mash, boiling up combinations of carrots swede and parsnips together and then mash gives a bit of variety.

    Green beans and broad beans I tend to start off boiling in the base, then transfer into the steamer, part cooked. Add spuds to the saved hot water.

    I have always found most cooked veg tastes better steamed than boiled.

    I do think it's worth going for the best quality purpose built steamer you can get hold of. I found a beauty at a car boot sale, a pan and steamer set, a heavy duty Swedish made stainless one. I also find that the half inch base on it means it retains heat well and I think I can cook on a much lower gas flame. A well fitting heavy lid and the clean fit into its matching base seems to be a big help compared to the 'fits all pots' pound shop steamer I used to use (though that served me well for many years!) The heavy duty version I use now also seems to more efficient and I find that I can cook on a low flame. I also suspect because it's relatively efficient it produces less condensation.

  • Storm kettles boil water quickly with very little fuel - waste paper and twigs, for example. This might be worth thinking about, in terms of reducing gas usage. A wholesome young man shows you how to use one here -  www.videojug.com/film/how-to-use-a-storm-kettle. They also come with an add-on to let you put a pan at the top of the chimney - but in my experience this just doesn't even get luke-warm.
  • "Hay" box cooking: We've been using a hay box on our boat, and at home, very successfully for a couple of years. We made ours out of an old polystyrene fish box with some additional rock wool insulation. We boil rice for 5 minutes and then pop it in the hay box, where it continues to cook to perfection without any more fuel. We have also cooked dried beans (boil for 10 minutes), lentils (boil for 5), and chick peas (soak over night and boil for 10 mins). This saves a lot of gas, is a lot more convenient than having to stand over a pan (no more sticking rice, and cuts down on steam.

We use gas and charcoal for

We use gas and charcoal for cooking. Gas is of course the most common way. We use charcoal for grilling fish, pork and some veggies like eggplant and corn. Thank you for sharing the pros and cons. Something that we should consider.

We use gas and charcoal for

We use gas and charcoal for cooking. Gas is of course the most common way. We use charcoal for grilling fish, pork and some veggies like eggplant and corn.

What about coal/smokeless brickettes

I'm surprised to see that coal is not mentioned here (unless I'm being a but dim and can't see it). Obviously it's a fossil fuel, and quite a polluting one at that, so not that eco friendly, but it is widely used. I try to burn wood on the daytime and evening and smokeless coal overnight. The smokeless does produce a lot of ash however and although I put mine under a hedge/undergrowth off to the side of the towpath, I do see some people put it in the canal. Does anyone know what the best thing to do with it would be and it's potential impact either way? The ash from the wood is fine to put on the ground ((probably quite good in fact) but the coal can't be great.

Re: the question of charcoal in solid fuel stoves. I've used it once or twice when desperate and out worked very well, the one thing that I would new worried of is whether it burns too hot and burns through the grate if you used it continually.

coal dust = toxic

Problem with coal dust is that it's very toxic. In the olden days the coal ash was put on the muddy towpath, which would build up a hard layer (cinder path), and also suppress any plants growing there. If you put it in the hedge or the canal it will cause lots of problems for plant and animal life there.

Ash pan jackets

If you wrap a potato in foil (not everso environmental but i do use mine over and over) and pop it in your ash pan it makes a great jacket spud, 2-4 hours depending on heat of stove!

Nice

Firelighters

I make my own firelighters for log burner by filling cardboard egg boxes with sawdust and topping up with melted wax from candle stubs- once set just cut into compartments! Work really well and 100% recycled! ( a lot of pubs trim their candles so this is another good source of wax)

Solar ovens

Hi - I've been reading up on making basic solar ovens. I want to have a go at making one this summer, that would live on the roof of my narrowboat. I just wondered if anyone here has tried that out and whether it causes any problems for the steel roof? Comments/advice very welcome!

Insulation layer, or just a gap?

You could use some kind of insulation between your oven and your paintwork - eg an insulation blanket from an old oven would work well.

Or how about just mounting your oven on a frame with adequate air clearance underneath?