The Boiling Point: Five-Way Single-burner Galley Stove Test
The reliable Glomate is the least expensive of five models, but the Seacook and Forespar Mini-Galley are safer for use at sea. The pricey Origo alcohol stove is slow to boil.
Any boat with a cabin ought to have some sort of stove to heat food and boil water. Sailing is, after all, a civilized pastime, is it not? While larger boats seem to have increasingly complicated galley systems—dedicated freezers, watermakers, ice makers, microwaves, broilers—there's much to be said for simplicity. After years of trying to maintain big, fancy yachts, it's not surprising that some owners look forward to downsizing. This is rooted in several common ways beyond a simple reduction in LOA: unloading the auxiliary engine or just carrying a small outboard; hand-pumping water; solar showers in the cockpit; and cooking on a simple, self-contained stove.
The last time Practical Sailor published test results for single-burner stoves was in February and April of 1994. At that time we examined three butane models, the Origo 1500 alcohol model, and the Seacook from Force 10, which is a successor to the venerable cast aluminum Sea Swing that cruisers often fitted with small kerosene burners like the Primus. The Sea Swing, gimbaled in both axes, was good because you could drop a 2-quart saucepan deep into it, knowing it would never tip over or, short of the boat rolling over, fly out.
When we began collecting single-burner stoves for this examination we learned that two of the 1994 butane models tested are no longer available in marine catalogs—the Chef-Master BBQ 1000 and Iwatani Cassette Feu B-9. Still among us is the Glomate, but in an updated version, the GM 1600. Kenyon now offers a very similar butane burner, and we look at both in this evaluation.
There are two similar single-point gimbaled stoves as well—the Force 10 Seacook and the Forespar Mini-Galley. Thus we got two sets of head-to-head, apples-to-apples competition. That's always fun.
The Origo 1500 alcohol stove remains unchanged.
Discount prices for the five stoves range from $40 to about $150. As usual, we checked BoatU.S., West Marine and Defender for prices and were surprised how much they differed. Defender often has the lowest prices, but this time for one stove only, the Forespar Mini-Galley (BoatU.S. and West Marine don't carry it). Defender's price for the Force 10 Seacook was $106, West Marine's price was $109, and BoatU.S. sold it to us for $89. Defender wanted $188 for the Origo 1500, West $159, and BoatU.S. $141. It pays to shop around, though all three of these companies have price-matching policies.
Three different fuels are used by the five stoves: denatured alcohol (CH3CH2OH), propane or LPG (C3H8) and butane (C4H10).
A standard test is time to boil a quart of water (see the Value Guide at end of story). Results are a function of the Btu (British thermal unit) rating of the fuel and burner size. Alcohol is rated at 2,500-3,000 Btu output, and LPG at twice that—5,000-6,000.
For years, in the 1960s and 70s, marine stoves were predominantly alcohol, and most were pressurized with a small hand pump. They were regarded as the safest because alcohol is supposedly water miscible, that is, capable of being mixed. In reality, as anyone who's spilled burning alcohol and poured water on it knows, very often the water simply pushes the still-flaming alcohol to a different place. Accidents with pressurized stoves were fairly common because one had to preheat the burners by igniting a small amount of liquid alcohol released from the pressurized tank. If done correctly, you reopened the flow from the tank only when the burner was hot enough to vaporize the fuel. People had all sorts of techniques for judging when that point might be. Some let the primer alcohol burn off completely, then immediately lit the burner; others liked to time the reopening of the flow when there was a bit of flame left in the bowl. Minor fires were commonplace. Those were exciting times.
Anyway, Origo eventually introduced its line of non-pressurized alcohol stoves and most of the problems disappeared. Instead of a pressurized tank, Origo uses a glass wool batting in the tank to absorb the fuel, which makes its operation sort of like a Sterno can. Flame height is controlled the same way, too, by a sliding cover over the burner orifice. It's much safer and, interestingly, in informal tests the non-pressurized alcohol boils water about as fast as pressurized alcohol. What were we thinking?
Most marine and camping butane stoves use a standard 8-ounce canister. These must conform to Department of Transportation regulations. The two cans we bought, one with the Glomate label and the other with the Kenyon label, were both made in Korea, by the Daeryuk Can Co. and the Tae Yang Industrial Co.
In the 1994 evaluation, we noted that the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) had only recently approved use of these 8-ounce butane canisters in the living areas of boats. And then, only one canister at a time is allowed; spare canisters are supposed to be stored outside, in a compartment ventilated overboard, perhaps where you keep the outboard motor gas tank.
ABYC standard A-30 allows only the 8-ounce butane canister, and not the heavier 16.4-ounce propane bottle commonly used for camp and some marine stoves. This is unfortunate because propane is a commonly accepted fuel; both the Seacook and Mini-Galley use the canisters, and the extra amount wouldn't seem to pose much additional danger. While we suppose ABYC had to draw the line somewhere, why not at 16 ounces? We point out ABYC's position in case this is of interest to you or your insurance company.
Several stoves carry warnings about CO (carbon monoxide) and oxygen deprivation. Forespar's regulator, for example, is a lantern model made by the Century Tool Co. of Cherry Valley, Illinois. It carries the warning (that could apply to all of the stoves in this evaluation) that the device can produce CO, "a colorless, odorless gas which can kill you."
Combustible fuels also consume oxygen, which can lead to asphyxiation. Therefore, Century warns not to use the burner in "tents, campers, pickup toppers, cars, vans and etc." One could easily add boats. But the same applies to any combustible fuel-burning device, including auxiliary engines, conventional stoves, and cabin heaters. On boats, you can't always move them outside. To be safe, good installation is paramount, as are safe operating practices.
As in the past, each stove was operated at full throttle to see how fast it boiled a quart of water. Results are similar except for the Origo alcohol stove and, surprisingly, the Seacook LPG stove. Beyond this one empirical test, each stove was examined for quality of materials and workmanship, and safety features.
The stoves are discussed in order of price, beginning with the lowest- cost model.
Glomate GM 1600
The Korean-made Glomate has a black enamel finish over metal stampings. The burner is brass, though it has a silver coating that makes it look like aluminum. The stovetop incorporates a built-in windscreen and corrugated fins to help keep pots and pans from sliding off. ABYC standard A-30, however, requires some sort of potholder, which Glomate offers as an option for $9.99. A-30 also requires permanent mounting to the countertop, which can be accomplished by removing the screws from the plastic feet, drilling holes in the countertop, and then driving in a longer screw or bolt from the inside of the stove.
To ignite the fuel, a canister is inserted into the chamber. A notch in the canister must be aligned with a flange on the valve assembly. Then, by depressing the lever on the front of the stove, a spring-loaded arm hooks the canister collar and pulls it forward so that the canister nozzle is depressed by the valve needle. Fuel now flows to the burner. By turning the temperature control knob all the way to "Max" the piezo-electronic igniter makes a spark next to the burner and—you've got flame. The system is reliable and fairly foolproof. Extinguishing the flame is accomplished by turning the temperature control knob clockwise to "off." Between uses it's recommended that the canister be unlocked.
Recommended clearances from combustible materials are 8" front and side, 39" above.
Glomate recommends burning off fuel in the burner and line. (This makes sense for any conventional propane stove/oven inside the cabin.) After disconnecting the canister, turn the temp knob back to "on" to ignite the remaining fuel.
Bottom Line. In 1994 The Glowmaster GM 1300 was our recommended buy (the name later was changed from Glowmaster to Glomate), based on price, safety features and performance. At $39.95 the GM 1600 also is hard to beat. The finish is not marine, but it's rugged enough to last for at least a few years. It comes with a rigid carrying case if you want to keep it portable.
The Kenyon butane stove is very similar to the Glomate. The stampings are different but the principles of operation are identical. Well, there is a minor difference. Whereas the Glomate has the spring-loaded arm to pull the canister by its collar into the valve assembly, the Kenyon has a spring- loaded piece of metal that pushes the bottom of the canister toward the valve assembly. Pull versus push makes a difference with rope and donkeys, but not much difference here, we think.
The Kenyon has the same black enamel finish, circular metal wind guard around the burner, corrugated fins for pots to rest on, and a very similar-looking brass burner.
Unlike the Glomate, whose top grate cannot be inverted level (to prevent placing pots too close to the flame), the Kenyon's grate can be. This is convenient for storage as it lowers the profile of the stove, but does make it possible to put a pan right on top of the burner, which could be dangerous. You'll just have to remember to watch it, and caution others.
Like the Glomate, the Kenyon also has a high-pressure auto shut-off feature. In the event that the butane canister or cooker gets too hot—from the sun, spilled grease, etc.—a plunger inside the valve assembly rises and stops the flow of fuel.
Kenyon seems to offer a few more accessories for its stove: "sea legs" suction cup mounting kit, permanent mounting kit (includes stainless steel tabs, though you could screw it to a countertop just like the Glomate), and potholders, which you may recall are required by the ABYC. The potholder from Kenyon is a metal halo that fastens to a bracket on the backside of the unit, and is suspended a few inches above the burner. A carrying case is optional.
One quibble: Kenyon's stove doesn't have a full drip pan underneath the burner to catch boil-overs, so be careful of the surface you're cooking on.
Bottom Line. The Kenyon Express is a slightly updated version of the same stove we've used for years of camping both on and off the water. We used it on a trip down the Mississippi River aboard a small powerboat. It still works fine, though the finish is dull and won't clean up too well. We bought ours from the West Marine catalog for $64.99, but when our Forespar Mini-Galley came from Defender with a copy of their catalog, we saw the Kenyon listed for just $49.95.
In either case, it costs a bit more than the Glomate, but we don't see any obvious justification for the difference, be it $10 or $25.
Force 10 Seacook Cooking Stove
As one would expect from Force 10, this is a substantial piece of equipment. All major parts are stainless steel, though it doesn't appear to be 316, and we noticed a bit of corrosion around welds. Nevertheless, it's a quality fabrication.
The Canadian-made Seacook uses a standard 16.4-ounce propane bottle, commonly found in camping stores. It screws into the bottom of the regulator assembly. The manual cautions that the threads are fine and easily cross-threaded. Use a drop of machine oil to minimize the chances of this.
There is no piezo electrode; the throttle must be opened and a match or other flame or igniter held to the burner. The regulator allows for good control of the flame, including low flames, which is important for simmering soups and stews.
The largest pot accommodated is about 7" diameter, a bit smaller than the Seacook we tested seven years ago. But other changes include some important improvements. Most notably, the side ears from which the bowl suspends from the bracket appear to be longer, so that the center of gravity of the unit (with full pan) is lower. In 1994, we found that with a full pot the stove tended to be tippy, and we recommended lowering the center of gravity by, perhaps, adding a set of short stainless tangs between the bracket pivot bolts and the ears. This no longer appears to be a problem, but we'd still be careful about using too tall a pot. Check for stability before taking your hands off. The Seacook requires a swing radius of 14".
Another change has been made to the built-in potholder. We thought clever the old Z-shaped rods that fit into the grate and were infinitely adjustable. But so is the new potholder design; it consists of six stainless rods formed in half circles, with each end bent around a circular rod just above the burner. Like a colander, pushing inward on one or two rods forces all of them in, tight around the pot. This potholder also is infinitely adjustable.
The company claims it will burn about 3-1/2 hours on one 16.4-ounce bottle at high setting; that's more than twice as long as the estimated 1-1/4 hour burn time of other stoves running on an 8-ounce butane canister.
It's a little harder to light than the Forespar because you have to put your hand down inside the bowl and potholders to hold a match to the burner, but the fine control of the regulator lets you ignite it on a very low flame. The solid-bottom bowl also protects your hand from burns should the pot spill while turning the regulator knob.
As noted above, a major drawback to the Seacook is the ABYC's condemnation of the 16.4-ounce propane bottle. While we don't like picking fights with ABYC, we think the Seacook is far safer than any pressurized alcohol or kerosene burner.
In the time-to-boil test we were shocked to find that the Seacook took 11-1/2 minutes the first time, the same as the Origo alcohol stove. It was tried a second time with a wider, shallower pan and it took 8-1/2 minutes. In the chart, we averaged the two times. The Seacook has a good burner, just like the Forespar Mini-Galley, but the large diameter rod grate above the burner seems to be absorbing much of the heat. A redesign again seems to be in order.
Bottom Line. The Seacook won't double as a camp stove because it has to be suspended, but it's the one you want for rough weather. At $90, it's twice the price of the butane stoves, but it's marine-grade and should last for many years.
The Mini-Galley is quite similar to the Seacook but is more lightly made. The mounting bracket arms and stove structure all are made from 1/16" thick by 1/2" wide stainless steel bands. The stainless is well polished and seems to be a higher grade than the Seacook.
The Mini-Galley comes with its own pot and lid, which can be turned upside-down for use as a frying pan. Both are tiny—so tiny, in fact, that each hardly holds one serving, let alone enough soup or stew for even a small crew. You'll be cooking in shifts, increasing time in the galley in what probably will be uncomfortable sea conditions. These small pots do keep the center of gravity low; Forespar says not to use larger pots for fear of spilling the contents. Four stainless steel spring clips inside the stove's structure can be bent out or in to make the pot or pan secure.
The same 16.4-ounce propane canister is used as with the Seacook, and the same caution applies to potential cross-threading.
Like the Seacook, the mounting bracket is meant to be screwed to any suitable vertical surface, such as a bulkhead or cabinet. It's gimbaled in both axes so will swing freely regardless of the orientation of the bracket.
Bottom Line. The Mini-Galley is nicely made, well-designed, and should last a long time. It's lightweight and comes with a nylon storage bag for the pot, and a larger nylon bag for the entire unit. We only wish it held larger pots; when compared to the Seacook, that's where it comes up short. At $99.95, it's just $10 more, but we don't see any reason to fork over a sawbuck.
Last and most expensive, by a long shot, is the Origo 1500 alcohol single-burner stove. It's beautifully made in Sweden of highly polished stainless steel.
We've already discussed alcohol as a stove fuel—it has a much lower Btu rating than butane or propane, which simply means that it takes longer to cook food.
As a vehicle for burning the fuel, the Origo has its strong and weak points. On the troublesome side is the method of filling the Origo's fuel drum. The rubber cap is removed (it prevents evaporation even though the fuel is absorbed by the glass wool batting inside the drum) and the drum held at a 45° angle. You have to stop and hold the tank vertical every few seconds to make sure you don't overfill the drum (you don't want it coming over the lip of the opening). This ends up being a bit messy, but practice does improve your technique.
Some folks apparently tried filling the drum from the top—a seemingly logical maneuver, but it virtually guarantees overfilling. Origo discourages the practice by printing a stern warning on top of the flame spreader.
The 1500 holds about 2.5 pints and is supposed to burn for about 3-1/2 hours on a full tank. To light, a match is held over the drum opening. The control knob on the front actuates a steel cover that slides back and forth over the opening just like a Sterno can. Marvelously simple. But remember that the flame from alcohol can be almost invisible, so be careful.
There doesn't appear to be any way to permanently mount the stove to a countertop. For safe, ABYC-approved operation, you'll need the optional gimbals and potholder. Added to the already high price of the stove, your investment is now over $300.
Bottom Line. There's no doubt that the Origo is a quality stove, well-made and simple. Alcohol, for all its shortcomings, is not explosive like butane and propane, and many boatowners would trade the longer cooking times for that measure of safety any day. The cost of the Origo, however, seems out of proportion with the others.
Though all five stoves tested are single-burner units, they can be divided into two categories twice: those that gimbal and those that don't; and those that gimbal in all axes and those that don't. For rough weather, the Seacook and Forespar Mini-Galley are the obvious choices—even if you have a larger boat with a stove/oven. Of the two, we want to favor the Seacook because it holds larger diameter pots, but are annoyed at its long time to boil.
Stoves that can't be made to gimbal, like the Glomate GM 1600 and Kenyon Express, must be used with care on boats. Securing them to a countertop improves safety, but if the boat rolls too hard a pot could spill or be thrown off, even with the recommended potholder. Therefore, we view these two butane stoves as less desirable. At the same time, their low prices and reliable operation make them easy choices for, say, use on a trailer sailer where, often as not, you might be cooking on the hard. For use on board, consider limiting cooking to the cockpit.
Contacts— Forespar Mini-Galley, Forespar Products, 22322 Gilberto, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688; 949/858-8820; www.forespar.com. Glomate Sport Products, 150 Cooper Rd., Unit G-18, West Berlin, NJ 08091; 609/753-4800; www.glomate.com. 888/386-7868. Kenyon, PO Box 925, 8 Heritage Park, Clinton, CT 06413; 860/664-4906; www.kenyonmarine.com. Origo AB Sweden, 1540 Northgate Blvd., Sarasota, FL 34234; 941/355-4488; www.origo-sweden.com. Seacook, Force 10 Marine, 23080 Hamilton Rd., Richmond, BC V6V 1C9, Canada; 604/522-0233; www.force10.com.
Also With This Article
Click here to view "Value Guide: Single-burner Stoves."