Lessons Learned: Onboard Thermal Cooking


There is a learning curve when using retained-heat cooking. Here are a few of the lessons we learned during testing.

If less than 15 minutes of simmering are required, or if boiling is required for mixing (some pasta), just cook it on the stove. After boiling, the pot must be simmered prior to going in the cooker for long enough to heat the food through. For rice, this is a matter of moments, but for quartered potatoes, it can take five minutes, and for something like beef stew, where the water does not fully cover the food, its a good idea to boil for 15 to 20 minutes before placing the pot in the retained-heat device.

If there are less than 2 quarts in the pot, it cools more quickly and cooking times are 20-percent longer. Dont try retained-heat cooking with anything less than 4 cups of contents. A full pot stays warmer longer than a one-third-full pot for the same meal volume.

Reduce the water for rice by about 5 percent; because the pot is not simmered, less boils away.

Wrap the cooking pot in a small, fleece blanket to keep the cooker clean and to add a little insulation to the pots bottom. Melting fabrics is not an issue. Place the cooker on an insulated surface-foam or carpet is good. Heat is lost faster through conduction from the pots bottom than by convection to the surrounding air.

Expect cook times to be about 20- to 30-percent longer than stovetop times (depending on the batch size); you can also finish with a few minutes of boiling on the stove if needed.

Do not leave cooking food in the pot too long (over six to eight hours) as bacteria can grow if the pot cools below 140 degrees, although the risk of contamination is very low for limited holding periods. Use a food thermometer until you get the hang of it.

Be careful when using any cooking device underway. Secure thermal cookers in a spot that restricts moving and limits spills. The Tiger and Shuttle Chef are sealed against leaks and can be secured on a gimbled stove or in a galley sink. Fabric bag cookers can spill and are best suited for use in calm weather and at anchor. We do not recommend using a Crock-Pot underway.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him by email at practicalsailor@belvoir.com.