Features July 2006 Issue

Compact Cookers

Petite, portable, and powerful: Single-burners face off.

The Force 10 Seacook is a PS favorite, but for galley cooking, check out the Kenyon Express II or Origo 1500.

Not much has changed in the world of single-burners since Practical Sailor last reviewed them in March 2002. Some have seen minor updates, but many are still not built for galley cooking, and they lack the fuel capacity for full duty on an extended cruise—unless you have room to stow a few dozen fuel bottles. But they do serve their purpose: They’re great for daysailors and weekend warriors, and the sea-swing style stoves are handy during those rough-weather rides or for a quick bowl of soup.

Also unchanged are the attributes of a good marine stove: Onboard cooking requires simple stoves that are reliable, durable, and safe, and are equipped with pot holders and gimbals or table-top mounts. Stove portability and easy stowage are also essential for the small-boater.

Cruisers and liveaboards may find these stoves to be a good alternative to firing up the main galley stove for a quick lunch. We’ll take a look at double-burner and stove/oven combo units in upcoming PS issues.

What We Tested
For this test, we searched out four single-burner stoves that could be used for daysailing or weekend trips: the Chef-Master 10,000 (descendant of the Chef-Master 1,000 PS tested in 1994), the Kenyon Express II (an updated version of a 2002 test subject), the Origo 1500 (unchanged from previous tests), and the Kenyon KISS cooktop. We also tested two sea-swings: the Force 10 Seacook and the Forespar Mini-Galley 2000, both unchanged since the 2002 test.

The butane-burning Kenyon Express II and Chef-Master are portable and come with plastic carrying cases, while the KISS (also butane) is a fixed, drop-in stove. The alcohol-driven Origo can be used as a stand-alone, mounted tabletop stove, or it can be gimbaled. The gimbaled, propane-fired sea swings can be mounted on any bulkhead and can be easily stowed between uses.

How We Tested
PS testers cranked up the heat to full blast to see how quickly each stove could boil 2 cups (1 pint) of tap water in a standard 8-inch pot. The boil test was conducted outdoors in a very light breeze, using a digital thermocouple to determine when the water had reached 212 degrees. We also tested how well the stoves can hold a simmer between 140 and 160 degrees.

Each stove was evaluated on workmanship, quality of construction, compliance with the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) standards, and features like spill-pan depth, pot holders, and control-knob ergonomics.

For gaseous stoves with fuel sources weighing more than 8 ounces and are planned for galley use, the ABYC requires a flame-failure device that stops fuel flow once the flame is extinguished. The only stove in our test with the device is the Kenyon KISS cooktop. The butane stoves use 7.8- or 8-ounce canisters, and the sea swings are not recommended for use down below. The standard does not apply to liquid-fueled stoves like the Origo. We tested the shutoff on the KISS by igniting the stove, blowing out the flame, and observing the time it took to stop the fuel flow.

To find out how easy the stoves are to clean, testers spattered warm instant oatmeal—cinnamon roll-flavored for extra sugary-sweet stickiness—on the stoves, let it cook a bit, and left the slop to harden for two days before trying to clean it off, first with just soap and water on a non-abrasive sponge and then with oven cleaner. We also sprayed the stoves down with sea water and let that sit for three days to determine how prone the products are to corrosion.

The Chef-Master is a decent travel stove, but it’s not cut out for duty in a marine environment. The stove, manufactured by Mr. Bar-B-Q, lacks pot holders and mounting hardware. Its spill pan is shallow, although it’s deeper than that of the Express II. The non-corrugated burner-grate arms allow pans to slide too much when the stove is at an angle, and the arms are set wide apart, making it impossible to use anything smaller than a 6-inch pan.

According to the ABYC, gaseous galley stoves must have a two-step ignition process (a push-turn or something similar). The Chef-Master requires only a simple turn of the temperature control knob to light. It was the only test stove lacking the two-step ignition.

The control knob has too much play, in our opinion, and does not have a noticeable low-flame stop. However, the stove simmers better than the Express II and boils faster than the Origo and the KISS.

Unlike the Express II, the Chef-Master stove grate inverts to cut down on needed storage space and its carrying case is sturdier. An inverted grate can be a safety hazard if the stove is lit while it is inverted, because the butane canister can overheat. But the lever that locks the Chef-Master’s fuel into igniting position cannot be engaged with the grate inverted. The stowage advantage is that when the stoves are stored in their supplied carrying cases, the Express II takes up about a quarter-inch more space vertically.

Like all the butane test stoves, the Chef-Master is equipped with an automatic fuel shutoff that stops the fuel flow if the butane canister becomes too hot.

The spray test yielded significant rust on the butane canister. The baked-on, caked-on oatmeal washed off the body and grate easily, but oven cleaner had to be used to get the goo off the burner. The grate would not fit into a bucket for washing, but it would fit into a galley sink.

There’s no latch to secure the stove grate to the body, so if left unstowed, it will rattle some underway. This is also true of the Express II.

Bottom Line: The Chef-Master is a fairly fast cooker, but it falls far short of meeting the ABYC standards for a galley stove. It lacks the boat-friendly features the Express II has and is only $10 cheaper. We’d pass.

Kenyon Express II
The Express II is just like its predecessor, the Express, but with a few tweaks: Kenyon overhauled the gas regulator and changed the design to no longer allow the grate to be inverted.

The Express II was the best boiler of the butane stoves, and its control knob turned smoothly for easy temperature control.

The aluminum burner showed some corrosion after the spray test; but the coating made the stove easy to clean with just soap and water.

The Express II offers more features than the Chef-Master, but fewer than the KISS and Origo. It has corrugated burner arms, offering better grip of the pans. The circular pot holder (sold separately) mounts to the stove halo-style with a stainless bracket. Testers were not impressed with the pot holder. At 9 inches in diameter, it won’t work well with smaller pots. The stove does not have a gimbaling option, but can be fixed-mounted.

Testers question the durability of the Kenyon’s flimsy plastic carrying case. Our test unit’s case has two plastic hinges, one of which broke before it was removed from the shipping box. These things need to be able to take a beating, and this case cannot: We see duct tape in its near future.

Bottom Line: While it’s not the ideal stove to have onboard, the Express II is portable, and with the optional accessories, it meets ABYC standards. At $40, it’s more than 50 percent cheaper than the best performers in the test, making it the PS Budget Buy. It’s worth the money if it suits your needs.

Kenyon KISS
This butane stove is a totally different animal than the Express II and Chef-Master. The KISS cooktop is designed as a fixed stove and does not have a gimbaling option.

There are a few things about the KISS that concern testers: the tempered glass lid (with its will “burst violently” warning label) and the spring-loaded butane storage compartment.

To remove the butane, you turn the cooking-temperature control knob all the way clockwise. This can be dangerous if you’re cooking and go too far with the knob. Unsuspecting cooks (or testers) will find that the fuel pops up like a jack-in-the-box, pinching the knob-turning hand in the process—ouch. We’d like to see either a more obvious transition from cooking to opening the compartment or a separate release button for the fuel.

The temp control knob is flat; we prefer a raised knob, which is more ergonomic, but that would affect the lid’s closing. It does offer good temperature control and can maintain a good simmer.

We tested the KISS flame failure device several times, and each time it worked flawlessly, stopping fuel flow about 20 seconds after the flame was extinguished.

The KISS has an added safety feature that ceases fuel flow when the lid closes. Users are advised not to cook on the stove lid and not to set too-heavy objects on it, otherwise the tempered glass likely will shatter into a million small pieces. The glass is rated up to 400 degrees, but should never face a direct flame. According to Kenyon, “It is only for decoration.” In our opinion, this space could be used more efficiently; “decoration” is often a luxury small-boaters don’t have space for. Instead of a glass lid, we’d rather see a cutting board placed over the stove when it’s not in use. A cutting board would not shatter, and would be more useful than a decorative glass surface.

The pot holders on the KISS come standard and are easy to operate, but because they are placed behind the burner, adjusting them while the stove is lit can mean reaching over a flame.

After minimal use during our test, the grate coating chipped some and those areas showed corrosion. The KISS earned an Excellent rating for ease of cleaning.

Bottom Line: The KISS cooktop, a quality-made stove, was in the running despite its drawbacks…that is, until we found out how much it costs. At $420, it’s more than twice the cost of the Origo and more than four times the cost of the Force 10.

The lone alcohol burner in this test, the polished stainless steel Origo is a solid, well-made stove. However, it has all the negatives of any alcohol stove: It cooks slowly; the fuel has an unpleasant odor; and the multi-step fuel-filling process—although it is simple—can be messy and time-consuming.

But it has many positives to balance the list: It can be mounted or gimbaled. Its pot holders are secured at the front of the stove, so they are easy to adjust even while the stove is lit. The stove simmered well and was rated Excellent for control knob ergonomics. The grate is easily removed for cleaning, and the crusted-on oatmeal wiped right off the stovetop with soap and water.

Some corrosion did surface after the spray test, but it was restricted to the alcohol chimney/diffuser and pot-holder mounts. According to Origo, the diffuser will have to replaced every so often, but the replacement is free of charge.

Bottom Line: The Origo meets the ABYC standards for liquid-fueled stoves and is well made. If you can deal with the challenges of an alcohol stove and the $200 price tag, it’s a good buy.

Force 10 vs. Forespar
Of the two stainless sea swings reviewed, PS testers favored the Force 10.

The Forespar won the boil test, but it was impossible to maintain a simmer. The Force 10 allows for more temperature control and is a more versatile cooker.

The Force 10’s unique colander-style pot holder adjusts to fit most pots. With the Forespar, only the supplied 5-inch pot (3 inches deep) can be used; the pot lid doubles as a frying pan but is small and difficult to use inside the pot holder. The Mini-Galley cookware is pretty much limited to single-serving cooking.

There is no spill pan on the Forespar, but the Force 10’s is more than adequate.

The heavy-duty Force 10 is more sturdy and durable, in our opinion. It swings on stainless bolts where the Forespar has small rivets. Also, it showed no signs of corrosion after the spray test, but the Forespar showed some near the regulator, control knob, and inside the pot.

The main criticism of the Force 10 is that if a tall or very heavy pot is used, the kettle tends to pitch forward. With the added friction at the gimbaling point when it is under load, the kettle also had a tendency to stick at an angle, rather than rocking on its gimbal. This likely can be avoided by using smaller pots or by working the gimbal point until it loosens up.

Bottom Line: The Force 10 is not as small as the Forespar, so it takes up more storage room, and doesn’t come with a nylon stowage bag, but it’s $20 cheaper, is better built, and allows for fast and slow cooking.

We like the portability of the Kenyon Express II, but improvements need to be made to the carrying case. It’s a good buy if you’re looking for a daysail stove for under $100.

If you’re a patient person and need a stove for weekends, the Origo is a quality stove. The slow cooking time and multi-step fueling process are its main drawbacks, but it’s more seaworthy than the Kenyon.

Our Best Choice single-burner, the Force 10 Seacook, is the most sturdy; it’s easy to use and easy to stow, and it has all the features a marine single-burner stove should have. Its one big drawback is that the ABYC limits it to cockpit cooking, but it will come in handy in fair or foul weather, and it will last for the long haul.

• Chef-Master, 866/505-4561, www.chef-master.com
• Force 10, 800/663-8515, www.force10.com
• Forespar, 949/858-8820, www.forespar.com
• Kenyon, 860/664-4906, www.kenyonappliances.com
• Origo, 941/355-4488, 46 35/16-5700, www.origo-sweden.com

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