Cooking aboard: migrating kitchen to galley

spicy red chiles in a calabash bowl

pinterest kitchen to galley migration

We love to cook. Moving from a spacious, well-equipped kitchen on land to a compact galley on a sailboat did nothing to impact our enthusiasm for creating and enjoying delicious meals. Until you live this truth, it may feel elusive; it’s easy to presume that cooking aboard approximates camping cuisine. I want to kick that misconception to the curb. Or reef. Or whatever! 

This post is part one in a series of galleywise topics, starting with a look at kitchen appliances. What makes the transition to the boat, what doesn’t, and how we compensate for equipment that doesn’t cross over. Are there some compromises? Probably, but do I feel for a moment deprived? Absolutely not!

[Yesterday’s article and video in CNN brought a raft of visitors. If you’re new to our blog, you might want to Start Here or read Who and Why. Welcome!]

Our kitchen on land included a professional range and more electrics than I can count on my hands. Some were everyday appliances, like our espresso machine; others had specialty use, like the Kitchen Aid standup mixer. We liked to entertain and these tools made it easier to cook for a crowd.

Aboard Totem, our galley may be a micro-sized and lightly equipped by comparison, but hasn’t compromised what we’re able to do. We still love to cook, to share meals aboard with friends, to explore the world through tastes and dishes. It cracked me up to see that CNN’s choice of a thumbnail for the video about our family happened to reference our love of food. THAT’S US!

CNN video about Sailing Totem family

In truth: most of our kitchen appliances did not get to the boat. It’s also true that I don’t miss them. OK, that’s a lie. Whipping cream by hand is a pain in the arm, but that’s why I have helpers! But only rarely do the gadgets offer function that can’t be replicated with a simpler tool, or time, or both. Here’s a comparison of commonly used appliances and how they fit in our land-to-boat transition.

On shore:On Totem:
BlenderImmersion blender. This gadget (aka stick blender, hand blender) makes everything from smoothies to pureed soups to hummus. AC powered and a big amperage draw, but that’s OK since it’s only on for about 30 seconds! We are on our 2nd Braun in 12 years.

When you shop: don’t undersize the power! At least 400 watts. At a more extreme end, I have a friend on a relatively low-tech boat that sized their inverter JUST so she could have her VitaMix on board.
Food processorMandoline. What can I say, I like making perfectly thin and uniform slices of vegetables sometimes! This makes easy, pretty work of things like potatoes and tomatoes. Get 3-4 years from the blades; we currently have an Oxo mandoline

Last year, our friend Judy visited and brought a new immersion blender with an attachment bowl that turns it into a food processor. Not gonna lie: I love it ! But there are also manual devices that stand in for smaller jobs.
MixerFor more general mixing, a bowl and spoon are enough. For whipping cream, beating egg whites, or emulsifying aioli (OK so that’s about once a year), a flat whisk stores compactly and gets the job done with a little elbow grease. Helpers are nice.
Coffee/espresso machineNothing! There are many ways to make coffee aboard, but our shmancy machine isn’t necessary. OK, so I do miss the frother/steamer for milk…
Bread machineMaking bread by hand is actually pretty easy; it just takes time, which we have. Sometimes the bread onshore is good enough that I don’t feel compelled (why compete with baguettes on a French island?). Bread machines need space and power, so aren’t a great fit for most boats, but cruisers with power to run one benefit from a cooler galley when baking bread. (Land- and sea-version recipe for our favorite bread, pictured above, in this post.)
MicrowaveThere’s a stove? Microwaves offer convenience we don’t need. The best use other than reheating might be making a hot drink for night watch – but if you’re moving around much on a passage, kettles are safer than the microwave as vessel for boiling hot water.
ToasterStovetop. Some boats have a toaster; we just make toast in a griddle pan on the stovetop; monitoring necessary, but an electric appliance is not required. My friend Carolyn swears by the GSI Camping Toaster, and tells why on The Boat Galley.
Crock potPower-hungry crock pots aren’t a good fit for most boats. Our Solavore solar oven acts a lot like a crock pot, cooking at low temperatures for hours; we don’t have one, but friends who do swear by a Thermal Cooker or Wonderbag for the same purpose: slow, unattended cooking.
Instant potPressure cooker. A pressure cooker on steroids is all that Instant Pot is! They use WAY too much power for off-grid cruising (40-80 amp draws for common functions). Modern pressure cookers are kind of awesome, anyway.

Some boats do have items we chose to forego; it’s a function of having space and power to make them work. But my point here: so much of what we’re convinced are “needs” … aren’t, really. Like a lot of life afloat, things are simpler. Pared back, what served as a helpful convenience before becomes unnecessary clutter.

Baguettes delivered boatside making baking optional in this anchorage. Mexico, 2010.
Often our methods just need a little more time, and that’s OK. Malaysia, 2013.
At the end of the day, a simple meal is often best. Thailand, 2014.

12 Responses

  1. Great piece! Land-bound cooks are missing out on the joys of less-is-more and improvisation.

    Food is more than nourishment aboard or anywhere. It is invention, nostalgia, adventure, humor, love & discovery. Aboard, this all is magnified; I don’t know…maybe because there are fewer distractions. Overnight watches are planned over food. Needed repairs aboard are discussed over food. On and on…

    Best meals I’ve had were under sail. Of necessity, they weren’t fancy or exotic… though a couple of them were alarmingly “unusual”. Seems one of the reasons, maybe, that we cruise is for the food.


  2. Have a look at the Bialetti Tuttocrema Stovetop Milk Frother, it makes beautiful milk froth with very little effort, is easy to clean and together with our trusted Bialetti espresso maker meets all our coffee needs, on land and at sea!

    I love reading your blog and following your story, thank you for sharing and inspiring so many of us.

    Fair winds!

      1. Not sure how it compares, I’ve not used that one. What I like about the Bialetti one is that it’s got a non-stick coating which makes cleaning it after heating and frothing milk really easy. And it is big enough to heat and froth milk for 4 mugs at a time. I also like that it frothes milk really quickly and very creamy. And the two layers of the frothing ‘stick’ are far enough apart so I can easily get a cloth / sponge in there to clean. Sorry, I sound like a clean freak ? I just don’t like milky things that smell, so frother needs to be easily washable (and preferably with little fresh water.) I agree it’s quiet pricey, but it makes for a lovely present … that keeps giving delicious coffees every day!

  3. For gourmet coffee a cup or two at a time, we love our Aeropress. Small, unbreakable, easy to clean, & there’s even an app of 99 ways to make coffee.

  4. Sweet Behan,

    How I love reading EVERY one of your posts! I do miss your traveling posts, but know they will begin fairly soon. I hope Nail has a fun, successful experience at school and that he never loose his love of adventure!

    Love to you all,


    1. It’s sweet to be back with family but we miss travel mode, too! Although our return to Totem will start with some pretty messy scenes at first… #boatprojects

  5. Your galley list is so similar to ours! (Ultimately, the live aboard life leads to converging solutions…) Most of all what I realize is how much more tactile, intimate, you get with your food when you’re slicing onions with a knife – and getting your fingers stinky – than dropping it in a food processor. And et cetera. Great post!

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