Why you’d want one
Marine barbecues have become standard issue on many cruising or day-use boats because there is nothing quite like dropping anchor in a serene cove and firing up the grill to conclude the day with a fine meal. They are also handy for providing extra cooking capacity if the galley has to deal with an onslaught of hungry guests. Mounted on the stern rail or the gunwale, they are ready at a moment’s notice. They have domes and lids for more energy efficiency and better control of the cooking temperature and they are easy to operate and clean.
The choice of fuel
Marine barbecues are either fueled by gas (propane or compressed natural gas) or by charcoal. Purists may prefer charcoal grills for reasons of flavor and the ritual of building a fire to get the coals going (probably a sense of satisfaction dating from when we lived in caves, but we digress). They also might like the slightly lower price tag of charcoal barbecues. Gas grills have more components and cost more but they are many boaters’ first choice because they are convenient. They don’t require lengthy preparation; they are hassle-free to operate; they deliver heat evenly and offer better temperature control via gas valve and a thermometer; they are easy to clean; and from an environmental perspective, they burn cleaner with less CO and soot than charcoal-fired models.
What to look for
- Kettle-style or rectangular: Marine grills come in round (“kettle”) or rectangular shape. Kettles have a round grill and a dome to shield food from wind and reflect the heat. In addition to barbecuing you can boil, fry, simmer, sauté stew and bake. The rectangular models have multiple burners, a hinged lid and larger cooking grills. Some have a secondary rack for keeping items warm or for slow cooking.
- Stainless steel housing: High-end marine barbecues feature a double liner of stainless steel on the inside of the shell that protects against discoloration and grease leaks. In addition, it keeps the outside cooler to the touch and increases their useful life span. If you operate your vessel in salt water, we recommend barbecues made from marine grade stainless steel that resists corrosion and keeps your grill looking good. Unlike most backyard models you can buy at Home Depot, all of the Magma and West Marine barbecues are constructed from welded stainless steel for durability and corrosion resistance. Due to heating and cooling effects, they will not look shiny and polished forever, but they do resist rust well over time.
- Lids: Most covers for marine barbecues are hinged and permanently attached, but the original Marine Kettle’s lid is attached to the base with a lanyard, and clamped to the barbecue with a simple washer attached to the handle, and it will sometimes fall off with an annoying clang.
- Installation: All barbecues come disassembled and require a modest amount of assembly, in addition to the selection and installation of a mount. Always be sure to purchase a necessary mount when you buy a barbecue.
How would you like to connect?
Canister or hose: Gas grills connect either to standard propane canisters (handy when you choose to take the unit ashore) or to the LPG or CNG system of your boat with a separate adapter. A swiveling bayonet mount for the control valve regulator is a safe and practical feature because it gives you flexibility to choose a convenient mounting position and allows a safe, quick exchange of canisters.
If a barbecue is plumbed to the ship’s main propane tank, which is the fuel source for a galley stove, heater or refrigerator, it can be connected with either high pressure or low pressure hoses. Barbecues use a 3” regulator valve designed to accept propane gas at about 150psi and reduce it in pressure to about 0.5psi. All barbecues come standard with a valve of this design, to which a disposable propane cylinder can be attached. If you want to fuel a barbecue from the ship’s propane system, one of two methods can be used.
- High pressure, unregulated propane can be run by hose from the ship’s tank to the barbecue. The high-pressure hose attaches to the main tank valve before the regulator, and utilizes the barbecue’s built-in regulator.
- Low pressure, regulated propane can be run by hose to a valve that replaces the built-in regulator on the barbecue. The low-pressure kit has a T-fitting downstream of the solenoid and a special valve that adapts the barbecue to low pressure propane.
The first high pressure example is undesirable, unless the propane cylinder is normally stored in an exterior location (like on a pontoon boat). Since all high pressure propane components should be enclosed completely within a vapor-tight container, this system would not be suitable for a boat with an enclosed propane locker.
- Push-button ignition: Look for piezo-crystal ignition to fire up gas grills once you have reached a tranquil anchorage after a long wet ride. These crystals are the magic that makes it possible to start the heat with the push of a button. Unlike a gas stove in a dry house that uses 110V AC power for ignition, a marine grill is exposed to the elements and has no source of electricity, so engineers came up with a system that produces an electric spark when a crystal is mechanically deformed.
- BTU-ratings: BTU ratings measure a gas grill’s heat output per hour at the highest heat setting. On a boat fuel storage is limited so efficient barbecue performance is important. Keep in mind that a 1-lb propane canister is rated for 20,000 to 22,000 BTU. Operating a barbecue with a heat output of 20,000 BTU at full throttle, one canister will last about an hour.
- Mounting options: If cruising is your lifestyle, you probably want to mount your barbecue on the pushpit or on the rail, out of the way yet easily accessible. More than a few racing boats in the Aloha Division of the Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Hawaii use brackets to keep their barbecues clamped to their stern rails during competition without sacrificing sailing performance. Other mounts plug into rod holders or deck sockets that are standard on many powerboats. Depending on the design of your boat, an 8” extension may be practical to position your barbecue outboard. If you want the option of using your barbecue on land, a shore stand is a must.
Marine barbecue tips
We recommend closing the barbecue lid to add radiant heat and increase your grill’s fuel efficiency. If you bring disposable gas canisters for your barbecue, store them in a vented locker. Charcoal bags should be stored in a dry locker. Putting them inside a plastic bag helps to keep water out, however it could also trap moisture that will be absorbed by the charcoal. When you barbecue make sure outboard fuel tanks are not stored in the vicinity. Tie off the dinghy on the far side of the boat to prevent falling hot embers from burning holes in the inflatable tubes.
Safe barbecuing The most common barbecuing mistake is using heat settings that are too high. When in doubt reduce heat.
- Have a spray bottle of water nearby to reduce flare-ups.
- Light your barbecue with the lid open, and don’t use the barbecue on high heat with the lid closed.
- Allow 2′ of clearance from any combustibles on the sides and in back of the barbecue.
- To reduce flare-ups: Trim fat from meat, use non oil-based marinades, reduce heat and use water sprayed directly on flare-ups.
Keeping your barbecue clean
Exterior: Clean the exterior after each use with soapy water and a soft cloth or sponge. Keep the barbecue covered between uses.
Interior: Remove heavy residue from the grill and empty the grease tray between uses. Completely disassemble and clean the barbecue at least once per year, depending on use, and always prior to long-term storage.
Grates: Coat the grates with vegetable oil before use to prevent food from sticking. Clean with a brass wire brush while the grill is warm. Use Easy Off Oven and Grill Cleaner for burnt-on residue, disassemble and wash parts after cleaning. Wash with soapy water before long-term storage.
Ceramic electrode: Keep the electrode, located beside the burner, free of grease and debris. Be careful not to damage the ceramic insulation or bend the wire.
Control valve: Don’t attempt to adjust or disassemble. Remove any obstructing debris from the orifice with a pin or needle.
Do not clean the barbecue with steel wool or abrasive cleaners.
Radiant burner plates or ceramic briquettes help distribute heat more evenly, which results in properly cooked food. A separate fish grill comes in handy for small items such as chopped vegetables so they won’t slip through. A stainless lighter chimney makes easy work of building a pile of hot charcoal. It also cuts down on paper use and eliminates the need for lighter fluid. Serving shelves, stainless steel tools, disposable drip box liners and protective covers add to the barbecue experience on board (or on the beach.)
Barbecuing on the boat or on the beach is an integral part of a relaxing boating experience. A good barbecue, whether it is fueled by gas or charcoal, is a must. If you are using a small, “original size” kettle, and just don’t have enough room, consider one of our “Super Sized” rectangular grills. Your guests will never have to wait for dinner to be served. If you are new to onboard barbecuing, or just need to replace your burned-out old unit, plenty of great choices are available. New marine barbecues are more durable, safer to operate, and give more reliable cooking control. Some great features, like piezo ignition, slide-out grease trays, warming racks, double-lined cases, and lids that stay put, make the current generation of grills easy and fun to use. Don’t forget to buy a cover, the right mount, and some stainless cookware or utensils.