Outdoor grilling has never been more popular as a food prep opportunity — and that’s as true for boaters as it is for backyard barbecue chefs. Not only are there more after-market on-board grills for boats available than ever before, but more boat models are now coming with standard or optional built-in grills on deck.
My on-board grilling experiences have improved considerably since an early effort utilizing a common charcoal-filled Hibachi resulted in burgers spiced with the smoky scent of melting marine carpeting from the deck it was placed upon.
These days I break out a Magma propane grill that I deftly clamp into a flush-mounted fishing rod holder and fire up with an electronic ignition. Down the dock from our slip is a pontoon boat fitted with a Springfield propane model conveniently secured at waist level atop a pedestal that fits in a common seat base. Across the channel a sailboat features a round, kettle-style Magma charcoal grill that swings out over the water when its owner is braising brats and charbroiling burgers most Sunday evenings during the boating season.
“We’re seeing more boats, of all styles, being fitted with grills,” said Mike Williams of Kenyon International. The Connecticut-based company is the leading provider of OEM electric grills for boats, according to Williams, and offers portable after-market models as well. Kenyon’s electric grills are powered via a 1500-watt inverter while on the hook or by shore power at the dock.
That said, propane is the most popular fuel source for boaters grilling out, followed by common charcoal briquettes, which fueled the original outdoor barbecue eruption ashore and afloat.
From Backyards to Boats
History has it that in 1976 identical twin brothers, Jim and Jerry Mashburn of Southern California, wanted to cook out on their sailboat and created Magma Products when they found common porcelain metal grills weren’t up to the task. After a short time attached to the stern of their boat, the grills rusted out and became unserviceable. Realizing the durability of stainless steel in marine environments, the twins set to work making a charcoal grill for boaters that would withstand the hardships of a saltwater environment and could be conveniently mounted on the boat’s rail. Their Magma Kettle Grill remains one of the most popular portable grills for boaters on the water today, along with propane-fueled models that now lead the company’s sales.
“You see a lot of the backyard conveniences finding their way aboard boats these days,” said Magma’s Tom Dougherty, “especially pontoon boats, where grills are becoming very popular. But boaters of all types are using their craft like backyard patios, and that includes being able to cook out after dropping anchor or fixing to a mooring for the day.”
Safety is key when cooking aboard a boat, and a fire extinguisher should always be handy, added Dougherty.
“Our propane grills are designed to be used with one-pound propane canisters that are secured to the outside side of the grill, out in the open where any gas leakage that might happen to occur quickly dissipates,” explained Dougherty. “When adapted for use with larger propane cylinders, we advise boaters place the tanks in lockers approved for use with propane.
“Our charcoal grills are designed with tight-fitting lids and vents that when closed quickly starve the briquettes of oxygen and extinguish them in a matter of minutes,” Dougherty continued, adding that most waters prohibit the dumping of ashes overboard, and it’s important to secure partially burned charcoal in the grill until it can be safely disposed of ashore.
As for grilling accessories, Dougherty said that optional shelves and racks available with most grills are popular, as are baskets and trays for grilling certain types of food.
“Portable lights, grill covers and storage bags are also popular options for grills used aboard,” said Dougherty. “Any accessories you find handy to have when grilling out on your deck at home, you’ll find handy for cooking out on the deck of your boat.”
- Never grill while underway.
- Never leave a lit grill unattended.
- Never use gasoline or any other non-approved accelerant to light a grill.
- Read, understand and follow the instructions that came with the grill.
- Make sure embers cannot fall from the grill onto any part of the boat.
- Many marinas do not allow open flames, or grills, for safety reasons. Check with the marina staff before lighting the grill.
- Always ensure that propane connections are tight, correctly attached and leak free. If you suspect a leak, check connections with a soapy water solution. If bubbles form when brushed onto a joint, you have a leak.
- Put out the grill as soon as you’ve finished cooking and let it cool completely before putting it away.
- Make sure you detach and store portable grills before getting underway.
- If using an open flame, make sure the grill is well aft and downwind of any biminis or sail covers.
Author: Dan Armitage is a regular contributor to HeartLand Boating magazine