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When we decided to go cruising, I knew that I had a lot of learning to do, especially in terms of the galley. Cooking on a boat is similar to land-based cooking with subtle, yet significant, differences. When researching a solution to cooking rice, I found Carolyn’s post (Boat Galley) about cooking rice in a thermos, and instantly fell in love. It was such a great idea & I tried it immediately with the thermos coffee mug I had at home, and it worked! My only problem…we’re a crew of 4, and we’ll need more rice than a coffee thermos can provide. Our solution = a thermal cooker.

What is a thermal cooker?

Think of a thermal cooker as a non-electric crockpot. Our thermal cooker has been my solution to my former land-based crockpot addiction. I love being able to dump ingredients into a pot & have a meal ready-to-eat when we are. Since we planned to live primarily at anchor, I knew a crockpot was not going to make the ‘bring to the boat’ cut. After doing a lot of research, I bought the best thermal cooker (link here) and have used it at least twice a week since. I. love. it. and you will too. 

How does it work?

Instead of explaining the nitty gritty (see resource links below if you’re interested), the ‘short & sweet’ explanation is that you put ingredients in the inner pot, put that pot on the stove top & bring it to a boil for at least 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, you carefully place the now boiling inner pot into the outer thermal pot, close it, and forget about it…anywhere from 2 to 8 hours. The ingredients continue to cook while you’re having fun with your family.  No really, they do. I know. I was shocked too. In fact, when you take that inner pot out 8 hours later, you’ll even burn yourself if you don’t use a pot holder. It’s crazy how well insulated these pots are to continue cooking the ingredients so long.

Be mindful of temperature, especially if there is meat in your pot. If you don’t quite get to your pot within the recommended timeframe, and the temperature has dropped substantially, all you have to do is put your inner pot back on the stove and bring it to a boil again before serving. No big deal. Now, if you find yourself on the other extreme, a few hours in and your crew is famished, you’re probably ok to serve after 2 hours, especially if there isn’t any meat in your dish (or the meat was fully cooked before adding it to the pot).

Why you need one to feed your family crew:

I’m not chained to the galley. Others claim a lot of benefits (saves water, propane, less heat in the kitchen, etc. – see resources linked below), but my absolute favorite reason…freedom. It gives me the freedom to prep something when I have some time but serve it much later to my famished crew after a fun excursion. We can stay at the beach an extra hour, because dinner will be ready when we are. We can wake up late and still have a warm breakfast. With minimal effort we can have a hot meal after a gargantuan sail without having to cook underway. It really is an amazing tool.

It saves us money. Even with the initial purchase of the pot, it still saves us lots of money. When we were land based, we ordered out at least once a week. We saved it for those days when we’d come home after work and school and were completely spent. (Can you relate?) Now, we find ourselves feeling pretty spent after walking around exploring a new place all day, and would probably just eat dinner on land BUT with a family of four, this can get rather expensive and this in not how we choose to spend our cruising budget. Instead, in the morning before we head out, I’ll prep something in the thermal cooker so we know we’ll be able to eat the moment we return. (Have you ever heard of ‘the hangries’? Angry behavior when the crew is hungry. Hungry/angry. It’s a thing.) Now, ice cream…that’s a different story. We think it’s required to visit a local ice cream shop while exploring, and knowing we won’t be spending a hefty price on dinner later makes it that much sweeter.

Batch cooking is a timesaver. We eat a lot of brown rice. It’s one of our staples. BUT cooking brown rice on the stove takes longer than I like. Our solution is to cook a large batch of brown rice in the thermal cooker once a week & use it for a variety of meals. So, ~20 min. of propane for ~3 meals using the thermal cooker vs. ~45 min for each meal using the stove top. The other variance here is time. Even though it only takes ~20 minutes of propane, it takes an additional ~2 hours to cook in the thermal cooker, so this isn’t something you can do last minute. The benefit is that you can’t burn the food and you don’t have to sit there and watch the pot.

Using a thermal cooker: tips

  • The key is to chunk, chop, or dice your ingredients before putting them into the inner pot. A whole chicken breast will, eventually, cook in the pot but you’ll need additional boiling and sitting time. It’s better to cut the breast into chunks. Same with potatoes. Chop them so they’ll cook faster. (However, if you want whole baked potatoes, this pot CAN do that. Amazing, right?!! (Recipe here.)
  • Add flavor where you can, i.e. broth or bullion to soups instead of water.
  • If you have a really big fridge & ice-maker (we don’t) or are still on land with a ‘regular’ size fridge & ice-maker, you can first cool the pot down with ice and use the thermal cooker to keep cold dishes cold, like pasta or potato salad. Great for a potluck! 

A few of our favorite family friendly recipes in the thermal cooker:

  • Breakfast:
  • Lunch or Dinner:
    • Baked potato soup
    • Pork Carnitas
    • Hamburger soup
    • Rice 
      • Notice there are 2 different recipes: 
        • when you need a lot of rice = cook it in the big pot (then I usually cook beans in the top pot at the same time)
        • when you don’t need as much = cook it in the top pot (then I usually have soup or something in the bottom pot at the same time)

Recommended thermal cookers:

As of the posting of this article, the thermal cooker I have is currently out of stock. I’m not sure when it will go back in stock, so I’m providing links for other well reviewed, good quality, thermal cookers I’ve found highly recommended during my research.

P.S. Sign up to receive more shareworthy info and tips about feeding your boat family via our weekly newsletter. And don’t worry. I won’t SPAM you. I don’t share your email address either. I only send you an email once a week that shares notables that every cruising family can use with top posts and timely tips that don’t necessarily get published on the site. Let us help you save time. We’ve done the work so you can just do what you love…spend time cruising with your family!

More resources:

CruisingMomBlog.com provides recipes as a resource and educational tool only, and make no food safety guarantees. We are not liable for any failure to meet food safety standards that may arise in your thermal cooking. We make every effort to ensure that our recipes meet established food safety standards, but all thermal cookers are not created equal, and there are many variables at play resulting in the temperatures being reached and maintained in your thermal cooker. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific brand and model of thermal cooker, even if that means tailoring our recipes. If you are in doubt, please consult the FDA page on foodborne illness for safe cooking temperatures and other safety tips. And use a food thermometer to ensure that your food has been cooked and stored at a safe temperature.

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