Advances in electrical technology mean sailors no longer have to rely on gas for making hot meals and drinks. Rupert Holmes reports on the latest generation of induction cookers
For most of us, cooking with gas has been so much the norm both ashore and afloat that it’s easy to forget the march of yachting technology has the potential to offer better alternatives. Induction hobs have yet to be routinely adopted in the sailing world, but that looks set to change.
Ten years ago the idea of using electricity to cook on any serious cruising yacht would have been a non-starter. However, much has changed in the last decade, particularly the myriad of efficient and affordable ways to deliver large amounts of battery charge, even when cruising in remote locations, and the growing feasibility of fitting large lithium ion battery banks.
Equally, induction hobs have much to recommend them on a yacht. Energy transfer is extremely efficient, which means only the pan and your food is heated, whereas a gas stove heats air, which makes the interior of a boat even warmer in hot climates. At the other end of the spectrum, burning gas releases water vapour, which adds to condensation in cold climates.
In addition, finding gas can be a problem for longer distance cruisers, who may need to ship a variety of bottles and adaptors to suit those used in differing territories. But if you can generate and store sufficient electrical power to run an induction hob, it’s possible to be entirely self-sufficient in fuel for cooking over extended periods. Induction hobs are also easier to clean and the safety implications of burning gas in an enclosed space are eliminated.
Marine galley specialist GN Espace has waited a long time for the market and onboard infrastructure to be right to introduce an all-electric induction cooker. “Back when we started in 2008 we designed our cookers so that we could produce an electric version when the time was right,” director Ralph Olingschlaeger tells me.
“The market wasn’t there until things started to change a couple of years ago. Since then we’ve seen a rapid trend towards more onboard electrical capacity through the growth of lithium batteries and increased means to generate large amounts of power.”
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Products for the times
Olingschlaeger says there are still limitations in size and power consumption, but there are enough boats with sufficient battery and generating capacity in the 45-65ft segment for GN Espace to launch a product into this market. The electric version of the OceanChef is a feature-rich cooker that marries an induction hob to a multifunction electric fan oven with grill and a defrost function. It’s a 50cm wide product that can be fitted as a drop-in replacement for many marine cookers.
A power management system limits maximum energy draw to under 3kW, which means the unit can be used with inexpensive standard inverter technology. Nevertheless, it’s a sophisticated product, with a power-boost function enabling 2.5kW to be delivered to a single hob to get a pot boiling quickly. An algorithm is used to learn the heat settings needed to heat a pot from cold to boiling and then automatically reduce heat settings for simmering. There are also ‘bridge zones’ that allow a giant pot to straddle two induction zones.
What were the biggest challenges in creating the device? “Induction cooking is a mature technology that’s driven by the domestic market and its standard sizes,” says Olingschlaeger. The problem is that won’t work on a boat, where cookers even on relatively large craft are smaller than their domestic equivalents. As a result, he says development was an involved process that required a lot of lobbying to get components of an appropriate size and quality.
The first electric OceanChef was fitted to an Arcona 465Z in September. The company has also been in ‘very encouraging’ talks with a number of other builders of quality yachts. Looking ahead, Olingschlaeger says they also plan to develop a smaller model with fewer features at a lower price point.
As far as we know GN Espace is the first company to produce a properly marinised and gimballed induction cooker, but it’s certainly not the only one looking at this market. Dometic announced its Induction Cooktop aimed at the RV market back in 2016 and we’re told now has a product for the marine market in development.
Similarly American company Kenyon offers a number of two- and four-ring induction hobs aimed at various guises of outdoor cooking. Some of these have an optional silicone mat that helps keep pots in place. However, like Dometic, the firm has yet to introduce a gimballed option.
Prices for the OceanChef electric gimballed induction cooker start at £4,794, the non-gimballed alternative costs £1,295, and a built-in multifunction electric marine oven will set you back £2,895.
Other induction cooking options
If you’re not ready yet to make the step up to lithium ion batteries and a full induction cooking system, but spend time on board connected to shorepower, a single zone portable induction hob is worth considering.
Members of the niche Marine Induction Cooking Facebook group are enthusiastic about these, with the unit simply sited on a worktop when in port. They can be surprisingly inexpensive – IKEA, for example, sells one for less than £40 (ex. delivery) [ed. It’s also available on Amazon for around £65 (inc. free delivery)].
Beyond that, pressure cookers have long been de rigueur for cruising sailors as they markedly reduce cooking times, which minimises gas consumption and generation of unnecessary heat.
There’s also an increasing contingent with breadmakers on board. Of course, these are by no means essential – it’s possible to bake good bread on a stove top – but the convenience of a breadmaker is compelling. They are surprisingly frugal on power, using around 35Ah – a fraction of the daily electrical consumption of a typical yacht of more than 40ft – to bake a standard loaf.
Solar ovens, which gather heat from the sun to cook your food, are also worth considering. A key benefit for those venturing off the beaten track is the self-sufficiency element in that no fuel is used. They also add a layer of redundancy – you can still make warm food even if other systems have failed. On the downside, solar cookers are by necessity bulky and therefore take up valuable deck space.
First published in the November 2020 issue of Yachting World.