Five items I didn't think too much about before moving aboard -- but that turned out to be treasures!

My Favorite Galley Gear

Let me start by saying that I think you can make great meals with whatever gear you have.  It’s possible to make good, tasty and nutritious meals with nothing more than a dented aluminum pot, a teaspoon and a pocket knife.  I certainly don’t think you need a bunch of gadgets to cook well — but a few good pieces of equipment will make things a lot easier and more enjoyable.

Leaving out the “big stuff” like whether or not to have a refrigerator or a watermaker, and also assuming that you’ve got things like dishes, glasses, silverware, some pans and basic items like a can opener, what are some of the little things that I find myself using time after time — and happy that I have?

That was the question that Kirsten asked me by e-mail this past weekend.  She’d been reading through many of the outfitting articles and was starting to feel a little overwhelmed.  She wanted to know what she might not have really thought about in equipping her galley.

I could list 50 or more items, but I’ve narrowed down my list to just 5 “items” (some are multi-part) that maybe you haven’t thought of if you’re just moving aboard . . . or starting to plan for moving aboard.  Titles in each link to my detailed article on the item (except for the food storage containers — I just realized I haven’t written much about them) and the photos link directly to the product on Amazon if you want to see it there.

Five items I didn't think too much about before moving aboard -- but that turned out to be treasures!Baking Stone — Due to their smaller size, boat ovens tend to have uneven heat and other problems.  A baking stone will do more to help baking in a typical boat oven than almost anything else, helping to retain heat and evening out hot spots.  Just leave it in the oven and use it for everything you bake.  Make sure it’s at least 1/2″ thick so it’s not likely to crack or break with the motion of the boat.  See also Using a Baking Stone.

If you don’t have an oven, forget about the baking stone and get an Omnia Stove Top Oven.  They are fantastic and by far the best way to bake on the stove top!

Five items I didn't think too much about before moving aboard -- but that turned out to be treasures!Mixing Bowl and Spoon — While you can use almost any container and spoon to mix things up, a mixing bowl and spoon designed for hand mixing (assuming you don’t have an electric mixer aboard) make it so much easier.  And if you’re thinking about making yeast breads, a high-quality plastic bowl makes it a lot easier to tell when you’ve added the right amount of flour and makes it easy to knead right in the bowl without adding too much flour (read more about Making Bread).  It can be difficult to find a good hand mixing spoon these days since so few people use them — but a good one makes mixing heavy batters and dough much easier.

Five items I didn't think too much about before moving aboard -- but that turned out to be treasures!Knives — Good knives are indispensable as I find myself cutting and chopping far more foods than when living ashore.  One good knife will do you more good than a big set of cheap ones, but the reality is that I really want 4 knives aboard:  a chef’s knife, a paring knife, a serrated/bread knife and a fillet knife, plus a good cutting board (non-slip and made of a material that’s not going to dull my knives) and a knife sharpener.  You also need a good way to store your knives so that they don’t become dangerous missiles in rough seas (or even if a jet ski passes by).  I really like the BladeSafe discussed in my article on knives!

Five items I didn't think too much about before moving aboard -- but that turned out to be treasures!Thermos — I found a really good Thermos (or maybe I should say, several really good Thermos bottles) to be another item I truly treasured on Que Tal.  I used them for the typical coffee and hot drinks, sure, but they really added value in allowing me to make my own yogurt and in Thermos cooking (the cruiser’s answer to a crockpot).  I’ve learned that there are considerable differences in how well insulated different brands of Thermos bottles are — be sure to read the results of my Thermos testing.  A found that the extra money I spent on buying a better Thermos was well worth it!

Plastic Food Storage containers — on a boat, using old butter containers and yogurt tubs just won’t cut it.  Lids will pop off with the slightest motion of the boat.  Buying good containers will save a lot of money and aggravation in the long run.  If you buy cheap ones, stuff will spill and you’ll be a lot less than happy cleaning out the refrigerator or locker (not to mention the “critters” that might find the spills before you do) . . . and then you’ll go out and buy better ones. Buy good ones initially and save yourself the aggravation!

There are several good brands of containers with positively locking lids — I like Lock & Lock (pictured) because they have the squarest shape and straightest sides, thus resulting in little wasted space.  I was absolutely amazed at how many containers I needed to store all my provisions . . . and how much money I spent on them (easily over one hundred dollars, and more as I later picked up additional containers)!

It was tough to narrow this down to just five items . . . I’m sure that various readers will have other ideas of what they’ve come to really treasure over the years but didn’t really think about prior to spending time in their galley.  Leave a note about your favorites that might be overlooked!

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  • Sami Bolton
    Posted at 28 December 2011 Reply

    We are in the Abacos now and tho we carry 375 gal of water, we are very careful not to waste it….it is not free here! So last night I fixed ahi tuna and wanted to serve some black mushroom soy sauce mixed with garlic chili and mirin in a little sauce ramekin……I remembered my labor (and water saving) idea…….I line the ramekin with small cupcake liners….I have both the large and small versions. Saves a bunch of clean up for VERY little cost. I have had a set of both large and small versions for over 5 years! I put ketchup, mustard….anything for dipping…..every little bit counts right?

  • Charlie
    Posted at 10 January 2012 Reply

    Love your site and helpful comments. Your article on knife storage hit a hot spot with me. I agree, exposed knifes are very dangerous. After years of trial and error,I have solved my knife storage problem. Like you, I have limited knives. All of my knives are the best quality available. My storage system is simple,safe and efficient. First, I located a space on my counter top, then cut a 1/8″ wide x 8″ long slit in the top. Next I took a 12″ long x 2″ wide piece of teak,1/2 to 3/4″ thick,then cut a 1/2″wide x 8″ long slit to match the slot in the counter. I then cut the strip of teak in half, length wise using a super narrow blade.Glue a small gasket (resembles a wiper blade)to each half. Glue and screw the two pieces together. Sand, shape then locate the block over your slot and attach. The gasket secures the knifes, and keeps them from banging into each other. This knife block took 2 hours to make, and takes up very little space.

  • Bonnie Lopez
    Posted at 25 February 2012 Reply

    I solved my food storage problem and container storage problem by going to a restaurant supply and buying various sizes of deli containers and lids, (1/2 pt, pt, and quart, with snap on lids). They all stack together in a confined space, no hunting for the correct lid, grab any lid, and it will fit, if you want to send something with someone when they leave, no worries about getting it back, your out about 5 cents and they stack well in the fridge or cabinet when in use. For about $25 I got a sleeve of 50 each 1/2 pt, pt, and qt containers, and lids. You just have to make sure that the lids, and containers are by the same manufacturer, one won’t fit another. I found them at our local Cash & Carry. This was my solution, maybe it will help others.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 25 February 2012 Reply

      The biggest problem with any of those that I’ve tried to use (I bought some in La Paz, Mexico) is the same problem as with using old butter and yogurt containers — the lids pop off with the motion of the boat and sometimes even the containers crack. If you’ve found some that are tougher and work well for you, that’s great!

  • Sami Bolton on Facebook
    Posted at 24 May 2012 Reply

    One of my favorite things is parchment paper. Talk about water saving! I never really used it until we started cruising. I find I feel like making more things because I know clean up will be easier.

  • The Boat Galley on Facebook
    Posted at 24 May 2012 Reply

    I know you were in the Bahamas . . . were you able to get it there or just have to take a big stock with you?

  • Sami Bolton on Facebook
    Posted at 24 May 2012 Reply

    Im sure we could have gotten it in Marsh Harbor at Maxwells but I took, and am taking a big stock of it back with me this fall. Also the kind that is foil on one side and parchment on the other. Ill share a secret with you…something I figured out recently. I used to be a REALLY good cook but over the years I lost my mojo, and especially cruising I think since I try not to mess up too many pots pans etc., I have really lost it. SO…..recently I just decided to quit worrying about clean up and COOK! I try to be smart about cleaning up instead of smart about not messing up. Does that make sense? Parchment paper, plastic spoons etc., paper plates and bowls all go a long way to saving clean up (water).

  • Dearbhla
    Posted at 24 May 2012 Reply

    I just wanted to say how much I enjoy and appreciate your posts. My family (husband and three daughters) have not got our boat yet but we will soon…. By the end of the year hopefully. I treasure your posts to help me prepare with a lot of the practicalities of running a home on the water.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 24 May 2012 Reply

      Wow! Thanks! I hope you love it every bit as much as I! And great for doing it with your daughters . . . a wonderful experience for them.


  • Jen
    Posted at 31 January 2013 Reply

    Your site has great information. We will be provisioning soon for our first trip as liveaboards (we’re only going to the Bahamas right now but still). Thanks for writing!

  • Nicola
    Posted at 10 January 2014 Reply

    Carolyn, All of these things that you list are great, and I love them. What I personally have been incredibly grateful for so far is my Magma nesting cookware set. I bought the top-end 18/10 stainless and they are heavy-duty and such a pleasure to cook in! Every time I reach in to that nest for a pot, I get a happy feeling that I made the (relatively small) investment to buy these for our boat. I also brought along my old favorite 10″ cast-iron skillet and have used it for most meals. the large lid from my nesting set fits it too…bonus!!!
    Thank you again for all of your wonderful tips and information…provisioning for setting out initially was intimidating, but I felt so much more confident having your lists/spreadsheet to compare with!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 10 January 2014 Reply

      I loved my Magma set so much on the boat that I bought a second set for the house!

      Glad you find the site helpful!

    • Diane
      Posted at 13 July 2016 Reply

      I was hoping to bring my cast iron skillet, no problems with rust?

  • tami
    Posted at 10 January 2014 Reply

    Pressure cooker… indispensable for me

  • John Ahern
    Posted at 11 January 2014 Reply

    Looks like my boat

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 11 January 2014 Reply

      It was one of the boats on display at the Annapolis Boat Shows

  • Dave Skolnick (S/V Auspicious)
    Posted at 11 January 2014 Reply

    I recall reading this post a few years ago. Since Carolyn posted a link on Facebook yesterday I am moved to share my thoughts.

    I like Carolyn’s list although my own is slightly different – paring down to five things is difficult. Also so very much depends on one’s own cooking style and to a lesser extent how your boat is laid out.

    Here are my thoughts on Carolyn’s list and then my own:

    Baking Stone – the underlying issue here is that boat ovens are poorly insulated compared to the residential units most of us grew up with and have limited thermal inertia. A baking stone increases the thermal inertia and helps keep the temperature more stable. On my boat I get the same benefit by leaving my cast iron grill pan in the oven all the time. A baking stone makes more sense if you like making pizza or flatbreads directly on the stone. Since I make a lot of roasts the cast iron is more useful for me.

    Mixing – if you really cook and especially if you bake mixing is important. I think I do less baking than Carolyn so my solution is a little different – see below – but functionally meets the same goals.

    Knives – critical element for me. Be aware that a steel as pictured in the linked article does not sharpen knives – it hones them. In use, the thin sharp edge of the knife curls over. Honing straightens that out. Real knife sharpening uses an abrasive (I carry a tri-stone) and removes metal to make the blade sharp again. You shouldn’t need to really sharpen knives more than once a year if you take care of them. Regular honing is part of taking care of them.

    Thermos – We have three thermoses of various sizes on Auspicious. We rarely use them. The big is valuable on long passages with crew aboard to make coffee once a day and keep it hot. Like Carolyn we make our own yogurt but we have other ways to keep it at 110F or so.

    Food storage – There is no equal to Lock & Lock. I’ve tried alternatives like Snapware but Lock & Lock is better. They last longer, seal better, and the lids are the same size across more sizes of containers, so we spend less time trying to find the right lid. In the US, QVC periodically has really good prices on Lock & Lock. I’d add Foodsaver vacuum sealers to the list of important food storage tools. Walmart has great prices on starter sets and if you register with the Foodsaver company you can get great deals on rolls and bags.

    My own top five:

    1. Knives – My list of most important is much like Carolyn’s. I keep mine in a commercial chef’s knife roll. Chef’s knife, serrated bread knife, utility knife, filet knife, and parring knife. I rarely if ever use a paring knife but Janet uses it often. Preferences. See above for care.

    2. Saute pan – We carry a lot of cookware but the piece that gets used more than any other is a Swiss Diamond saute pan with a lid. The edges are higher than most saute or fry pans and the glass lid lets me keep an eye on things without lifting the lid too often.

    3. Food storage – see above.

    4. Mixing – I’m not big on plastic mixing bowls. I have a big set of nesting glass bowls (ten pieces perhaps?) that get used at anchor or at the dock. The small ones are great for mise en place for more complex recipes and the big ones are great for salads (the big ones are really big). Offshore on passage I use a set of stainless steel Farberware bowls I’ve had since I graduated from college. For tools I use wooden spoons for easy to mix things, stainless spoons for stiffer things like dough, and a stick blender (the only powered utensil in my galley) that replaces the blender and food processor I had ashore.

    5. Tongs – I have three sets of tongs, at least one of which gets used almost every meal and certainly every one on the grill.

    Getting the list down to five is hard as Carolyn said.

    The next few things that fell off the list are:

    6. Pressure cooker – we use two, a Kuhn-Rikon 5l cooker that gets used for many entrees and one-pot dinners and a 16 qt pressure canner that is used only a few times a year but makes a big difference in our quality of life.

    7. Spatulas – how do you cook without spatulas? We have a number of nylon and other synthetic material spatulas but the ones we use and enjoy most are made of olive wood.

    8. Strainers – I have a set of plastic strainers with stainless steel mesh but more often than not I reach for a Chinese spider. For rice and pasta I use a conventional strainer but for tortillini and many steamed or boiled items the spider is outstanding. On the rare occasions we deep fry something there is no substitute for a spider.

    sail fast and eat well, dave
    Dave Skolnick S/V Auspicious

  • Little Cunning Plan
    Posted at 12 January 2014 Reply

    I believe our new ROK espresso maker, which works without electricity, will by one of those ‘must have’ items. We love it. And we need our coffee.

  • Mary Roth
    Posted at 06 October 2015 Reply

    Carolyn, I love your ideas and my Magma nesting cookware. But I also love my Wonderbag. It is a quilted bag that you place your pot in after the cooking process is started. And it continues to cook like a crockpot with no energy source. We have made better beef roast and pulled pork than I have ever made in an oven. And it’s great to have a hot meal at the end of a long day on the water. It comes with several recipes and there are more recipes online.
    thank you

  • D and Don
    Posted at 06 October 2015 Reply

    Dave Skolnick on SV AUSPICIOUS

    What is a spider?

    thanks in advance,

    D and Don
    Currently in Annapolis, MD

  • Paul Daniela Herlihy
    Posted at 13 July 2016 Reply

    Love the stove top oven suggestion. We have a galley stove/oven but doesn’t get much use due to the amount of heat it adds to an already hot boat interior. We have a small gas burner and box oven which also works well in the cockpit.

  • Pamela Douglas Webster
    Posted at 04 August 2017 Reply

    I wondered if I should have brought my 6-sided grater on board. After all, it takes up tons more space than a flat grater with a handle. But it’s nice to have one tool for carrots, cheese, ginger, lemon zest, slicing potatoes, etc.

    Didn’t realize how useful it was until I no longer had a mandoline or food processor.

    • Kim Gibson
      Posted at 04 August 2017 Reply

      I brought my small 6 sided grater. Still haven’t found a place for it yet. Lol

    • Pamela Douglas Webster
      Posted at 04 August 2017 Reply

      Kim Gibson I use it for holding serving spoons and spatulas sitting up in a galley cupboard when I’m not using it.

  • Kim Gibson
    Posted at 04 August 2017 Reply

    Is that your galley????

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 04 August 2017 Reply

      Nope, one from a boat show. Gozzard. I like to mix them up rather than only show mine, The one in this post is mine.

    • Kim Gibson
      Posted at 04 August 2017 Reply

      The Boat Galley Still incredibly nice and seems like a lot of storage compared to ours. I don’t have any drawers so I put my set for 4 silverware on a plastic cracker storage container. Lol! It’s going to take some serious ingenuity to find storage for everything.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 04 August 2017 Reply

      Kim Gibson You’ll find places for it all. And discover that there are some things you can live without. This is a small 34-foot catamaran. If you read that article, you’ll see that we made an aft cabin into storage for galley and food. That kinda takes away from having guests. Everything is a compromise.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 04 August 2017 Reply

      Reading your comment, Kim Gibson, and then Pam’s below, that would solve two of your problems. Get rid of the cracker container and stand the silverware up in the grater on a shelf. BINGO!

    • Debbie Ann
      Posted at 04 August 2017 Reply


    • Kim Gibson
      Posted at 04 August 2017 Reply

      The Boat Galley My grater has a handle… otherwise, most excellent idea!

  • Anne Ashmore
    Posted at 05 August 2017 Reply

    Thank you for the baking stone recommendation!! Because the heating element is so close to the rack in my oven, I usually end up with burned spots when I bake.

  • Michelle Riehl
    Posted at 07 August 2017 Reply

    Melissa Trelfa this is the blogger I was telling you about.

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