Stovetop Percolator

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2012 • all rights reserved

A stovetop percolator can work well on a boat IF you remember to turn the fire down just as it begins perking so that the grounds don't end up in the coffee.The stainless stovetop percolator has been a camping classic for years and can work just as well for boaters.

The trick is getting the water to come up to a boil so that it begins perking, then turning the heat down so that the basket with the grounds does not overflow with water and dump grounds into the coffee – and then letting it go just until it’s as strong as you like it.

With a bit of practice, and a timer, it’s not hard to do if you’re not distracted.  But if you’re fixing the rest of your breakfast, listening to the net and so on, you may not like the results.

One way to improve your chances is to use a wrap filter designed for percolator baskets (or use basket filters or a paper towel and poke a hole in the center and fold the edges over and stick them on the perk tube, too), so that the grounds don’t escape – it also makes clean up less messy.

Also, a stovetop percolator is a little more dangerous than some of the other methods if the boat is moving much as the pot is on the stovetop (as opposed to being wedged into the sink) for a longer time – and forget about making coffee if it’s too rough to have a pan on the stove.

The biggest problem may be the little glass dome that is prone to breaking – and without it, you can’t perk.

Pros:  Can make 10 to 12 cups at a time (also lesser amounts), takes little space, no electricity, inexpensive

Cons:  Takes attention to keep the pot perking but not so hard that grounds are getting in the coffee, little glass dome prone to breakage, need a separate Thermos to keep coffee hot, messy clean up

Keeping it hot:  Need a separate Thermos

Cost:  $20 to 30 for a good stainless percolator, plus the cost of a Thermos if desired

My choices for a stovetop percolator system from

I used a percolator for years on camping trips.  It’s not a bad system unless you’re prone to distraction . . . which I am!  Once I learned about how long it took to begin perking and set the timer on my watch to turn the fire down then, I had much better results.

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  1. Susan Schreyer Leaf, does the advice to avoid boil-overs bring back some good memories? It made me smile! 🙂

  2. Ann Snider on Facebook says:

    This is the BEST thing ever. We also have one at home so when we lose power (like we did with Sandy) we can still have that addictive cup of coffee. There were literally lines at any place that had coffee the first morning after the superstorm. But we were doing great with a hot cup of coffee from home! No line!

  3. Makes far better coffee that coffee maker or by the cup ones !

  4. It makes me feel old when (bareboat) charter guests ask me if I know how to use it!

    • I know how to use it, my problem is just getting distracted and forgetting it 🙂 But yes, I’ve been asked more than once at campgrounds by someone standing there holding one with a puzzled look on their face . . . so they come ask the white-haired lady!

  5. Lol! I would perhaps take it more in stride if I had white hair…I am still strolling towards that half century mark.

    • Unfortunately, I started going gray about the same time I started college. Stopped coloring it when we began cruising as I couldn’t keep it up and it turned a totally non-natural red in the sun. Said I was salt-and-pepper for a while, then gray. When I got my last driver’s license I discovered that my hair was officially WHITE. Oh well. It’s true.

  6. We used one for a while but I kept getting used grounds all over while dumping them so we went back to Melita filter style.

  7. There’s one more style of coffee you missed; cowboy coffee. It’s so easy and simple. Boil a pot of water, when boiled turn off burner and add coffee. Lett stand for 2-5 minutes and voila you have a great cup of coffee. To get technical add a bit of cold water to the pot after it’s sat for 5 minutes, it allows the grounds to sink to the bottom. Pour coffee through sieve to catch grounds. Great coffee, no fuss no muss!

  8. Yes, more or less. It just depends on how strong you like your coffee. I usually measure enough water for one large cup of coffee the add one scoop of coffee. My husband and I have been cruising Mexico for the past two years and my Mexican friend Cristina, from Guadalajara, taught me her technique. I remember “cowboy coffee” from the old westerns and when we went camping. I find it the easiest way to make coffee without a lot of energy expenditure.

  9. And yes, you can quote me. By the way, I love your website and FB posting. I’ve got lots of ideas from you and have shared your site with many of my cruising buddies. I just wish I could buy your book. Mexico doesn’t sell it and I wouldn’t rely on Amazon to get it here. Crazy Mexican post.

  10. And just in case you were going to publish my technique. My name is Lynn Macfarlane on SV Miramar out of Victoria, BC, Canada. Thanks

  11. Thanks. I know Jeannie and Tom. Great people. We’re on our way to Barra de Navidad, then Zihuatanejo in the new year. Will be in La Paz next spring though, will look for your book. Glad to know it’s there

  12. barbara k says:

    I just bought one of these with plans to use it in my RV. I love frothy coffee and I love the taste of the coffee this makes:

    It says it makes 4 cups but it’s really only enough for 1 cup of milky coffee for me…

    It’s ncie because it’s stainless steel – many of these are aluminum.

  13. Richard Kokemoor says:

    As a child, one of my chores was to make coffee for my parents with one of these. The glass perk top and adjustable wooden handle replacements were readily available at the hardware store.
    As I recall, the rule was to let it perk for 7 minutes, then turn down the heat. Of course, on a boat it may not be practical or economical to keep a burner on low for long, so transfer to a thermos makes sense and makes coffee available above deck. Logistically, a French press is even easier to use, just add hot water, and not all are made of glass. I have switched to yerba mate now; I will have to try that in the French press!

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