10 Tips for A Good Galley

Whether setting out to circumnavigate the globe or just planning a long weekend across the bay, a functioning, thoughtful, and well stocked galley is the key to keeping your belly full, “hangry” sailors at bay, and your sanity in check.

Even the largest boats often have galleys that are fractional to what you would find in the average home. The lack of space, coupled with the constant movement, tropical nuisances and limited power could make the galley your worst nightmare. With a few basic tips and some thoughtful planning, you can avoid many common mistakes and start whipping up delicious creations in no time. Here are ten tips that I learned along the way to get you started in the right direction.

1. Be selective

Just like every other space on your boat it is important to look at each item and evaluate it before you bring it aboard. Is it something that you will use at least once per week? Does the item have more than one purpose? How easy is it to store and clean? These should all be factors when deciding what to bring into your tiny home.

I have found a strange phenomenon on our boat over the years. I have noticed that if there are 10 forks in a drawer, then all 10 of them will get dirty before one of them gets washed, creating a huge mountain of dishes in a tiny little sink; but if I only have five forks in the drawer, magically, once they are all used, the fork fairy comes for a visit and cleans one. It’s the same with the plates, and the bowls, and the cups. Having less to dirty means cleaning more frequently and avoiding the catastrophic messes that can quickly pile up in a small space. Remember, when in doubt- less is more.

2. Silicone is your friend

I have always associated silicone with its medical uses for altering the female body, Pamela Anderson style; but, after discovering its diverse number of uses in the kitchen I have a whole new outlook on it. Silicone may be the best thing since sliced bread.

They make several products now out of silicone that are perfect for space saving in the galley. From collapsible mixing bowls and measuring cups, to cookie sheets and pot lids that don’t make a sound, silicone is the new “it” girl. Not only is it durable and flexible, but it’s also easy to clean, heat resistant, and affordable. Plus, they make them in great colors and funky patterns making it both functional and stylish.

3. "A Pressure Cooker, A Wok, and a Skillet Walk into a Bar"

This is a great example of the timeless concept, quality over quantity. Invest some money in three or four good pots and pans that work great in the galley and leave everything else at home. I suggest the following combination:

  • A 6qt pressure cooker: Before living on a boat I had very limited experience with pressure cookers aside from using one to can various homemade goodies throughout the year. The thought had never even occurred to me that you could cook in one, and do it well. The pressure cooker can be used with the steam vent open as a regular pot and when closed, it can reduce your cooking time drastically thus saving precious fuel.
  • A Wok: This thin, round bottomed, non-stick pan also becomes a versatile player in the galley. The pan is generally very easy to clean and are quick to get hot. This is the perfect tool for stir fry, pasta dishes, searing meats, making eggs, and steaming vegetables.
  • A Cast Iron Skillet: The best pan of all is the one you don’t have to wash! A cast iron skillet can be used for a variety of purposes such as frying, searing, or making sauces. It retains heat well and is also a good tool for baking if you have an oven.
  • Nesting Sauce Pans: If you are fortunate enough to have some extra space get a good set of stainless steel nesting sauce pans with foldable handles. The possibilities are endless.

4. Don't Cook in the Galley

It’s hot down there, you can’t see what’s going on outside, your missing out on the next round of sundowners. Sometimes working in the galley is just not worth it. Throw a hunk of fish, a packet of hot dogs or some kabobs on the Barbie, crack a beer, and relax. If you are cruising in warm weather climates you will quickly invest in a good outdoor rail mounted grill if you don’t already have one. Cooking outside saves your home from smelling like a fish factory and feeling like a raging inferno. We use ours at least three nights a week, more if we are not underway.

5. Stock up on Heavy Duty Tin Foil and Freezer Bags

These two items are notoriously difficult to find in foreign countries and handier to you on the boat then they will ever be on the mainland. I’m a lazy cook and I hate to clean the kitchen so tinfoil is perfect for me. I often make tin foil packet meals to cook on the grill. I use the foil to keep the oven clean while baking. It’s versatile and can be used to do everything from cover leftovers to polish silverware.

Freezer-quality, gallon-sized plastic bags are also worth their weight in gold and have several practical uses both in the galley and for general organization throughout the rest of your boat. I like using mine to store fresh cuts of fish, to marinade meats, to store leftovers and food that comes in cardboard boxes (see tip number six). They are also handy for toiletries, spare parts, fishing equipment, batteries, board games, and the list goes on. Spend up and buy the heavy duty bags and plan on washing and reusing them several times to make them last longer.

6. Remove cardboard and can labels ASAP

Garbage mitigation is important for all cruisers, but especially those in warm climates, people traveling vast distances, or cruisers who are visiting less developed countries. Not only is excess garbage difficult to store but it becomes foul smelling very quickly and can bring unwanted pests aboard your boat.

I once read an article about a women who was traveling through Central America who had dealt with both a cockroach and earwig infestation on her boat. She was perplexed as to how they got on her vessel since the boat had almost exclusively been anchored out. It wasn’t until she presented her problem to experienced cruiser friends that she learned the perfect breeding ground for these pests can be found in corrugated cardboard and aluminum can label glue. She invited these critters, mistakenly, onto her boat every time she brought provisions back from the store.

In grocery stores that are less than sanitary, cockroaches and earwigs seek out dark, dry places to lay their eggs. Keeping all cardboard off your boat and removing the labels on your aluminum cans drastically limits your risk of unknowingly inviting these creatures into your home. While the chances are slim that a hatching will happen on your boat, I would rather spend 1000 hours removing labels than see one cockroach, be forced to set my boat ablaze and watch it sink from the lifeboat.

Invest in some good air tight bins and plastic bags to contain food once you have taken it out of the packaging and have plenty of sharpies onboard to tag the cans once you remove and dispose of the labels. I usually carry plastic baggies and a sharpie with me to the grocery store and while waiting for the bus or taxi I strip everything on the spot and begin disposing or separating it immediately. I usually get some funny looks and occasionally people will ask me what I’m doing but I’d rather look a little silly then than full on crazy later if I happen to see a small prehistoric creature scurrying around in my cabin. Plus, it gives me something useful to do while waiting for (mostly) unreliable public transportation.

7. Have a System in Place

Just like everything else, organization is key to having a well-functioning space. Coming up with a system that works well for you will take some time and practice. You will drive the rest of your crew crazy for the first few weeks (or months) while you constantly revise your system. Eventually though you reach an equilibrium where things seem to start flowing nicely.

My best advice is to separate your food into groups that make sense for you, keeping things that you use often or that are already open in easily accessible areas. I kept mine divided into the following sections:

  • Proteins and Ready to Eat Food: Canned meats such as tuna or chicken, beans, legumes, soups, canned pasta, peanut butter
  • Starches: Pasta, rice, quinoa, instant potatoes, stuffing, bread and wraps, pancake mix
  • Fruits and Vegetables: canned fruits and veg, dried fruits, pasta sauce
  • Condiments: ketchup, hot sauce, barbeque, maple syrup, salad dressing, tarter, olives
  • Sweets and Baking Goods: Chocolate, nuts, cookies, candy, brownie mix, baking powder and soda, flour, sugar
  • Drinks: boxed milk, soda, tonic, tea, hot chocolate, coffee, alcohol
  • Fruit Net: fresh fruits and unrefrigerated produce
  • Snack Net: Granola bars, trail mix, chips, pretzels, opened containers
  • Spice Rack: Salt, pepper, olive oil, crushed red pepper, garlic, curry, cumin

When finding a place for everything it is important to keep in mind that heavy provisioning can affect the performance of your boat. You want to do your best the keep the boat balanced and to keep things that are heavy closer to the floor. Like an airplane, contents will shift while underway. Use spare towels, bungee straps, shelf liner, or larger plastic containers to keep things from rattling around and breaking.

8. A Sharp Knife is a Good Knife

Just like investing in high quality pots and pans, a few good knives are an irreplaceable tool in any cook’s kitchen, land or sea. But the real key is making sure that whatever you have is high quality and sharp!

In my experience working with dull knives is significantly more dangerous than sharp knives, especially when underway. A sharp knife gives you more accuracy and control of the food you are cutting. Conversely, the pressure you must exude on a dull knife to get it to slice through something firm can give way suddenly causing you to lose control and leading to seriously deep gouges.

The four tools that I carry on all boats related to knifes are a chef’s knife, a paring knife, a filet knife, and a two-stage handheld knife sharpener with one carbide side and one ceramic side. The carbide is step one and allows you to regain your sharp edge while the ceramic side is for finer detail. I’ve never been good at manually sharpening on a knife stone and I find that the newer handheld sharpeners work just as well for the common cook.

9. Safety First

Perhaps the most important step to having a good galley is to have a safe galley. The galley and the engine room are the two most dangerous places on your vessel for fire danger- It’s not something to mess around with. You should have at least two class K (kitchen) wet chemical fire extinguishers located within proximity to your galley to help put out grease and oil fires.

Horrific accidents involving propane leakage can and have severely injured or killed yachtsmen. Propane, is a popular choice for cooking down below because of its clean burning and odorless properties; however, it is also a dense gas. When gas is heavier than air it will sink down if it is leaking, usually into your bilge. This creates a recipe for a lethal explosion. Luckily there are propane alarms on the market that are marine quality and made especially for monitoring and preventing this situation.

Other safety equipment such as smoke alarms and first aid kits should be well stocked, and tested periodically to ensure they are in correct working order. Most importantly, when the seas are heavy and the boat is healed over just stick to common sense and eat a granola bar or peanut butter and jelly sandwich, save yourself the trouble and a potential accident.

Click here for some other quick safety tips and reminders.

10. What Can't You Live Without?

There are always a few specialty gizmos and gadgets that everyone just can’t live without. Don’t drive yourself crazy by not bringing them with you if you truly use them on a regular basis. For instance, I enjoy eating a lot of fresh produce but hate standing in front of a cutting board for hours chopping up all the ingredients; therefore, a manual food processor is a must for me. If you are a lethal fisherman/woman and plan on using that as your primary source of protein, a vacuum sealer man be a worthwhile investment. If you enjoy daily sundowners or fresh fruit smoothies than a high-quality blender may be right up your alley.

The point is to really evaluate the things that you need vs. the things that you think you might use…at some point… in the next couple of years. Be selective, be realistic, but don’t make your life miserable by denying all the creature comforts you truly enjoy, what’s the fun in that?

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