Posted by: oldsalt1942 | May 28, 2009

Shantyboat Galley by Ken Hulme

As an ex-GI and a Personal Chef, I have, shall we say, a working knowledge of kitchens – from field-expedient crude to high-tech stainless everything.  What do we need for shantyboat galley (kitchen)?
1) A source of Heat and Water
2) A work surface for preparing food
3) Pots & Pans; Tools & Utensils
4) A Pan-try (all puns intended – a place to store pots & pans & other things
A Source of Heat (water was covered in other essays)
There are lots of ways you can get cooking heat on your shantyboat  –  a conventional backyard style grill using gas or charcoal; a Hibachi type grill burning sticks and charcoal, a retrofitted RV type propane gas stove, or my personal favorite a Cobb cooker.  You can use a one burner backpacker gas stove if you want.  Or even a small open fire built in a sandbox on deck the way Greek and Roman sailors did; but that’s really stretching things!
If you like gas, if at all possible use the 50# bottles so commonly available.  But for safety sake, run a long hose and keep the bottle outside of the cabin. There is nothing more terrifying than a fire at sea.
If you like charcoal, do your cooking on deck in the open air.  Closed cabins can collect carbon monoxide gas from charcoal fires and kill you.  The only exception is the Cobb cooking system – a self enclosed tabletop wonder that weighs 8 lbs, uses only 8-10 briquettes  for 3 hours of cooking, and can roast, smoke, fry, even bake pizza!  It’s only 12” in diameter and 12” tall, and the base is cool to the touch while cooking.  The Cobb was developed in South Africa as a simple, fuel efficient cooking system for villagers and people trekking in the bush.  The original fuel source was dried corn cobs – hence the name!  Check it out at
The major advantages of a wood (or corn cob) burning stove is that you never run out of gas just as you put the steaks on, and you never have to deal with schlepping empty or full gas bottles around.  The disadvantages are that you have to collect and maintain a supply of “firewood” every few days; and it takes at least a half hour longer to cook because you have to wait for good coal formation.  Ya pays yer money an ya takes yer chances!
Personally I’m planning on having both a Cobb or something similar, and a one burner bottle gas stove for heating my morning cuppa, or a quick bowl of noodles for lunch and other times when firing up the larger stove is just too much hassle.  My little Coleman one-burner will run for several hours on a single bottle of gas, and those things are found all around the world.
A Work Surface & Pantry
Back in “the day” when I was an Eagle Scout, we had this neat thing called a Patrol Kitchen.  Think Murphy Bed applied to kitchen cabinetry.  It was a plywood box about 18” x 18” x 36” long.  The two long sides dropped down to become work surfaces; out came a set of legs, and in 3 minutes you had a completely equipped kitchen.  Inside were shelves and bins and spaces for all your pots, pans, utensils, dry good storage, etc.
The same idea works great in a shantyboat, whether you make it portable like the original, or mount it on permanent legs but have the side(s) fold up to take up less space when not in use. collapsible to take up less space when not in use.
If you don’t like the Patrol Kitchen concept you can always build a Murphy Table and use a footlocker type box to store your kitchen gear in.  I have a plastic kitchen box that I’ve used for years as a Personal Chef, to lug my utensils and things around to client’s homes.  Cost me $20 at Bed, Bath and Whatever…
The third possibility is to build-in a small kitchen counter cabinet with a utensil drawer and storage below with a countertop work surface and space for your stove above.  You may even be able to find a ready-built unit at an RV renovation and supply store or Big Box home improvement place.
Of course in a shantyboat you’re going to want a bigger pantry than that Patrol Kitchen to hold supplies of flour, beans, rice, etc. You can’t, or don’t want to be “running into town” every couple days because you don’t have something you need to make the dinner you wanted.
Actually several pantries are a better idea – not keeping all one’s eggs in one basket as it were.  There are a number of watertight plastic “totes”  available that make great storage boxes and can double as seats.  Inside you’ll store the flours, rices, beans etc. in food-grade plastic lidded containers.  Here’s my starting list of “dry stores” for life aboard.  Your mileage may vary, as they say:
20# White Rice
20# Black Beans, dried
20# Garbanzos (chickpeas), dried
20# Masa Flour, for making tortillas, tamales, etc.
20#  All-Purpose White Flour
10# Dehydrated Mixed Vegetables
5# Dried Ramen-type noodles
10# of Lard – keeps without refrigeration and is healthier than butter!
10# Kosher Salt – useful for canning & preserving
2# Piloncillo Sugar – keeps better than other sugars
2# Table Salt
2# Whole Peppercorns
20# Jaegerwurst-style Summer Sausage that needs no refrigeration
2 cases of flat-packed “canned” tuna, salmon, beef, etc.
2 cases of Canned Tomatoes, diced
24 cans of Spam (Hey!  I like the stuff; and so should you!)
Spices and spice blends I commonly use
Condiments I commonly use – bottles of BBQ sauce, mustard, Tabasco, mayo, Worcestershire sauce, etc.
For many of the condiments, I’ll search out and find “fast food” packets that I can buy by the box – ketchup, mustard, mayo, pickle relish, salsa, etc.  These things can be sourced on the Internet at places like or
The canned and preserved meats I’ll use maybe once a week, or for special occasions; knowing that my primary source of protein is going to be fish and seafood that I catch myself.
Pots & Pans and Utensils & Things
The very best place to get good, inexpensive cooking gear is not your neighbor’s yard sale or the Goodwill Kitchen Store!  Instead shop your local restaurant supply store for inexpensive but good food grade storage tubs and kitchen equipment like pots, pans, etc.  Here’s my version of an equipment list for for your liveaboard shantyboat kitchen.  Of course if you’re only week-ending, week-long camping, or a real minimalist cook, you may not need as much equipment. This is what I will take when I move aboard:
Pots & Pans
12” Skillet, nonstick
8” Skillet, nonstick
2 quart Pot with lid
5 quart cast iron Dutch Oven – perfect for stews, chili, etc.
8-12 quart Stock pot with lid (optional)
Strainer, wire basket type
Mixing Bowl set, 4-6 steel bowls
6-8 “Chop Chop” Cutting Boards, heavy plastic sheets
Utensils & Things
12”  Tongs – my most useful kitchen tool after my knives
8” Wire Whisk
12” Pancake Flipper (2)
Vegetable Peeler
Can Opener (2)
12” Box Grater
Salt & Pepper Shakers
8” Chef’s Knife
4-6” General Purpose Knife
3” Paring Knife
Wooden and metal stirring spoons
Rubber Spatula (2)
Remember the Coast Guard motto: Semper paratus – Always Prepared!  There’s nothing worse than getting ready to open a can of beanie-weenies and discovering that you left the can opener back in the car!
With  the equipment and supplies listed here, plus reasonable ability to cook; plus the ability to catch edible fish or other seafood a couple times a week, you can be pretty well be independent of towns or marinas for several months at a stretch.


  1. Good post, Ken, but I do have a problem with the “Pantry” part…what you’ve listed with poundage comes to 143 pounds assuming those are one pound cans of Spam (and I happen to like it, too. I can only guess how much two cases of tuna, salmon or beef weigh. The tomatoes, assuming they’re the regular 14.5 oz cans come to 21.74 pounds NET weight.

    Essentially you’re talking about adding the equivilant of one hefty individual to the boat full time. And when you factor in the weight of water you’ll have on board at 8 lbs per gallon we’re talking THREE full time hefty people on board at all times.

    Weight is a real factor on any boat. Personally I’d keep it as light as possible.

  2. Doesn’t matter. This is one instance where the weight is worth it. I would bet that most shantyboat owners have periods where they have less than full employment. Food storage will take you through periods of no money better than anything else. If you want to reduce the weight, you might look into things like dehydrated and freeze dried veggies. Places like Emergency Essentials carry both and they can be nice to have on hand.

  3. Weight *is* important; but in the Mangrove Cruiser I envision (will post that later) that weight is less than 1/4″ extra draft. *Space* is the bigger issue actually, as those bags of rice and such are roughly equal to a pickle bucket each.

  4. Ken:

    Has anyone on this day and age actually ever seen a pickle bucket?

  5. I love this blog. Using the info from here on my forum. Of course, giving links. I need one place to go for all information needed to start our journey on living on the water. So, I created my own forum for it.

    I found this blog quite by accident. I was searching for houseboat info and got quite disgusted at the 3 story so-called houseboats that every link sent me too. Finally gave up and searched for shanty, and viola here me is.

  6. Swamprat:

    The photo didn’t come through, so I deleted the text portion.

  7. Okee dokee, on the deletion. The pickle bucket almost resembles a 5 gallon plastic bucket. Had to look it up after your comment on it. Learned something new.

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