Skip to main content

Selecting A Grill Type

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Selecting A Grill Type: Charcoal, Gas, Or Electric
By Lori Ross


Charcoal Grill
Preferred by barbecue gurus because it provides better smoke and flavor to cooked foods
Costs less than gas grill
Messy ash disposal
Hard to light; unpredictable and uneven temperature and performance; requires constant attention
Uses lots of charcoal

Gas Grill
Easy to ignite and control heat
No ash disposal
Less authentic flavor and smokiness
Must carry propane tank refills
Most have uneven heating (hot and cool spots)

Electric Grill
Good for direct grilling of small, thin pieces of meat, fish, chicken, veggies
Convenient and easy to clean
Less dangerous (no open flame; no fuel storage problems)
No smokiness or barbecue flavor
Most don't get as hot as gas or charcoal grills
Must store inside the boat, as you would an electric appliance


Where are you using the grill on your boat? On the rail or fishing rod holder? Or ashore?
How will you mount it? Does it have a mounting kit that fits your boat?
Will it be in the way of anything else (dinghy, liferaft, lines, or hatches)?
Is it near anything that can easily catch fire (awning or cushions)?
Will the grill live permanently on the rail, requiring a cover to keep it clean and protected from the elements?
Where can the charcoal, propane tank, and spares be safely stored above decks?

Size And Weight
How many people do you plan to cook for?

  • If you plan to cook for two to four, a small kettle grill is usually sufficient, unless you plan to cook a small turkey or large roast (small grills may not be high enough for a whole bird).
  • If you routinely cook for a larger group, you may want a bigger grill, such as a box or cylindrical shaped grill, with a warming rack, grilling zones, and some height to accommodate more food and larger cuts of meat and poultry.

Will you mount and dismount the grill every time you use it? If so, you may want to consider a lightweight grill. Is it easy to mount and dismount?
Do you have appropriate space to store the grill and fuel? (The larger your grill, the more fuel you will use and the more space it will take on the boat.)
Is your boat large or small? (Larger grills may not fit properly on smaller boats.)

If you are going to leave your grill on the topsides of the boat, you'll want a marine-grade stainless steel that is resistant to corrosion from salt water and has a long-lasting finish.

  • This would exclude inexpensive cast-iron hibachis, which rust; indoor electric grills (like the popular Foreman grill), which must be stored in a dry place, like any kitchen appliance; and many picnic and camping grills, which should be cleaned, dried, and stored indoors.
  • Grills made of brushed stainless steel seem to discolor less than those made of shiny stainless steel.

Heating And Lighting Ability

  • Charcoal grills: More challenging to light, but stay lit no matter how strong the wind. Have adjustable ventilation and a cover to help control heat and smoke. Need to refill charcoal for long-cooking recipes.
  • Gas grills: Some have quick igniters (ideal, but can be unreliable) and a thermometer to manage heat. Most marine gas grills range from 7,000 to 12,000 Btu, which is more than sufficient to cook anything on a boat. Ceramic or lava rocks provide the most even heat but are difficult to clean, while flame spreaders and diffuser plates are less even but much easier to clean. New infrared technology may increase Btu to 14,000 (probably more than most boat grills need). There have been reports of problems keeping some gas grills lit and hot in a good breeze.
  • Electric grills: Easy to light and control. Never go out.


  • Dickinson Marine, 407–204 Cayer Street, Coquitlam, B.C., Canada V3K 5B1; 800.659.9768;
  • Force 10 Marine brought to you by Kuuma, 23080 Hamilton Road, Richmond, B.C., Canada V6V 1C9; 604.522.0233;
  • Magma Products, 1201 East Hill Street, Long Beach, CA 90806; 562.427.7050;
  • Si Port II Industries Ltd., 19427 92nd Avenue, Surrey, B.C., Canada V4N 4G6; 604.888.2939;
  • Tasco Marine (Taunton Stove), 490 Somerset Avenue, North Dighton, MA 02764; 508.823.0786;
  • Solaire Marine Infrared Grills, 12028 East Philadelphia Street, Whittier, CA 90601; 562.696.8718;
  • Galley Mate, P.O. Box 3397, Apollo Beach, FL 33572; 800.563.0377;

Resources For Helping You Select And Use A Grill
Practical Sailor
www.practical-sailor.comReviewed six of the marine propane grills from manufacturers listed above in June 2006 across a variety of price ranges and sizes. Models were tested for even distribution of heat, ability to cook different kinds of food, endurance, sturdiness, price, and ease of use. If you subscribe, the reviews are free; otherwise, you may have to pay for the article and value guide, which rate the Magma grills as "best choice" and the Force 10 grills as the "budget buys." They don't rate electric, charcoal, or infrared grills. Liveaboards Forum threads about various marine grill benefits and problems posted by liveaboards who use grills regularly.

The Complete Magma Grill Guide & Cookbook by Jim and Jean Vaughn, 2006 (P.O. Box 1988, Big Bear Lake, CA 02315). Excellent guide to effectively using Magma grills.

How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques by Steven Raichlen, May 1, 2001. While Raichlen believes grilling on wood or charcoal tastes best, his recipes are terrific for gas grills, too.
The Cook's Illustrated Guide To Grilling And Barbecue: A Practical Guide for the Outdoor Cook by Cook's Illustrated Magazine, John Burgoyne, Carl Tremblay, and Daniel J. Van Ackere, May 30, 2005. The Cook's Illustrated staff tests and retests every recipe to find the best way to grill anything.
Weber's Charcoal Grilling: The Art of Cooking With Live Fireby Jamie Purviance and Tim Turner, February 2007; Kingsford Complete Grilling Cookbook by Kingsford Charcoal, Rick Rodgers, and Ben Fink, Feb. 20, 2007; The Plank Grilling Cookbook: Infuse Food with More Flavor Using Wood Planks by D. Guillen, M. Everly, M. Lowrey, and G. Bernsdorff (paperback, March 17, 2006). For charcoal cooks!
New Grilling Book by Better Homes and Gardens, Feb. 13, 2007. For years, an older version of this book, produced in the 1970s, was my dog-eared bible of learning how to grill.
Essentials of Grilling: Recipes and Techniques for Successful Outdoor Cooking by Denis Kelly and Chuck Williams, April 2003. One of my new favorites from the chefs at Williams-Sonoma.

Contact Us

Galley Mate
PO Box 3397
Apollo Beach, FL 33572