At least once a month there are questions on the cruising forums or one of the Facebook pages about alcohol stoves. Invariably people will chime in about how dangerous they are, how slow it is, how it doesn’t burn hot, etc. I try to dispel the myths, but I figured it was time for a blog post on the subject. Perhaps it will help people who Google the subject but don’t necessarily participate in the forums or use Facebook.
We bought an Origo stove for our Bristol 24 and Pegu Club came with one, so we have been using them now for the seven years (wow!) we’ve owned a boat. Given that we did a complete refit on Pegu Club and touched virtually everything on her, it would stand to reason that if we weren’t satisfied with an alcohol stove we would have taken the refit opportunity to switch to propane or gas. But I can honestly say that the subject of switching never came up because we were 100% satisfied with using an alcohol stove.
So without further introduction, below are my answers to the questions that seem to come up most frequently:
Aren’t alcohol stoves dangerous? The most important thing to realize is that there is a difference between pressurized alcohol stoves and non-pressurized. Apparently pressurized alcohol stoves can be more problematic, and occasionally dangerous. The Origo is non-pressurized so it’s a completely different animal. You don’t have to prime the stove and there are no jets that ignite. Denatured alcohol is simply stored in canisters that rest underneath the stove. When you want flame you simply lift the lid, remove the rubber gasket (which keeps the alcohol from evaporating when you aren’t using the stove), close the lid, slide the lever to expose the burner, and light it (we use a grill lighter). Easy peasy.
Isn’t the flame invisible? No. Some alcohol brands seem to have a brighter color than others, but it’s far from invisible.
Doesn’t it smell? Generally, no. We did buy a few gallons in Staniel Cay that had an odor, but based on the rust on the bottom of the cans we think they had been around for several years. We weren’t crazy about it, but we survived.
Doesn’t it take a long time to boil water? No. We haven’t timed it, but I can honestly say that it may take a minute longer to boil water for coffee or tea vs. our gas stove in our former land home. Large pots of water for pasta can take a few minutes more, but you don’t need to use as much water to cook pasta as the box says. For the past two years we’ve used half the water, boiled the pasta for 3 minutes, then turned off the heat and let it sit covered for 10 minutes. Saves heat, saves water, and tastes exactly the same.
After a while we started to notice a difference in cooking time if the canister is less than 1/4 – 1/3 full (the color of the flame changes which is also a tip-off), so we just try to make sure we don’t let it drop down that low.
But you can’t cook (fill in the blank) with an alcohol stove! False. We cook exactly what we used to cook at our land home. If we cooked it there, we cook it here. Pasta, casseroles, ground beef, sausage, bacon, chicken, eggs, fish, pancakes, vegetables – you get the idea. We don’t eat any differently than we did when we lived on land.
But isn’t it hard to find denatured alcohol? So far no, but of course we’ve only been cruising the East Coast and the Bahamas. But if there’s a hardware store, there’s typically denatured alcohol – even in the Bahamas. When we were researching the Caribbean before we initially cut the dock lines, we discovered that we would be able to find denatured alcohol anywhere we thought about going. We’ve read that you can use different types of alcohol – even Everclear – but we’ve never tried it and it may not burn as cleanly or as hot.
As an aside, I have lost count of the number of times people have posted on Facebook pages asking about where to find adapters for their propane canisters or where they could get their propane refilled. Additionally, last year in George Town there was a multi-day wait for people to get their propane canisters refilled – either the truck that transported the canisters or the propane truck itself was out of service for awhile (I can’t remember which).
How much denatured alcohol do you use in a month? We use around a gallon a month. That’s with using the stove every day, rarely eating out, and baking bread or brownies at least once or twice a month.
Isn’t denatured alcohol expensive? We’ve paid anywhere from $12.00 to $20.00 for a gallon. The $20.00 was in the Bahamas. For a month, we find that reasonable.
Isn’t the alcohol difficult to store? After we buy it we pour it from the original metal containers into one gallon gasoline jugs so we don’t have to worry about the containers rusting.
How do you pour it into the canisters without spilling it everywhere? We keep two squeeze bottles ready to refill the canisters as needed. We pour the alcohol from the one gallon jugs into the squeeze bottles, and we aim the squeeze bottle spout into the divot on the canister so nothing spills.
Doesn’t cooking with an alcohol stove result in a lot of moisture in the boat? We haven’t found that to be an issue at all. If it was, we’d turn on a fan.
Are there versions with ovens? Yes, but we’ve never tried one. We debated buying one when we were doing our refit but we would have lost the cabinet space under the stove. We bake with an Omnia stove top oven instead which has worked out fine.
This sounds great! Where can I buy an Origo? Sadly, Origo was bought by Dometic several years ago and apparently they are no longer made. The stoves literally last for decades – there is nothing to break. Ours is 43 years old and still going strong. If there’s nothing to break, then there’s no need to buy another one, so I suspect the profit margin wasn’t sufficient for Dometic to continue production. We have seen them in marine consignment stores though, and they show up on eBay or Craigs List from time to time.
I think that about covers it, but if there are any other questions don’t hesitate to ask!