"Non-Cook" Cooking - Who, What, When, How

While not yet employed in this industry I’m under the impression that without a dedicated cook, cooking may be passed onto the deckhand(s). [I][U]In this case, h[U]ow[/U] does cooking for the crew work?
Some questions:

[li]Who becomes in charge of ordering and purchasing provisions? [/li][li]Do you guys have menus of what to cook or set recipes? Is there a vote for the meal? [/li][li]Is it difficult to tailor to individual preferences? (ie: some like their pasta al dente and perhaps others don’t) [/li][li]Is much expected from these non-cook cooks, or is it more along the lines of expect shit and be surprised? [/li][/ul]

What do you all normally eat? Do you cook your own meals? Have any suggestions, or advice?

A deckhand who can cook well is highly coveted. Start practicing if you aren’t already skilled at cooking.

Learning to cook a hearty breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs, biscuits and GOOD, HOT coffee is a solid start. (some cant even make coffee right)

Be able to cook a decent lunch of hamburgers with all the fixins, and a steak (cooked to desired temps) chicken, or pork ribs dinner with potatoes and veggies.

When I was decking, I found that those simple meals, prepared well, satisfied nearly everyone. Obviously there will have to be other meals for variety but that is solid foundation when cooking for seaman.

Depends. With no cook the only expectation is someone cook a decent dinner. Usually the 12-6 deckhand but unless you’re working with a bunch of pricks everyone helps and cooks a meal once in a while. Good or bad food it doesn’t matter, be grateful for the meal and keep complaints to yourself. Rare, al dente etc requests belong in a restaurant not on a workboat. If you complain expect to be the one cooking from that point on.

Keep it simple, burgers, pork chops, pasta dishes, roasted chicken etc. it doesn’t mean you can’t do a good job and put effort into it but no complicated 40 ingredient meals. Also keep some ready to go meals in the freezer like chicken pot pies or frozen lasagna for emergencies when you’re busy (crewchange day etc)

I always made something I knew I liked, that way at least 1 person was going to be happy with dinner. While it’s an older book The Joy of Cooking has not just recipes but sections on prepping fish and game as well as handy guides to roasting various cuts of meat ( always a pain trying to figure out when to put in a roast).

When I worked in NY Harbor (2006-2010)
The Mate’s deckhand prepared the evening meal. A full-on, no bullsit, sit down meal that was served between 1700L-1800L so the Captain got a hot meal before coming up on the evening watch and the Mate had some hot food coming off.

Breakfast and lunch were less organized if at all, in my experience. But there was plenty of grub to choose from.

Grub lists were put together the day we came on and with luck, we grubbed up the boat in the first 72 hours. This was possible because the off-going crew made sure we had 3 hot meals in stand-by (and we insured THEY had 3 when we left).

Many Captains liked to prepare the Sunday evening meal.


I learned a GREAT appreciation for that hot evening meal, especially since it was prepared by MY deckhand who was juggling barges AND the meal. Not a meal passed without a heartfelt thanks to the man who prepared it.

Casseroles are easy to make, fill the belly, and make great leftovers.
With a good crew, taking turns preparing the meal, many times we eat better when there is not a cook onboard.

For the newer guys, and the prima donnas, if someone cooks for you when it isnt their job to do so, return the favor by cleaning up the galley after the meal. I still to this day have great disdain for the twat who would eat cereal instead of the meal a shipmate prepared because he thought it was beneath him to clean up the galley when the meal was done. Selfish prick.

Also for the newer guys, be that guy who is in the sink cleaning before the more senior crew members get there and are doing it for you.

Based on my limited experience it was the greenest guy that got mates watch and therefore cooked. So that was me.

I enjoyed it immensely, it broke up the day.

We worked two week hitches and usually shopped at the start and halfway through.
Since I cooked, I made up the grub list but everyone helped out with suggestions. I would usually post a menu on the board with the upcoming weeks meals.

Usually they Deckhand that came on after me did the dishes but sometimes if we were really busy on deck I would do them for him. What goes around comes around usually. Do favors for your deck partner, he will do them for you. Especially as a new guy, go the extra mile whenever possible and when you do screw up (as is sure to happen) they are more likely to forgive you.

Just learning how to make a simple gravy or sauce can take a meal from bland to the next level. Sometimes the captain would cook and he was pretty good. I remember one seafood feast he prepared. Fish, shrimp, clams, the works.

Put in some effort and it will pay off. Sometimes I would finish cooking and have to run out in deck. When I came back in the skipper or mate would at times be washing the dishes for me. I took it as a sign of approval of the cooking.

I was lucky enough that even when I sailed on Hawser boats, we had a cook. Hell, even the bad ones take the load off of the rest of the crew. My comment is regarding basic cookbooks. The Joy of Cooking is good, as well as the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. I find the latter almost indispensable. I consider myself to be an accomplished cook (raised two kids alone as a single dad) but I still keep mine at hand, useful for basic recipes, cooking times, etc.

this will vary from boat to boat, company to company etc…
I’ve worked on some boats where everyone fended for themselves. No structure.
Been with a company that had cooks. Some good some bad. They were putting out three meals a day…and let me say the size of meals was like we were binge eating.
Personally the best way to go I feel is one meal a day, normally dinner, at watch change. Some guys like to cook, some don’t. I feel its an uphill battle making someone who doesn’t want to cook, cook. The main ingredient to any meal is love. If there’s no passion behind it its gonna suck.
Of course depending on the boats particular schedule and run, it may only be practical for the deckhands to cook. Example if the captain or mate don’t mind or like to cook, they may not be able to because the boat is running and they have to be up top. However some guys, like myself, don’t mind sharing the burden and getting up off watch to throw something together.
As far as shopping goes, that’s a hot button issue usually. You cannot make everyone happy. If you are lucky enough to go ashore and do your own shopping, no matter how well you try to get stuff on the list, someone will bitch. I’ve worked with a bunch of pains in the asses that would complain if you got generic instead of name brand or vice versa. Then of course you may have your stores delivered, and you can imagine what grief that may cause.
Like someone else said, being a good cook in addition to your main job capacity is a good thing. Having a good meal to look forward to makes everything more pleasant. Unless you are one of those guys that can live off of hot dogs, frozen burritos and cup o’ noodles…then there is no hope for you!

All of the above comments are spot on. Especially the cookbook recommendations. I thoroughly enjoyed cooking while I was decking. I still cook 2 times a week as the mate. If you can put together a decent meal on the boat you’ll be fine. Start watching the cooking channels while at home. You’ll learn a shit ton of stuff.

Grew up with an old copy of The Joy of Cooking in the house. Excellent book. Another one that is good but slightly more “down-home” and simple is The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

Here are some good ideas. With lots of pictures too. Spaghetti is usually a hit.


[QUOTE=RubberRhib888;185874]All of the above comments are spot on. Especially the cookbook recommendations. I thoroughly enjoyed cooking while I was decking. I still cook 2 times a week as the mate. If you can put together a decent meal on the boat you’ll be fine. Start watching the cooking channels while at home. You’ll learn a shit ton of stuff.[/QUOTE]


[QUOTE=cmakin;185864]My comment is regarding basic cookbooks. The Joy of Cooking is good, as well as the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. I find the latter almost indispensable. [/QUOTE]

Both are excellent books. The Better Homes and Garden cookbook is available in paperback, which is very convenient. Maybe The Joy is available in paperback now, too.

A couple of thoughts:
-Any meal cooked by somebody else is always a good meal.
-Always thank the crew member that cooks.
-On a good boat, the crew member that cook should not have to clean up.

And if anyone does complain about your cooking… The next night you lay out the peanut butter, jelly and a loaf of wonder bread and a note saying “Bon Appetit Douchebags!”

Then, of course, there are the bad cooks. . . and I am not talking deckhand cooks, but assigned cooks. I remember one cook that only made one pot meals. . . and they were bad. We would still eat them, but not much. I remember the old man and I would make omelets after our watches at midnight. . . same cook, we were heading to the west coast of South America. On both sides of the Canal, we were catching a crap load of dolphin. . . . the cook refused to cook any, so we refused to eat his food. . . and ate our catch for over a week. . . I remember the day he got fired. . . bucking groceries back to the galley (no mean feat on this ATB), the cook dropped on of the bags and it was the one full of wine. . . cooking wine he said. . . . uh, yeah. I don’t ever recall having a meal from him with any wine. . . . He had a unique nickname, but I will not divulge. Hell, he is probably dead by now. . .


There is some really good information put out here from the contributors.

Much of the how, what, and how much is going to depend on whether you got chucked in the galley on a 900 foot RO-RO as night cook, or you have just been deemed “the cook” on a stick-boom break bulker, in addition to your duties of loading/unloading cargo, and running the engine room for 12 hours.
In the latter case, our self-described “cook” decided to take a hiatus after staying seasick for 3 days, on some remote island up on the Aleutian Chain. Standing on the dock in a blizzard, as we sailed away from him and what can only be described as a volcano with a fish cannery, I was thinking to myself, “dude you are going to be so sorry”…but that’s getting away from the questions.
So there I am, on the Coastal Voyager.
I think I made two meals a day, and thank goodness for the super-sized crock pot. This was back in the early 90’s after a few hitches in the Navy, so by good fortune, I sorta knew my way around a galley. The guys on the boat were cool. We worked hard and ate a lot.
Stuff learned on various vessels along the way to add to everyone elses info:

  1. Learn how to make real baking powder biscuits, with lard or butter. Once you get the hang of leaving the galley without looking like someone just sprayed a fire extinguisher in there, all is well. They don’t take long, and your efforts will not go unnoticed.
  2. Learn how to make real gravy, with chunks of meat and other goodies. Packaged stuff is okay, but the real deal only takes a few minutes more and your dealing with only 3 or 4 natural ingredients instead of 35 chemicals.
  3. Learn to make a few meals a week that have meat leftovers that you can fashion into something else the next day.
  4. Learn how to grill.
  5. Learn how to barbecue.
  6. Step 1 thru 4 can be omitted, if you MASTER step 5. Think low and slow, man.

When I was a deckhand I always tried hard to do a good job with dinner, there was a learning curve but I got the hang of it pretty quick. You’ll never make everyone happy and there are plenty of times you’ll have to wing it. I cooked a lot of stuff my mom made at home so I knew about what to do. I always tried to have a meat, veggies, and a starch for every meal. I grilled a lot too because who doesn’t like stuff off the grill. Now that I’m in the wheelhouse I don’t cook as often as I used to, I have lost interest in it but I’ll still make something once or twice a hitch and I usually make breakfast the Sunday before crew change.

Actually I make breakfast for dinner sometimes too. Everyone loves biscuits and gravy or bacon and cheesy eggs.

I always thought one of these would have been great on a boat. A middle eastern “shawarma” cooker thing (I don’t know the real name). Mounted properly it would cook in bad weather and hot meat would be available for any meal, any time.

Everyone here is giving out great tips, but one thing that’s always stood me in good stead is knowing how to make soup and fresh buns.

If you’re on the mate’s watch at night without much to do, make a soup before you get off watch and leave it on the stove. It doesn’t take long to get a good soup together and it’s such an easy thing for somebody to come down to the galley and grab a bowl of hot soup. Learn 4 or 5 different types and you’ll be golden. If you know how to make fresh buns (or biscuits as someone else pointed out) as well you’ll be the most popular guy on the boat.