Before Cooking, Get the Best Flame Spreader You Can
Unless your galley and your boat’s batteries are big enough to accommodate an electric stove, chances are you’ll be cooking on either a propane or an alcohol stove. There are kerosene and diesel stoves too, mostly on older boats. A flame spreader, also known as a flame diffuser, will help make cooking on any kind of stove that generates a flame much easier.
Why a Galley Needs a Flame Spreader
With a propane or alcohol stove, the flame heats the pan where the flame hits the bottom of the pan. With alcohol burners that means only in the center. Of course the heat radiates along the bottom somewhat, and the good quality cast iron or stainless steel pans I’ve recommended will conduct heat relatively evenly. Even so, where the flame hits the center of the pan you’ll always have a hot spot.
So if you’re trying to cook bacon for example, the piece in the center is going to burn before the pieces at the edges of the pan get much past warm. The solution to this problem is the flame spreader.
Essentially, a flame spreader is a piece of metal that lays over the burner and interrupts that straight flame, pushing it out toward the sides of the pan. Typically a spreader is pierced, or open everywhere but in the center. The solid center blocks the central flame and directs it toward the holes, to different areas of the bottom of the pan instead. A few models are solid, highly conductive metals such as cast iron. These too spread the heat across the pan.
These are still available, but they cost more than most other models. Plus, they only spread the flame out about two inches from the center. A minimal help for the price. So I opted not to get one of these and instead find the best flame spreader I could.
Life without a Flame Spreader vs Life with One
Before I got my flame spreader, every meal cooked over my alcohol stove required constantly moving the pieces around in the pan. I could rarely leave the stove. Cooking bacon was especially trying. I love bacon, hate to waste even one strip by burning. But I wanted to be able to cook it without having to have my hand on a fork continually through the process, scooting bacon pieces from the center to the edges and back again.
But with a flame spreader I can actually turn my back on the stove for a few minutes and go do something else. NOTE: I don’t leave the boat unattended when the stove is on, whether I’m using the flame spreader or not. But now I can step out of the galley for a few minutes, get something else done, come back and flip the bacon over, move it around once or twice without carbonizing the central pieces. I found my flame spreader and it has revolutionized my life.
Types of Flame Spreaders
Now about the style of flame spreader and which one to buy. There are basically three kinds of flame spreaders:
And within those types there are variations in material and design. You choice will depend somewhat on your style of stove. Here are some good flame spreaders of each type.
For my purposes and my galley, I think this folding model beats the rest. It’s easy to use, easy to store and distributes the heat across even my big cast iron skillet. Best of all, it’s very affordable.
With my guiding principle of saving space, there was really only one choice for me – the folding version. This is the flame spreader I chose and it has turned out to be the perfect flame spreader for my stove and galley. The handle folds up against the base and the whole thing tucks inside my pie pan. I really like that compact feature. It’s also very lightweight. Another good characteristic on a boat.
Affordable, compact, lightweight, space saving and effective, the HIC flame spreader is everything I look for in the perfect galley tool.
Okay, nothing is ever really perfect. There are two things about this model that could be better. One, it has a plastic handle. While this is good because it shields my hand from getting burnt on a metal handle, it probably won’t last forever beacause plastic and heat don’t go well together. If I forget someday and don’t let the spreader cool completely before folding it for storage, the handle will melt onto the metal. A silicone handle would eliminate this issue. But the lightweight metal of the spreader cools quickly, so the plastic handle is not a deal breaker.
The other concern is that light-weight metal itself. The bracket that holds the handle to the spreader just seems a little flimsy to me. I feel like I have to be careful not to bend it. But I’ve had it for a couple of years now and it hasn’t bent yet, so once again, this small issue should not dissuade you from choosing the HIC model flame spreader.
Long story short, I think this is the best flame spreader for any galley. Compact, lightweight, safe, reasonably priced and wide enough to spread the flame across the bottom of most pans. This is the best flame spreader for me, and I’m betting for you too.