By: Big Jim Maivald
Magma grills are a common sight in harbors all around the US and the world. You will see them everywhere, attached to the railings and stern pulpits on sailboats and motorboats or on the docks and piers themselves.
Founded in 1976 by Jim and Jerry Mashburn, Magma originally produced charcoal grills specifically designed for the marine environment of Southern California. They created a stainless steel grill that could survive the harsh salt water climate found along the shores and harbors, which often ate up all other types of commercially available grills. They must be doing something right because they have basically cornered the marine market, though there are a few competitors. I inherited a Magma charcoal grill when I bought my first boat 6 years ago but never had a chance to use it. The grill is over 10 years old and still shows no sign of rust or corrosion.
Last year I got the Magma propane Party Size version and have been cooking on it for two summers. The grill comes disassembled in a single box, but without a mounting bracket. The grill can be attached to your boat in several ways so when you pick the type of grill you want the next decision is choosing the type of mounting system you want to use. My boat has a stainless steel stern pulpit with 1” round rails, so I chose the bracket that fits 7/8” to 1” rails.
The box contains all 7 primary components of the grill as well as some nuts and bolts and a hex wrench. The grill is made from 18-8 mirror polished stainless steel. 18-8 stainless is known for corrosion resistance and strength and is often used for cookware and flatware in restaurants. The entire grill weighs only 14 pounds, not including the mounting hardware. You will also need two 9/16” wrenches or sockets (not included in the box) to complete the assembly.
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The grill consists of a bowl and burner, lid, grill grate, radiant plate, turbo venturi tube, L-bracket, and regulator valve.
Your mounting bracket, or system, will come in a separate package. Most of the assembly can be done by hand without tools but the most important part requires two 9/16” wrenches. First, pick the place on the boat where you want to install the grill. It should be an area that is out of the way and won’t interfere with people sitting or getting on or off the boat. Also, look for conflicts with mooring lines or structures on the pier itself.
Some mounting systems install the grills vertically above the life rails, while others project the grill horizontally. For the horizontal brackets you can project the grill out over the water or over the boat itself. If you choose to set up the grill to project over the water make sure you can easily reach the entire cooking surface from the safety of the cockpit or deck. If the grill is hard to access or use, you probably won’t use it very often or it will become a constant point of irritation and aggravation. I have used the grill in both configurations. I prefer to use it projecting into the cockpit, but my cockpit is large enough that it does not interfere with any movement or operations. One downside of this configuration is that grease and food drippings will sometimes fall from the bottom of the grill. It’s important to note that Magma suggests removing the grill after each use and stowing it away. I have not done that during the summer boating season and don’t see other Magma owners doing that either.
After you choose the location you want to use, I suggest installing the mounting bracket and make sure it is firmly secured. Then, attach the L-bracket to the rail mount. The installation requires the use of the two 9/16” wrenches and a little muscle. The L-bracket clamps to the rail mount and holds the grill, venturi tube and propane cylinder, so it has to be tight. If it’s not tight enough the whole grill will pitch back and forth when you open the lid. This can be quite disconcerting when your grate is full of food. I find that the design of this L-bracket is a weak spot and should be improved.
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Once the L-bracket is in place the rest of the assembly takes only a few minutes. The grill bowl can now be installed on the L-bracket. The burner has a threaded pipe that extends through the bottom of the bowl. The pipe is inserted into a hole at the top of the L-bracket. Turn the bowl in a clockwise motion to thread it onto the L-bracket until the bowl is tightly connected. Connect the turbo venturi tube to the regulator valve. When inserted, the connection between the two components seems flimsy but I’ve not had any problems with it for two years. The venturi tube has a coupling that fits the threaded burner pipe so simply slip the tube inside the pipe and screw the coupling onto it. Be careful to not let go of the venturi tube until it is fully coupled to the burner or you may have to go diving to fetch it from the harbor bottom.
And while that might sound like a joke, I actually did drop the venturi into the harbor when I didn’t get the threads aligned properly. During an embarrassing call to Magma support, I learned that it was a common problem. They did, however, ship out a replacement. A few months later I hired a diver for another task but he happened to find the dropped venturi, too. Now I have a spare for future mishaps, but be aware of this issue. Oddly enough, although Magma support said it was a common problem, I found no warnings in the owner’s manual.
After attaching the grill to the venturi tube and regulator, you’re ready to install the grill lid using a set of nuts and bolts and the hex wrench. The lid is permanently attached and hinged to open and close when cooking. In most cases, you will cook with the lid closed.
Next, install the radiant plate over the burner. The plate distributes the heat evenly and helps to prevent flare ups. Finally, you’re ready to install the grill grate. Notice that the grate has two tabs that fit clips inside the grill bowl (below). The tabs keep the grate firmly attached to the grill while cooking and if the boat is rocking and rolling.
The first time I installed the grill I set it up over the water. Putting the grill over the water allowed the grease and drippings to fall clear of the boat and helps to keep it clean, but it also meant that I had to lean out over the pulpit to reach the grill and the food.Get a sneak peak at Meathead’s next book. He shares chapters with members of our Pitmaster Club as he finishes them. Click here for a free 30 day trial. No credit card needed. No spam. Click here to Be Amazing!
The second time, I moved the grill into the cockpit, which makes access and cooking much easier but I have to clean up grease and drippings from time to time. Since my cockpit is quite large, the grill position does not interfere with sitting or movement. Although Magma suggests removing and stowing the grill between uses, we leave it installed at all times and it hasn’t been a problem. I have sailed in pretty extreme weather and the grill has come through perfectly fine every time. Basically, the only adjustment we made was to tie the lid closed when sailing when it’s very windy.
The kettle model comes in two sizes, the original kettle is 15 inches in diameter and the “Party-size” is 17 inches in diameter. We tested the Party Size model. Although it doesn’t sound much bigger, the extra 2 inches provides 200 squares inches of more grill space. The propane models use the same 1 pound cylinders used on a lot of camp stoves. Like all propane containers, they need to be stored in a properly vented location. Remember, propane is heavier than air and should never be stored inside the boat or in an unvented locker. Venting should be done overboard away from spark or heat sources and should have no access to the bilges. Magma advises you to never use the grill inside the boat or in an enclosed space for that reason. Magma also sells adapters enabling you to connect the grill to LP gas systems.
Once the propane cylinder is attached to the regulator you’re ready to start grilling. Newer Magma grills come with electric starters but older models and the one we tested require a flame source. I typically use a long butane stove lighter. It helps if the lighter has a flexible wand. This allows you to light the grill without having to remove the grate or radiant plate. The grill does not have an access port for lighting the grill so you have to open the lid to light the grill. Open the regulator valve and insert the lighter wand through the grate and under the radiant plate. You should hear gas emitting from the burner. Pull the trigger on the lighter and listen carefully. You will hear if the burner lights because it will be hard to see the flame in a bright environment. If the fire doesn’t start immediately, close the regulator and wait for the gas to dissipate before you try again. When it lights, I normally close the lid to allow the radiant plate and grill grate to get nice and hot.
The grill has vent holes on the top and bottom and can be used even in relatively windy conditions. I’ve cooked in winds up to 15 knots while in harbor, but it should be noted that the boats on either side of you often provide some buffer from the wind. If you are out on anchor your experience may vary. In any case, I’ve never had the fire blow out. The vents in the grill lid are fully open and provide no dampers for heat control. The only way to control the temperature of the grill is by using the regulator, so you are not going to use the kettle for low and slow cooking or smoking. There’s no easy or obvious way to set up 2-zone cooking. But the grill does a good job of general grilling and can even produce a good char on steaks and burgers. The top of the lid is flat and I’ve used it to toast tortillas and hamburger buns. But be careful, on windy days your tortillas (below) and buns might end up in the drink.
After using the grill out of the box for a full season, I decided to calibrate the grill using our bread method. I tried the calibration with the lid open and closed. I filled the grate with bread distributed evenly around the grill. After 2 minutes I flipped the bread. As you can see by the photos (below) the coloring was wildly different based on which side of the grill the bread was placed. As first, I could not explain the difference but then it occurred to me that the darker bread was on the side which was on the windier side of the grill. This was true whether the lid was opened or closed, although the difference was more dramatic with the lid closed. Magma also warns that uneven cooking can occur if the grill is not level.
The bread toasted much faster with the lid closed (below). In both tests the bread was turned after two minutes. If it’s a windy day you will have to rotate the items to get them to cook evenly.
The party Size Magma grill is sufficiently large to cook 5-6 burgers or a dozen hotdogs or brats. I have entertained 5 guests easily but you can serve more by cooking food in batches. I have found that a one-pound cylinder will last for a dozen meals, depending on how long the items have to be cooked. I keep 3 cylinders on the boat at all times. I’ve also started to refill my own cylinders using the Flame King system that I reviewed earlier. Click here to check out my review.
The Magma grills are made of 18-8 polished stainless steel and are easy to clean and maintain. My old Magma charcoal grill is over 10 years old and shows no signs of rust or corrosion. Of course, both grills I own have only been used in freshwater environments. The new propane Party Size grill we tested is two years old and still shines like new on the outside. Last fall before we pulled the boat out for the winter, we disassembled the grill and cleaned it inside and out with soap and water and Scotch Brite pads. A little Dawn dish soap helps dissolve grease and oil. Magma recommends Easy Off Oven Cleaner for stubborn residue. Clean it frequently after use to keep it looking new.
Magma offers a variety of grills in several sizes for sail and motor boats, and custom hardware for mounting. Although you won’t be using their products in any BBQ competitions or smoking, they are perfect for harbor cookouts and can even produce a decent char when desired.
The price listed below is for the grill only and does not include mounting or any other additional accessories.
All products manufactured by Magma Products LLC are warranted against failures due to materials or workmanship for a period of one year from the original date of purchase (receipt required). Magma reserves the right to repair or replace any products. Shipping charges are the user’s responsibility. Contact Magma Products LLC first before returning any product(s).
We thank Magma for providing a Party Size Marine Kettle Gas Grill for our tests.
In 1976, identical twin brothers, Jim and Jerry Mashburn, created Magma Products. They were two young California sailors who, besides their love of sailing, loved to barbeque. However, experiments with attaching grills to their boat proved unsuccessful. The porcelain metal grills available in the mid 1970’s were just not up to the task. After a short time attached to the stern of Jim and Jerry’s boat, the grills simply rusted out and became completely unserviceable. Knowing the durability of stainless steel in marine environments, the twins set to work making a stainless steel grill that would withstand the hardships of a salt water environment.
But developing a grill that could work on a boat and survive the environment was not their only challenge. Starting on the west coast where they lived no marine store was willing to stock their grills, so the brothers often left their invention in the stores on consignment. The brothers would work the nearby docks to drum up customers, find a customer for their products, and lead them directly to the marine store to purchase the consigned grill. This convinced the marine store buyers of the demand for their product and orders soon followed.
Forty years later, the familiar shape of Magma Grills can be seen in every harbor from Newport to New South Wales, from Cape Cod to Cape Horn, from the South of France to San Francisco. Their first grills used charcoal, but over time they adapted them to propane. That original charcoal grill is still available and is now complemented with several round and rectangular propane models.
The company has developed mounting devices to accommodate any possible boating need, Cookware and Fillet Tables to help prepare and to serve your Marine Cuisine on board, Umbrellas to keep you shaded while doing so, and anti-roll devices to steady the boat while you enjoy your favorite meal. Magma also manufactures grills, griddles, cookware, accessories and even a pizza oven for camping and backyard grilling.
Published On: 9/13/2022 Last Modified: 9/22/2022
Big Jim is senior vice president of technology and head of our technical team. He is an Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) and Adobe Certified Instructor (ACI) with over 30 years of experience working with graphic design and office productivity software. He has written 15 books for Adobe Press and hundreds of articles on graphic design [...]
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