Navy Cooks: A Brief History

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Navy Cooks are one of the oldest rates in the US Navy, their official beginning can be found in the Continental Navy beholden of the title of simply “Cook”, this later evolved into “Ship’s Cook” in 1838 denoting their seafaring employment and ability to burn toast both on land and at sea (a most notable feat). On 1 April 1893 when the Chief Petty Officer rate was established Cooks were discernibly absent, most likely due to the ever present jealousy on the crews part that the Cook always managed to eat good no matter what. In 1948 they changed their names again, merging with Bakers and Butchers to form the new rating of Commisaryman. In 1975 the Mess Management Specialist was born, the title acknowledged their responsibilities not just to cook but maintain the messes (dining spaces) on ship and shore. In 2004 the Culinary Specialist rating title was chosen to more accurately describe their duties, and relate to the civilian sector.


Mess with the best and die like the rest.


On a good day you get eggs, a smile and a cup of coffee. On a great day it might be turkey and gravy. The US Navy Culinary Specialists are really the bond when it comes to building morale in the ranks. Nothing is more welcome than the best food, carefully prepared with the highest level of professionalism. If you think for a second feeding the crew of a warship is easy it is not. Hundreds of hungry US Navy Sailors look forward to chow and the CS’s bring it.

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You are What You Eat


Today’s Sailors are among the best fed people in the world, but back in the days of the wooden sailing ships, a Sailor’s stomach had to be nearly as strong as his back. A typical week’s bill of fare in the Navy in the year 1799 left much to be desired. It read something like this:


Seven pounds of bread, two pounds of beef, three pounds of pork, one pound of salt fish, one quart of fish, one and a half pints of peas or beans, twelve ounces of cheese, two pounds of potatoes or turnips, and six ounces of molasses. One gil (four ounces) of oil could be substituted for four ounces of butter and further lubrication was provided by the daily issue of one-half pint of rum.


Some of the principal foods consisted of “salt junk” and “hard tack.” Salt junk was a term used for partly dried pork, pickled in brine, but sometimes the same name also applied to either salt pork or salt beef. Hard tack accurately described the biscuits baked without salt and kiln-dried.


Generally, however, the Sailor of bygone days was content to sink his chops into a meal that was called “lobscouse,” “daddyfunk,” or “plumduff.” Then for an after dinner demitasse he would wash it down with “pale ale.” As an added attraction, if the menu did not suit his culinary taste he could try some “schooner on the rocks.” The term “lobscouse” came into being as a byword for what we now call hash. It was a concoction of meat, vegetables and hardtack, and was usually stewed. “Daddyfunk” was a messy concoction of hardtack soaked in water and bake with grease and molasses. “Plumduff” was originally a plain flour pudding containing raisins or currants, boiled in a bag or cloth. “Schooner on the rocks” was the nautical name for to a roast beef surrounded by potatoes, and “pale ale” is known to us today as water.

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Today’s Navy Cooks put out a mighty fine menu when compared to history.back in 1775 when the Continental Navy first stood up the qualifications to become a  Navy Cook were quite simple. It seemed to be a rule that no Sailor who had not lost eye or leg in battle could be eligible for this office, though all were required to have two arms. Whether or not a man could cook apparently was overlooked in the qualifications for that position, and an exalted position it was, for all the men tried to get on the good side of “cookie,” although, in private, less complementary nicknames were used. During this time the cook was in most cases an unscrupulous individual, and it was often found that cooks could be bribed into giving double rations to the messes. Instructions drawn up for sea cooks in the middle 19th Century were few and included: (1) He is to take upon him the care of the meat in the steeping tub, (2) In stormy weather, he is to preserve it from being lost, (3) He is to boil the provisions, and to deliver them out to the men. And that’s about it.


There was no refrigeration aboard ship in olden days. Foodstuffs were apt to spoil easily, and as a result the cook’s tasks were made even harder. Fresh meat was carried only in small quantities and fresh vegetables were almost unheard of. When ships were in foreign ports hunting parties were organized to seek fresh meat. In larger ships and on short passages, live beasts were carried for fresh meat, but on long voyages oxen, like men, could get scurvy too, or at any rate thin down to uselessness, and sheep took poorly to the sea life. In good weather hens prospered and about the only animal to prosper at sea was the goat, and the goats prospered always.

So from the chow served during the early U.S. Navy to the present time the Commissaryman’s qualifications have advanced to the point where today’s meals are prepared in such a fashion that they will activate the taste buds of any connoisseur of good cooking.


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When you think of Culinary Specialists and Cooks you think of the Sailors in the galley slaving away making watery green scrambled eggs for breakfast, and Navy Coffee so black and thick it reminds you of Mississippi Mud. However to our delightful surprise when researching this Blog we found two Ship’s Cooks Medal of Honor Recipients. William Blagheen served during the Civil War as a ship’s cook on the USS Brooklyn. At the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864, he helped supply ammunition to Brooklyn’s guns as part of the ship’s powder division. He remained at his position near the shell whips (devices used to lift artillery shells up to the gun deck) despite heavy fire. For this action, he was awarded the Medal of Honor four months later, on December 31, 1864. Ship’s Cook 1st Class Frank E. Hill was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on board the U.S.S. Bennington, for extraordinary heroism displayed at the time of the explosion of a boiler of that vessel at San Diego., 21 July 1905.


Culinary Specialist Challenge Coin


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This US Navy Culinary Specialist Rating Coin displays a skull with Chef’s hat, a deadly brew with smoldering remains that drift in and through the nostrils of this culinary specialist skull with crossed knife and meat cleaver. Don’t ever think of sending your food back because it might send you to Davey Jones’ Locker if it actually comes back from the galley. Keep it hot and keep it coming!


This US Navy Culinary Specialist Rating Coin measures 2 inches and is 4mm thick. The detail of this CS Navy coin with cooking elements makes this USN Culinary Specialist coin a must in any naval coin collection.


  • Fully licensed and approved by the United States Navy
  • Antique gold, blue and silver coloring
  • 2 inch coin. 4mm
  • Highly detailed relief US Navy Commemorative Coin.