Cobb BBQ Review
Conceived by an environmentalist in Africa, this beautifully designed BBQ oven is sustainable and can cook virtually anything, including a mean pizza.
Why we recommend the Cobb BBQ: satisfying to use; juicy meat; sustainable fuel.
We love a nice backstory, and understanding how a product came into being can really open your eyes to its original design purpose and strengths. This is probably why Dragon’s Den is such a popular TV show in the UK – well that and seeing the entrepreneurs squirm under pressure!
In the early noughties, a South African environmentalist (and inventor) called Ken Hall became passionate about preventing the large fires which had been raging through the townships and settlements in his country. These fires were often caused by paraffin stoves overturning and causing the scrubland to ignite.
The Cobb BBQ was his solution. By creating an ingenious design consisting of an enclosed briquette holder surrounded by a ‘moat’ of liquid (often loaded with seasoning), he created a virtually smokeless cooker which uses only very small amounts of solid fuel to maintain heat. It was originally designed to be fueled using discarded ‘corn on the cobb’ husks, hence the unusual name. The high efficiency of the design is legitimate – in our tests we used only eight charcoal briquettes for about 2.5 hours of operation (plenty of time to cook a joint of meat), and the metal outer surface barely got warm to the touch.
Cobb BBQ - the Design
The first thing which strikes you about the Cobb BBQ is that it is no shrinking violet. It’s has a cylindrically-shaped main body with a separate dome lid and measures 33cm in each dimension. For storage, the lid can be inverted which drops the height down to a more packable 26cm. Weight is 4.5kg – this is a solid bit of kit.
The Cobb comes with a useful carry case and shoulder strap. For those who’ve played drums, it resembles a tom when packed away. To be clear, the size is too large for wild camping expeditions, but if you have a car or boat to transport you to your destination then you can easily carry it for picnics to the beach say.
The base of the Cobb is made of thick wire mesh which allows air to flow up and inside it to fan the flames. Three main components then slot into the base:
- Fire Basket – this is connected to the centre of the base and holds the charcoal briquettes. Firelighters are used underneath the fire basket to get things going.
- Moat – this is a circular metal trough which connects around the fire basket and acts a a drip tray for all the hot juice which comes out of the cooking food. The moat can also contain seasoning and flavouring such as a splash of wine.
- Grill grid – this is a perforated metal disc which attaches above the fire basket and asks as a hot plate. The perforations allow juice to flow down into the moat without hitting the coals. They also allow flavoursome vapours to percolate up through the grub resting on the disc.
Finally, the stainless steel dome seals up the BBQ and allows heat to be maintained within for long periods of time. In a neat moment of design inspiration the lid can also be turned upside down and stored inside the main body of the BBQ when not in use, making it easier to store away. We like seeing ideas like that.
Lighting the Cobb BBQ
Lighting the Cobb is simple and requires firelighters and charcoal briquettes. We recommend using natural firelighters, for example Flamers Natural Firelighters as they use natural wood shavings soaked in fully refined paraffin wax. This means that the firelighters will not cause any chemical tainting of your food as you cook it.
- Place around 4 or 5 firelighters in the bottom of the empty BBQ and then add the Fire Basket on top
- Fill the Fire Basket with around 6-8 briquettes – you can use more or less depending on the time you wish to cook for. As mentioned above, we found that 8 briquettes gave around 2.5 hours burn time.
- The firelighters will cause the charcoal to catch fire – leave these to burn until they’ve turned about a quarter grey/ash colour.
- Now you’re ready to get that food in there!
Fuel for the Fire
In terms of the briquettes, there are a number of options. We used quality charcoal from Weber which worked exceptionally well. You can also use restaurant grade lumpwood if you have some available. Another option is to get some of the official ‘Cobblestones’ which supposedly burn hotter than conventional charcoal and last for around two hours – a bonus is that you only need one of these per cooking session. The Cobblestones are derived from a completely renewable source – Coconut shell which is reported to be quick and easy to light – we will definitely be given them a go for our next camping weekend.
A word of warning – Cobb warn very strongly against using lighter fluid in the BBQ. They say it can contaminate the taste of your food and also in some cases damage the BBQ. Probably best not to I guess…
Cooking with the Cobb BBQ
So your coals have been burning for 30 mins or so and the heat is high inside the Cobb – now the fun bit! Basically the Cobb can be used for a very wide range of cooking – it can act as an oven, a smoker, a grill and simply as a stove for heating up a pan.
For our first go at cooking we loaded up some chicken kebabs on the grill grid and sloshed some cheap white wine into the moat. The first thing that we noticed is that obviously there is no way of controlling the heat like you can on a conventional camping stove. This is why it’s imperative to wait until the charcoal flames have died down.
Incredibly there is very little smoke or flames from the Cobb – this is due to the concave shape of the grill grid which means that no fat or juice hits the flames. You might see a few wisps of smoke, but you’re not going to annoy the neighbours! Also, the steel surface of the BBQ base barely gets hot to the touch – however the dome lid did get hotter and so we would recommend keeping the kids from touching it without supervision.
The kebabs cooked pretty quickly and were exceedingly tasty, although there wasn’t much flavour provided from the wine – wish I’d drunk it instead! However it allegedly also keeps the meat moist, and so maybe it was worthwhile afterall because the kevavs were delicios.
Our next experiment was to smoke a whole chicken – for this you need an additional Cobb roasting rack which raises the meat above the grill grid surface and allows the heat to permeate through it all instead of just searing the underside. Whacking the lid on and cooking for about 1.5 hours produced a mouth-wateringly moist cooked chicken – simply scrumptious when washed down with the rest of that wine!
One important point to note is that you should avoid the temptation of lifting the lid while your food is cooking – this is a recipe for disaster! By lifting the lid, the heat can escape and you might end up undercooking your food – obviously with chicken this can be problematic, and so we recommend just ‘setting and forgetting’. Leave it to cook and come back after 90 minutes. Pretty simple, and no stress!
Finally, on our final day we had a go at cooking pizza in the Cobb – we used ready made bases (cheating a bit I guess) with tomato paste, peppers, ham, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese on top. They only took around ten minutes to cook on the hot plate and were very tasty indeed. Another triumph for the Cobb!
Cleaning your Cobb
After you’ve finished cooking, it’s worth removing the lid and grill plate and letting your Cobb BBQ cool down a bit. The charcoal ash can be tipped away in a designated place at the campsite – ask the wardens if you’re unsure. If you’re doing this the next day and they’re cooled, we see no problem with chucking them in the undergrowth – natural fertilizer!
Obviously the grill grid and moat will have collected grease and fat. We recommend scraping as much of this out as possible and then you can clean safely with piping hot water. If you’re using it at home then the Cobb is dishwasher safe which is nice to know, but we’ve never had that luxury!
Cobb BBQ Conclusions
We were blown away by all aspects of the Cobb. From the original design inspiration to its continued heritage and quality of materials we think it is a great piece of kit and so satisfying to use. Yes it’s not the cheapest at £130, but you can sometimes pick them up second hand for around £50 if you’re not particularly bothered about your camping gear having a previous life.
In summary we wholeheartedly recommend the Cobb BBQ – it’s the perfect camping companion – laid back but does a great job whilst requiring minimal attention. this gives you ample time to enjoy the scenery and enjoy some wine!
The Cobb BBQ is one of our favourite camping BBQs. Easy to light, easy to maintain and easy to cook on - it's the camping cooker for those who like to relax rather than those who like to have a tussle with their gear. We recommend!