We’ve seen the Cobb oven at countless camping shows and we regularly get notes from people who say they love it…so, it was high time we gave this shiny, table-top, do-it-all cooker a test.
The Cobb was initially designed as an electricity-free cooking system for people in rural areas in Africa. The first prototype was a ceramic sphere-shaped device that apparently cooked well, but was heavy and cumbersome. The initial fuel source for the Cobb was dry corn-cobs, abundant in rural Africa – hence the name.
The oven has been refined to its present incarnation, which is fairly light (about 4kg) and portable. Instead of corn-cobs, it works on charcoal briquettes, lumpwood charcoal or its own ‘cobblestone’. As well as the standard Cobb, there are also compact, Supreme (oval and large enough to take two whole chickens), Pro (steel rather than mesh bottom section and gas versions. Prices range from around £85 to nearly £200.
As you can see from the diagram, the Cobb is made up of an outer ‘shell’, which stays cool when cooking. Inside, a stainless steel bowl holds a metal basket, which you fill with your fuel. Firelighters sit in the bowl under the basket.
Once your fuel is going, you place the grill and lid on the oven to heat up. The grill is a slightly convex non-stick plate with holes. Oils run down to the sides, through the holes and into the outer section of the steel bowl. That means you don’t get oil on the charcoal, so no flame or smoke and healthier food.
There’s a range of accessories for different types of cooking, including a frying pan, a griddle and a roasting rack. You can bake, smoke, make stews and paella or just use it as a barbecue.
Putting the Cobb to the test
We put it through its paces with a menu of star anise and chilli marinated trout with an orange and watercress salad and orange chilli sauce, followed by skewers of garlic and ginger marinated paneer for the vegetarians and turkey for the meat-eaters (both with red peppers, courgette and onion). We served the kebabs with bulgur wheat salad and tzatziki. The fish was the star of the meal, and you can find our recipe here.
We used environmentally friendly firelighters (no kerosene) and seven ‘heat bead’ briquettes. It took around 25 minutes for the briquettes to get to the right temperature. We then warmed up the grill plate for five minutes.
We were totally won over, and here’s why:
- We loved being able to cook with the Cobb on the table. It’s a much more sociable and comfortable way of cooking.
- Strangely, we didn’t appreciate one of its best features till after we’d eaten – no smoke! One of our guests suddenly realised they’d been sitting right next to the oven without streaming eyes and smelly clothes.
- The grill (which is the basic attachment and comes with all Cobb models) is fantastic for fish and smaller pieces of food. There was none of the usual food sticking to the barbecue grille and then falling through into the fire.
- It was very easy to clean and stow away in its bag.
- It came with a simple, but handy, lifting tool for moving the grill plate and charcoal basket.
- Food was cooked-through rather than charred on the outside.
Some things to consider:
- The lid is vital. At first, we treated the Cobb as a basic barbecue and left it lid-less. It took far too long for our food to cook. When we used the lid, the extra heat made all the difference.
- There’s some learning to do in getting the amount of fuel right. We used just seven briquettes, but found nine would have been better for our menu. It all depends on the amount of food and the length of time you want to cook for.
- The edges of the grill plate don’t get as hot as the centre. If you’re making kebabs on skewers, go for shorter lengths to make sure you’re not left with raw ends and cooked middles!
- The basic Cobb costs around £100. A full set of accessories can work out expensive. The Cobb cookery book has a tempting range of dishes that use all the add-ons bits and pieces, which can then seem necessary purchases. Take a bit of time to work out what sort of cooking you want to do or will, realistically do, and decide on your accessories accordingly. You can always buy more later.
- The Cobb is less fierce than a barbecue, so cooking takes a little longer.
If you’ve used the Cobb and have a tip or a recipe to share, do leave a comment below. You can also find our review of the Lotus Grill here, and the gas-powered Cadac Safari Chef (our favourite camping stove) here.