Corn Cobs – Why Are They So Popular?!

The pipe smoking world is awash with opinions on corn cob versus briar pipes.  And this tells us one very important aspect about them – just about every pipe smoker owns one.  But are corn cobs the Marmite of the smoking world (for non British readers, that’s code for ‘love it or hate it’, Marmite being a topping for toast that leaves no one sitting on the fence!) with die hard fans and detractors in equal measure for these humble smokers?  Here at EA Carey we love our briar pipes – they are our bread and butter (to keep the food analogy going!).  But there is a place for a corn cob or two in every collection.  If you haven’t tried one yet, here are a few good reasons why you perhaps should…

Why You Should Try A Corn Cob

If you’ve never smoked one, we think there are seven good reasons why you should pick up a corn cob pipe. After all, they are one of the most iconic and affordable types of smoking devices.

1. For Tasting Pipe Tobacco

One of the most popular uses for a corn cob pipe is as an inexpensive and unbiased “tasting” pipe.

Many smokers feel that briar changes the flavour of pipe tobacco. To get a true sense of the blend an aficionado will often use an inexpensive cob, like an Old Dominion Chesapeake Indian, to taste a new blend. The Indians are cheap enough to have a few on hand at all times and the small bowls are perfect for getting a quick sense of a new blend.

Another benefit of using a cob for tasting is that you will prevent unnecessary ghosting problems on your briar pipes. Ghosting is what happens when a particularly strong tobacco leaves a scent and/or flavour on the pipe, affecting future smokes with different and less intense blends. This is particularly important with strong varieties like Latakias, Periques and heavily cased Aromatics.

Traditionally Meerschaum pipes have been used for tasting, but a quality meerschaum can be both expensive and delicate. It is much easier for modern smokers to keep a few cobs, priced under ten pounds, on hand.

2. To Learn About Pipe Smoking

Learning to smoke a pipe takes patience and practice.

Depending on your patience and budget, investing as much as a few hundred pounds in smoking pipes, pipe tobacco and accessories may not be a good way to start. An inexpensive corn cob and a good tobacco are often an excellent alternative for learning and can be purchased for less than the cost of a trip to the cinema.

Learning to smoke with a corn cob is different than learning with a briar pipe. However, the minimal financial risk and ease of entry make it a popular way to start for many newbies to the hobby.

3. Because Cobs Are Cool

They just are…

Go for a finger-scroll through the hashtag #cobtuesday on Instagram or search the term on Youtube and you’ll see exactly what we mean. Many bearded Millennial guys, smoking their Missouri Meerschaums or Old Dominion Pipes, while posing for the camera seem to be a new breed of selfies cropping up around town. It’s a marriage of Western nostalgia and modern technology that has seen a surge for a few years now.

4. But Not Too Cool

If, like all many of us, you’ve taken up smoking pipes in your twenties or thirties there is a danger of looking a little suspect wandering around town puffing on a Churchwarden or an elaborate Vauen. Like bow ties, umbrellas and other “old world” accessories a briar pipe can require a certain amount of swagger for someone under 60 to pull off in public. Not so with a corn cob.

Cobs are humble enough to make it clear to anyone who sees you that you’re smoking a pipe because you love it, not as a fashion statement.

Think of it as the equivalent of stopping off for a burger at your local greasy spoon versus going for a £15 Gourmet Burger at a trendy local gastropub – both are delicious, but only one cares about presentation.

5. They Cost Less Than Lunch

Remember that £15 burger?

You can enjoy almost any corn cob pipe you fancy for less than that lunch.

Corn cobs are inexpensive and come in many different shapes, sizes and colors. One of the reasons these simple pipes have stood the test of time is that they provide a clean, slightly sweet smoke at a price point accessible to everyone.

6. To Sweeten Your Smoke

Many cob smokers feel that the sweetness of a corn cob comes through, in a subtle and pleasing way, when they smoke a bowl of tobacco. The tongue’s response to the bit of sweetness coupled with the taste of your favorite blend is pure bliss to many a collector.

7. Corncobs Changed The World

Sort of…

The history of corn cob pipes is absolutely over-flowing with some of the world’s greatest political, literary and artistic icons. Just to name a few:

  • Mark Twain - real name, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, helped make Missouri Meerschaum the name it is today. He also remains the author we all hold up as the gold-standard for writing The Great American Novel.
  • Daniel Boone - An icon of the American frontier. He was a hunter and pioneer.
  • H.L. Mencken - Known as the “Sage of Baltimore”, Mencken was a journalist, editor and scholar who greatly influenced the politics and literature in the USA of much of the early twentieth century.

Whether you like to sit in the garden or wander the woods while you smoke, a corn cob pipe is a time-tested tradition we think every piper should try at least once. So make like Mark Twain this Cob Tuesday and light up a bowl in a Missouri Meerschaum.

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5 Responses to Corn Cobs – Why Are They So Popular?!

  1. avatar Reggie Whitehead says:

    What is often overlooked is that corn cobs are very absorbent. A great quality for a pipe. Added to the fact that it is naturally sweet makes it a perfect materoal.

  2. avatar Robin says:

    I had a number of briars but was taken by the enthusiasm of cob smokers. So to cut a long story short, the only pipes I have now are cobs. And would now only consider buying a couple of top line briars to give the cobs a rest. Top pipes.

  3. avatar Ian Gokool says:

    General Douglas MacArthur was famous for his corn cob Pipe

  4. avatar George B says:

    Great article, just for fun I made three corn cobs myself from the sweetcorn we had the other day for tea. Dried them out and used reed for mouth piece and stem. Not as easy as it looks. The bowl was small as commercial they grow small cobs but big corns and to make corn cobs you need big cobs and small corns.
    Still they work and smoke ok.
    I like the corn cob diplomat with a hard wood base best of all. I have a few Legends and glue a 2p piece on the bottom to stop burn out at the base.

  5. avatar George says:

    Thank you Marcus for a great article. I started on a corncob along with a couple of nose warmers over forty five years ago. We all love a good briar with its wonderful grain and the workmanship that goes into them. In reality, the humble Corncob should and could be the only pipe you ever need as indeed, there are many smokers that smoke little else.

    They need no breaking in, they are very cool and sweet to smoke, they don’t like too much cake build up in the bowl and they are cheap enough to buy several at one time.
    In the course of time, they can burn a little thin at the base of the bowl but hey! time for a nice fresh one again.
    I still have several on the go and my personal favorite is the’ Country Gentleman’ along with the standard ‘Legend’.
    If you haven’t tried one I would recommend that you do, they are a wonderful smoke for little cash.

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