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Pipes: Corn Cobs vs. Briar: Which is Better?

fredhfredh Member
edited May 2015 in Other Forms of Tobacco
Greetings Pipe Friends, I wish to express some opinions on a controversial subject.

Please remember that these are just my opinions, not truth, or the final word. I don't have the final word on anything.

As some of you know, I am the author of a pipe book that has been read by at least 14 people and has put people to sleep all across America. The book has been highly praised as the most effective cure for insomnia known to humanity. It is titled, The Perfect Smoke: Gourmet Pipe Smoking for Relaxation and Reflection. The book is dedicated to achieving the most sublime and superb pipe smoking experience possible.

Thus, I get questions from people all the time related to what makes for the highest quality smoke. One of the most common questions I get is related to corn cob pipes and how they compare in smoking quality to the much more expensive briar pipes. Cobs range in price $5 to $30 (although I was once gifted a very nice $60 cob). Briar, by contrast, ranges from $25 into the thousands of dollars. I have smoked estate pipes that would sell, used, for thousands of dollars.

Remember, it is IMPORTANT to note that the core of this discussion is not which type of pipe is prettier or more aesthetic (briar pipes win that hands down), but the quality of the smoke itself--the smoke that reaches and makes contact with the tongue and taste buds. I am not talking about stem quality either. What I am focusing on in this brief analysis is taste of the smoke, the temperature of the smoke, and the flavor imparted by the briar or the cob, to the flavor of the tobacco. Of course, it is assumed, in this discussion, that the smoker knows how to smoke a pipe no matter what it is made of.

The staunch proponents of corn cobs will swear up and down that briar pipes are overpriced and overrated. They claim that a corn cob will provide a smoke every bit as good or better than a briar. In fact, the largest corn cob pipe producer, Missouri Meerschaum, claims that the cob provides the sweetest, coolest smoke obtainable.

The briar lovers, although some of them do highly appreciate corn cobs (such as myself), often dismiss or disregard corn cobs as being inferior, even crude, and beneath their notice.

Question: So who is right? Answer: This is not an either/or answer. But the answer is very cool nonetheless.

And the answer, fortunately, can be summarized quite easily.

Corn cobs, in my experience, provide, on a scale of 1 to 10, about a 7.0 level smoke. In other words it provides a very good, solid smoking experience. And for the money, it is the best value in tobacco smoking hands down. No doubt in my mind about that.

Briar pipes provide a range of ratings. I have had them as low as 3.0 on a scale of 10 all the way to 9.5. I once had a brand new unsmoked $1500 Castello pipe, with fantastic grain and a beautiful briar insert in the stem. It tasted like a sewer--3.0 would be a kind and generous rating. As you know, Castello pipes are famous for being great smoking pipes. I did everything I could to improve that pipe, including trying only Virginias and reaming it down to bare wood and starting over, but nothing worked. I even gave it to 3 or 4 friends to smoke and they all agreed that it was a nasty smoke. But it performed very well. It was well made and well drilled, and smoked very well indeed. Of course it did--it was a Castello. But it tasted like crap.

But when you get a briar that smokes in the 8.5 range and higher, you never forget it and if you are like me, you are hooked on briar for the rest of your pipe smoking life. I have had 9.5 smoking briars. They are extraordinary and powerful and sublime experiences. These are very rare but I have a few in my possession. Once you have smoked a pipe like that, you no longer think about cobs, except maybe to taste new tobaccos or something such. And if I ever get a pipe that is not as tasty as a cob, I get rid of it asap. But now, every pipe in my collection is 8.0 smoker or better, in my opinion of course.

That is my opinion and I am sticking to it. I could be wrong of course but I smoked my first briars and corn cobs in 1967, so at least my opinion is backed by a small amount of experience in any case. Thank you.

I would love to hear your view of all this. And if you think I am delusional, please let me know.

Comments

  • MouseMouse Member
    Just yesterday I smoked a bowl of Rolando's Own in a Sav pot. It was a great smoke. Later on in the day I had another bowl in a well broken in cob and it was flat and tasteless. Could have been my tongue, could have been that the shape of the briar or having a draft that wasn't like a wind tunnel made a difference. Anyway, I think the type of tobacco, how it is cut, and humidity dictates a certain engineering, pipe shape and size. Many say, and I agree, that burleys smoke well in cobs for instance.
  • :-@ I-) ^#(^ #-o :-? ;)) I had just started using cobs not too long in the past. One thing I can say the air hole is much larger and requires a bit of restraint on puffing or sipping as it goes. Not being an expert on any subject I find cobs a useful pipe in my arsenal. The smoke profile is different I wouldn't say better than my briers. And there are certain tobaccos I will smoke in a cob. Now a new cob is a different story unlike breaking in a brier, the cob is most heinous when it get near the bottom. Briers are better:

    Now how about Clays and Meers? Where do they stand in your expert opinion? Are brier Aces, Meers King, Clays Queen , Cobs Jacks? I guess it a matter of preference. I smoke a apple if that what i have, I've used a coke can and also rolled up aluminum foil as pipes in a pinch.
    My knowledge is worthless if not shared and applied . "Joseph McKenna"  
  • J_SJ_S Member
    @fredh agreed. Cobs have there place. I will use them once in a while when I am reaming and cleaning my briars and my meers need a good rest. But once they are cleaned and ready for use I drop the cob. @basement_shaman I am still very new to pipes (a little more than 4 yrs.) so I will tip my hat to fredh here but I really like the meers. I am starting to lean toward them but that is just me. Compared to briars they are cheaper if that matters (most can be had for less the 300.00 [although some special ones can go for crazy prices] briars, well like fredh's illustration the sky is the limit).
  • It's this volatility and tendancy to variance that made me abort my attempts to get into pipe smoking. Is a bad smoke due to a bad pipe, a bad tobacco, a bad combination, or bad technique... and everyone has a different opinion.

    I tried a pipe, or more accurately pipes, occasionally over several weeks and in that time found one combination that worked well, and in that moment I understood why people liked the pipe so much. After that it was back to tongue bite and sour tastes. A week later I went back to the combination that worked. Same pipe, same baccy, packed the same, and it wasn't as good. I threw everything in a box and didn't touch them again.

    Maybe I'll revisit the pipe again in the future, but for me it was too hit and miss for me to see it as a pleasant way to enjoy tobacco. With cigs, vaping, and to a large extent snuffs, I know what I'm going to get when I indulge. Sometimes a snuff is taken at the wrong time for whatever reason, so you move to another. Worst case, you "waste" (fail to get enjoyment from) a pinch of tobacco rather than a bowl full. As a Brit, that's actually a pinch of untaxed tobacco compared to a bowl of heavily taxed tobacco.

    As with snuff, there is no right or wrong. There is no best or inferior. There is only personal taste, and personal variations in taste due to environment or mood. I may well be misguided in my beliefs, but that's how I see it.
  • fredhfredh Member
    edited May 2015 PM
    Now how about Clays and Meers? Where do they stand in your expert opinion? Are brier Aces, Meers King, Clays Queen , Cobs Jacks? I guess it a matter of preference. I smoke a apple if that what i have, I've used a coke can and also rolled up aluminum foil as pipes in a pinch.
    Thanks for your comments @basement_shaman. As for Clays, I find the taste to be a bit too earthy for my taste, speaking generally. They also heat up quickly and do not afford a cool smoke--for me.

    When it comes to meers, these can be fantastic smokers, very cool and dry. One has to be conscious of the grade of meerschaum used, however, as the heavier denser meerschaum tends to be not as absorbent of heat as the higher grade lighter material. The difference, to me, between meer and briar, is that both are great smokes but briar pipes, when made from well cured wood and well drilled, can often add a subtle nuttiness or sweetness to the smoke that meers do not provide. That is why I prefer briars, although I do own meerschaums and smoke them. But I also find that meers are more consistent than briar.

    All of this is just my opinion, of course.
  • fredhfredh Member
    @fredh agreed. Cobs have there place. I will use them once in a while when I am reaming and cleaning my briars and my meers need a good rest. But once they are cleaned and ready for use I drop the cob. @basement_shaman I am still very new to pipes (a little more than 4 yrs.) so I will tip my hat to fredh here but I really like the meers. I am starting to lean toward them but that is just me. Compared to briars they are cheaper if that matters (most can be had for less the 300.00 [although some special ones can go for crazy prices] briars, well like fredh's illustration the sky is the limit).
    Meers are great smokers, @J_S, I agree with you. And I have found that they need to be drilled with the same dimensions as briar drillings in order to have a draft hole that is not too wide or too narrow.

    Unfortunately, not all meerschaum pipes are intended for actual smoking but there are two brands that were made to be smoked in terms of their construction and drilling. One brand is IMP. The other, my preference, is by Baki. Perhaps you know about him but here is the link to his website. He also makes some of the best calabash (gourd and meerschaum) pipes EVER made. Here's a link...

    http://bestmeerschaums.homestead.com/bakipipes.html
  • fredhfredh Member
    edited May 2015 PM
    It's this volatility and tendancy to variance that made me abort my attempts to get into pipe smoking. Is a bad smoke due to a bad pipe, a bad tobacco, a bad combination, or bad technique... and everyone has a different opinion.

    I tried a pipe, or more accurately pipes, occasionally over several weeks and in that time found one combination that worked well, and in that moment I understood why people liked the pipe so much. After that it was back to tongue bite and sour tastes. A week later I went back to the combination that worked. Same pipe, same baccy, packed the same, and it wasn't as good. I threw everything in a box and didn't touch them again.

    Maybe I'll revisit the pipe again in the future, but for me it was too hit and miss for me to see it as a pleasant way to enjoy tobacco. With cigs, vaping, and to a large extent snuffs, I know what I'm going to get when I indulge. Sometimes a snuff is taken at the wrong time for whatever reason, so you move to another. Worst case, you "waste" (fail to get enjoyment from) a pinch of tobacco rather than a bowl full. As a Brit, that's actually a pinch of untaxed tobacco compared to a bowl of heavily taxed tobacco.

    As with snuff, there is no right or wrong. There is no best or inferior. There is only personal taste, and personal variations in taste due to environment or mood. I may well be misguided in my beliefs, but that's how I see it.
    Thank you @50ft_trad. I can only add that sometimes a nasty pipe for one person is just as nasty for others--as in the case of my $1500 Castello. I have sat in groups where we all smoke the same tobacco in different pipes and we pass those pipes around to each other to see the variations and it is amazing how often we agree on what is best.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that a great smoke is not all psychological and subjective and there is plenty of room for objectivity here as well.
  • n9inchnailsn9inchnails Moderator
    IMHO there are very few pipes that smoke better than a Peterson System pipe.
    and yes I'm incredibly loyal to Peterson :)
  • fredhfredh Member
    edited May 2015 PM
    IMHO there are very few pipes that smoke better than a Peterson System pipe.
    and yes I'm incredibly loyal to Peterson :)
    Greetings @n9inchnails. I have owned a few Peterson Systems. They are good smokers, to be sure. In my experience, many pipe collectors have had love affairs with Petersons and with other brands as well.
  • J_SJ_S Member
    @fredh IMP and Baki are both very good makers. I also have a cheap SMS that once I cleaned the stem or oxidation and worked through some issue of the "new" it is a fine smoker too. I am leaning toward them for the exact reasons you have stated above, clean smoking with nothing imparted on the tobacco. I will always pick up another briar or two as well. I love both.
  • I have a few Peterson pipes .At first I didn't get with the P lip at all; now it ok, still prefer the fish tail. I should get some of my system pipes back in rotation.
    My knowledge is worthless if not shared and applied . "Joseph McKenna"  
  • @fredh, the other really good producer of meerschaum pipes is Altinok. I think his good pipes are better than IMP, but when you are asked if you want to pay a bit more for a premium stem, say yes. Crappy meerschaum pipes are horrible, as nasty or worse than bad briar. I agree that briar adds something to the smoke, which may or may not be a good thing.
  • stogiestogie Member
    Hmmmm Interesting.... I have a few cobs and have frankly felt them to be a terrific value, especially good for a person trying pipe smoking for the first time.... Inexpensive and tendency to provide a decent smoke for a good price. My problem is that due to their absorbency, they tend to ghost easily - meaning that there can be a residual flavor that will remain with the pipe even after the session.

    Briars have a HUGE variety in terms of price, quality and craftsmanship. However, I find that if I have a good smoker, and care for it they are uch more versatile and decent for a variety of tobaccos - though ghosting can still occur.

    I have several dozen meerschaums and find they smoke cool but I soften worry that I am going to drop it or mess it up some how. I do hover LOVE the artistic craftsmanship and beauty of a good meerschaum.....
  • JimJim Member
    It took me some time to accept it, but cobs are better than briars. It was a psychological thing for me. I always thought that briar pipes were better because it's the most widely used medium for carvers and they cost more. The reality is that cobs are better for a number of reasons.

    1. I've never had a new cob taste bad, and I like that subtle hint of sweet corn taste of a fresh cob. I have had new briars taste awful, most likely due to lack of curing time or the curing environment promoted absorption of inferior material from the air into the briar. These briars never lose the taste of poorly cured material or the ghost of a heavily cased and topped tobacco found in many estates.

    2. Engineering is an overused rationale for high price points. I don't care if the draft hole of a pipe has been polished. Cobs have the most basic engineering principles and smoke wonderfully. I buy forever stems and go at them with needle files and micro mesh to open the draught hole, thin out the taper, and make the button just like I like them.

    3. Cheap. Cobs are hands down the best bang for the buck.

    4. Balance of a cob is the same as a briar. Yes, shape does affect balance; but a straight pipe is a straight pipe and a bent pipe is a bent pipe. I find that cobs and briars feel the same in the hand and clenched. This said... I choose the cob based on dependability, reliability, and cost.

    5. Good for any occasion. I can smoke a cob anywhere and under any circumstance. I don't dare smoke one of my nice briars while working in the yard, camping, or other activity that could risk it's integrity. Although, I might do so with a cheap briar, but I prefer a cob because a cob beats all my cheap briars. I'm sure there are some that would not smoke a cob in certain settings, but I'm not one of those people. I find that the common person who does not smoke pipes is just as intrigued by a cob as they are a briar because it's the pipe itself that intrigues them. So cobs win the battle of perception.

    6. I find the artistic aspect of briar carving to be a hindrance to the joy of smoking. The artistic expression found in a cob can be creative, humble, and utilitarian in nature; a combination that makes me want to experience it versus admiring it while carefully smoking it on occasion.

    Briars are good, but cobs are better. This is my humble opinion of course, as to each his/her own.
  • JakartaBoyJakartaBoy Member
    edited May 2015 PM
    They both have their place. A good briar tastes better than a cob, which tastes better than a bad briar. A cob is great for shoving into the bottom of a backpack. I always used to take cobs when I had field assignments in rural villages in Indonesia, it seemed to fit the environment and made a good conversation piece with Indonesian farmers, many of whom grow corn. But a good briar is a beautiful piece of wood, and wood is a beautiful material.

    You don't have to choose. You need more than one pipe. Get both.

    PS A forever stem makes a HUGE difference to the quality of a cob. Makes it feel like a real pipe.

    http://www.walkerbriarworks.com/html/-forever-_stems.html
  • spyderspyder Member
    They both have their place. A good briar tastes better than a cob, which tastes better than a bad briar. A cob is great for shoving into the bottom of a backpack ...... a good briar is a beautiful piece of wood, and wood is a beautiful material.

    You don't have to choose. You need more than one pipe. Get both.

    PS A forever stem makes a HUGE difference to the quality of a cob. Makes it feel like a real pipe.

    http://www.walkerbriarworks.com/html/-forever-_stems.html
    My sentiments exactly.
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