How The Original Cobb Salad Was Invented

When it comes to meal-worthy salads, the Cobb has to be at or near the top. With hardboiled eggs, avocado, bacon, tomatoes, and chunks of chicken or turkey sitting on a bed of iceberg or romaine lettuce, all covered in blue cheese dressing and blue cheese crumbles, this American classic is packed with flavor — and so filling that it's often hard to finish in one sitting.

You'll find the Cobb salad on menus all over the country, from the corner deli to the finest steakhouses, and as with any recipe that's been around for decades, variations abound. There are seafood Cobbs filled with shrimp, crabmeat, or lobster; Southwest-style Cobbs featuring cilantro, lime, black beans, corn, tortilla strips, and more; and even pulled pork and barbecued salmon variations. There are even Buffalo chicken-style Cobbs, pasta salad Cobbs, healthy versions with kale, and some with no greens at all (via Food Network).

Making a Cobb salad at home can be a matter of simply using whatever is in the refrigerator – and perhaps that is closest iteration to the very first Cobb salad made nearly 90 years ago.

An improvised snack

The original Cobb salad was created in 1937 in Los Angeles, when The Brown Derby restaurant owner Robert Cobb made a late-night snack for his friend Sid Grauman, according to the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). 

The story goes that Cobb went through the restaurant's refrigerator and pulled out a variety of ingredients — lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, chives, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, chicken, and, of course, bacon — to create the improvised meal. The next day, Grauman requested a "Cobb salad" at The Brown Derby. From there, the salad was added to the menu, and the rest, as they say, is history (via ICE).

The Brown Derby went on to sell more than four million Cobb salads, notes The Kitchen Project. Although the two original Hollywood restaurants have since closed, the Brown Derby Restaurant Group licenses the name and sells Brown Derby-related merchandise, including bottled Cobb salad dressing.

One notable change from the original 1937 Cobb salad to the modern version is the dressing. Originally, Mr. Cobb made the salad with a "special French dressing," according to Delicious Table. It was made with red wine vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard and garlic. Nowadays, Cobb salad is typically served with blue cheese or ranch dressing.

While you can certainly stick to the original recipe for Cobb salad, improvising with ingredients you have in the kitchen is perfectly acceptable. In fact, we think, Robert Cobb would encourage it.