Aquaforno is a British company, based in Reading that has come up with an ingenious multi-functional cooking stove. Last Spring they asked me if I would like to review one. I had planned to use it for a few months and write my review in the Autumn. Instead, as we enter into Spring, the review is here after nearly a year of using the Aquaforno.
What Exactly is the Aquaforno?
Aquaforno describes it as the ultimate outdoor cooking stove – one that offers a much bigger variety of food choices with the options of oven, grill & smoker, provided hot water on tap and can be could be used as a fire pit or chiminea.
The Aquaforno truly is multi-functional. I have used it as a grill, a pizza oven, and as a rotisserie cooking over charcoal and wood. It does all of those things really well. In addition, it is really portable collapsing down to around 29 centimetres in height. It is 18kg but feels lighter. It’s really easy to get in the car, so whether you are an avid camper or just want a good size cooking stove for days out I really do think this fits the bill. The telescopic function to expand and collapse the Aquaforna really is ingenious – a great piece of British design. The video below shows how easy it is to put up:
Unboxing and Assembly
The Aquaforno comes in a really sturdy, high-quality bag which makes it very easy to transport. I have taken this away with me a couple of times and it doesn’t take much space up at all in the car. It really is like having a full-sized BBQ that is ultra-portable. I now have the planchas for my Weber Go Anywhere and in terms of the size and weight it is comparable but the Aquaforno gives significantly more cooking potential, which I cover later in this article.
There isn’t really much assembly required. On the base are some feet that fold out and expand. From here it is a case of expanding each of the telescopic sections to the height you require (as seen in the video above). If you want instant hot water, there is a bit of assembly required to fit the water reservoir and tap in the bottom but it doesn’t take long. It’s optional whether you use this or not.
The overall build feels really good quality and I have had no issues with any parts at all. It is made from high-quality steel with a porcelain enamel finish.
There is also a heat protective mat that comes with the Aquaforno, that you place the stove on, which will then protect the surface where you are cooking.
The cooking grate you get is split in 2 which I really liked. It means you can place the semi-circular grates at different cooking heights and easily move your food as required. It also came with a pizza stone, which again was good quality and works really well.
The Aquaforno is a unique outdoor cooking device. The features include:
Solid Flexible Core: the main principal of the Aquaforno design is based around its unique three drum core. This telescopic design allows you to partially or fully expand the core when wanting to cook or collapse it when travel. You don’t have to expand it at all and leave all sections collapsed and use as a small firepit.
Hot water on demand: there is a resevoir that sits in the base of the Aquaforno. You can attach the tap and fill the water resevoir. Whilst you are cooking you heat the water at the same time, giving you hot water on demand.
Collapse and go: the Aquaforno collapses down to a really compact size. The sturdy carry bag that comes with the unit, can be worn as a backpack or carried using the handles. It feel quite light when two of you carry it but it is manageable by one.
Integrated Thermometer: there is a thermometer fixed to the lid of Aquaforno. This gives a really good idea of the temperature inside but remember that if you have the grates set at the lower part of the Aquaforno, this might not be as accurate as you need.
Expandable Feet: the feet on the Aquaforno will fold flat when you to transport it. They flip out and expand really easily when you want to cook on it. You adjust them to different heights, so if you are placing on uneven ground this can easily be addressed.
Clip on hangers: the body of the Aquaforno kicks out some heat. It comes with some clip on hangers which easily connect so if you want to dry clothes / tea towels these are a great feature. These are more targeted at campers where the opportunity to dry things out could be a challenge.
Airflow Control: at the bottom of the stove there are vents you can open and close to control the work flow. These are located in the door and also in the main chamber.
Adjustable Cooking Heights: There are some pre-fabricated holes to fit the cooking grates, but the Aquaforno also comes with some brackets that allow you to set different cooking heights for the grates or pizza stone.
Cooking on the Aquaforno
I really enjoy cooking on the Aquaforno. I have cooked a number of different dishes and not once been disappointed. My main BBQ’s are kettles and is different but the same principles apply.
To light the Aquaforna I typically start it in 2 different ways. Most commonly, I make a small pile of charcoal interspersed with natural wooden firelighters. I leave the door open and let the charcoal catch before adding a bit more charcoal. I have used a mini-chimney starter but it is a little awkward getting the coals into the base (but not impossible).
As mentioned earlier, the cooking grate is split into 2 semi-circles so you can place these at different heights in the chamber. You could buy a 2nd one and have multiple grill areas at different heights.
In each section of the stove, there is a door so it is pretty each to access your food to manage it without removing the lid. I would recommend a long pair of tongs and a good pair of BBQ gloves (you do get some with the oven which I really like) as it will make managing your food much easier. There is a single clip on each door, which is tight-fitting and hasn’t loosened off. This does get very hot, so again you will need to put those BBQ gloves to good use.
I have cooked using both charcoal and wood-chunks, together with a combination of the two. I did a Tri-tip Santa-Maria style cook using wood chunks (photo above), which worked really well. The ability to set the grates up at different levels worked really well. I had previously cooked this way on the Weber Smokey Mountain and this worked equally as well.
Using the pizza stone, I have also cooked pizza and pitas on the Aquaforno. I managed to get the surface temperature of the stone up to 350°C, measured with an Infrared Thermometer. It’s not quite up at OONI levels but did a cracking job cooking the pizza. The other thing I really liked was when I cook a home-made ‘healthy’ doner kebab. I was able to cook the kebab meat and then put the pizza stone on to cook my pitas which worked great.
The Aquaforno also does straight-forward grilling really well. So if you just want to set your grill up to cook sausages, burgers, steak or in the case below some lovely lamb cutlets it really does a fantastic job. When cooking this way I typically have the Aquaforno fully extended with both cooking grates at the same height. I will also always typically try to cook with the lid on and having the Aquaforno fully extended helps with this.
The final set of cooks I am going to mention are the ones using the rotisserie. This is an added accessory that you have to buy, but again it is a great bit of kit. The main motor is battery operated, which makes sense as you may not have electricity if you take this away from the home. The main skewer comes in two pieces and screws together, again breaking down when travelling. To fit the motor you need to add another bracket (another cleverly designed piece). The cooks completed have included lamb kebabs, the kellybab and a picanha joint! All cooks worked fantastically well.
As you can see I have cooked a good variety of food on the Aquaforno using a number of different tools and methods and they have all worked really well. As mentioned earlier on I enjoy cooking on this and I think it is fairly to get to grips with regardless of your experience.
The cooking area is pretty good – it’s around a 40cm cooking area. It should be ample if doing a cook for a family but for large groups, you would need to cook in phases.
I haven’t used the Aquaforno to try to smoke anything and think it would work up to a point but I don’t think it would be easy to manage a really long cook like a brisket or port shoulder in this. I think there are too many gaps for smoke to escape and also there is not sufficient control over all air vents to do a really long low ‘n’ slow cook. However, infusing your cook with smoke is definitely doable in the Aquaforno.
It is really important to keep your BBQ/Stove clean. This is not just from the obvious hygiene factors but also to ensure you are able to manage your cooks effectively.
To clean the ash out of the bottom I use a dustpan and brush. There are some holes in the bottom of the Aquaforno that you can also brush the ask through onto an ash catching plate underneath. As most other parts are detachable it is very easy to then clean them in a sink. This is a definite benefit of the split cooking grate.
So I have been thinking about this a lot and how I sum up the Aquaforno. Every different type of cook I have attempted the Aquaforno has performed well. I have found myself comparing it with my other outdoor cooking kit. So when grilling I compare with my kettle BBQ’s, pizza I compare with the OONI and the rotisserie cooks are compared with my Weber rotisserie. It performs well in all areas but not quite as good as those specialist bits of kit, but that is not really a surprise. If you added up the cost of the 3 comparative pieces of equipment they would far outweigh the cost of the Aquaforno.
The area where it really comes into its own is the portability. The fact you can take this anywhere and end up with a cooker that can perform like a backyard BBQ is fantastic. Not only does it perform like a BBQ but you can also cook pizza and rotisserie dishes whilst away from the home. A portable BBQ or camping stove won’t give you that.
I could really see this being a great buy if you do camp frequently with a family. You can also run this as a ‘normal’ BBQ whilst at home to get the maximum use out of it, which may be something you want to do depending on whatever other kit you have.
The fairest question I can answer is would I buy an Aquaforno? With all the other kit I have, the answer would be no. I own multiple charcoal BBQ’s (including a rotisserie attachment), an OONI Pro, a 4 burner gas BBQ, a Weber Smokey Mountain and a Kadai fire bowl. I don’t camp a lot or have a lot of days out with the BBQ so wouldn’t use it from that perspective.
If I owned less kit or was more into my camping / outdoors lifestyle this would be a no-brainer to buy. It’s a fantastic piece of kit. I love the design and the quality and it does everything you need it to really well.