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How to Cook Corn on the Cob

May 12, 2020

This recipe and photography was provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla and discover her recipes at Ravenouskitchen.com. 

There are few dishes more delicious than corn on the cob. We obsess over it. We talk about what we are going to do with it (salad, creamed, on the cob). We even buy little corn-shaped corn holders to hold it, but before we can totally fall victim to its charms, we have to choose it and cook it, so a little “corny” background may be in order.

The History of Corn

Did you know that if it weren’t for the humans who cultivated it about 7,000 years ago, corn wouldn’t exist today? Scientists believe Indians hybridized corn from a wild grass in central Mexico and quickly became dependent on corn for much of their diet. As Indian people migrated north, they brought corn, or maize, with them. Contemporary corn, unlike its wild grassy ancestor, can’t survive without people because it can’t disperse its own seeds so, thankfully, corn needs us as much as we need corn.

Where is Corn Grown in the United States?

There’s no reason to wait until the middle of summer to eat corn here in the Midwest. The corn in stores now hails from Florida and, as the summer rolls in, we’ll have corn from Georgia and northwards until it’s time for that penultimate treat, Ohio corn. We can be excused for thinking our corn is the best as the local, most recently picked corn is always the best. Corn season in the U.S. starts around May and lasts until September, so the time to start eating corn is now.

Is All Corn on the Cob Sweet?

All corn is sweet, but some more so than others. Regardless of whether it is white or yellow, the sweetness of corn is determined by the corn’s genetic type and growing conditions. Most corn is now bred to be sugar-enhanced for better flavor, texture and sugar retention, but soil condition, rainfall or harvest timing can negatively affect any corn crop.

How to Select the Best Corn on the Cob

The best way to choose corn is to look for husks that are tight and green with the brown tips of silk still moist or sticky. The top of the husk should be tight. Look for little holes in the husk which indicate worms have found a home there; you don’t want those. Gently press along the ear of corn to feel the nubs of corn underneath. They should be large and firm. The ear of corn should feel hefty, solid and round. Resist the urge to pull back the husk to peek at the kernels. The husk is a protective covering that keeps the corn moist, so removing the husk, unless you are buying it, is not the best etiquette.

How to Cook Corn on the Cob with Husks

How to Keep Corn on the Cob Fresh

After buying corn, you should eat it as fast as you can. The sugars turn to starch as time rolls by and corn will be its sweetest and most succulent when freshly picked. At home, wrap the ears in plastic and store them in the fridge. If you can’t use the corn within a few days, cut it from the cob, blanch in boiling water for a minute, then chill and freeze to be cooked another day.

How to Shuck Corn on the Cob

To shuck corn, grab a hefty piece of silk and husk at the top and pull down in 3 or 4 passes to reveal the nubs of corn. I think it’s easiest if you can take most of the silk off along with the husk in one swoop. To remove the remaining pesky silk strands, I use a piece of that rubbery shelf liner, rubbing down the length of the cob. It does a pretty good job. Those rubbery squares that help to open stubborn jars will work as well. Or you could pick off with your fingers or run underwater.

How to Cook Corn on the Cob

There’s really not a bad way to cook corn. All are simple and straightforward, no complicated equipment or strenuous technique necessary.

  1. The old-fashioned tried and true method of cooking corn is to boil it. Simply add shucked corn to a large pot of salted, boiling water and cook for about 6 minutes.
  2. Another method is to place un-shucked corn on a plate and microwave for about 6 minutes. Let it rest a few minutes before removing the outer covering. You can also wrap shucked corn in microwavable plastic wrap and microwave for about 6 minutes.
  3. You can also steam it in steamer. Bring water to a boil and place the shucked corn in a steamer basket, cover with a lid and steam for 6 minutes.
  4. It’s delicious roasted in the oven. Lay shucked corn on foil, spread with butter, salt and pepper, wrap and bake in a 375°F oven for about 25 minutes.
  5. My favorite is grilling. Lay shucked corn brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper on a hot grill and cook, turning every 2 minutes as the kernels brown for about 6 to 8 minutes. You can also grill it with the shuck still attached. Just soak the ears of corn in a sink of cold water for at least 30 minutes. This will keep the shucks from catching on fire on the grill. The kernels won’t brown but the corn will be delicious.
How to Cook Corn on the Cob Raw Corn

Corn on the Cob Recipes

One of the beauties of corn is its simplicity. A brush of butter, salt and pepper are all that corn really needs to be out of this world, but if you feel like gilding the corn cob, how about a corn on the cob bar with optional toppings? Instead of plain butter, a Lemony Herbed Butter sounds like fun. Or how about a Honey Butter, making the corn seem even sweeter? You simply cannot go wrong with Parmesan Corn either. As a nod to corn’s origins, another treatment of mayo, lime, cotija cheese and cilantro called Mexican Street Corn (éloté) is a street food popular in Mexico and soon to be popular in your back yard as well. Or, how about Bacon Cheddar and Ranch on corn? Who needs a burger with all these tasty options?

For my family’s eating pleasure, I’m making it a point to cook more corn with various topping options this summer. We’ll have to pick up a few more corn holders as my grandkids are now messily gnawing away on their very own cobs. I’ll offer up a few of these toppings and let nature take its butter dripping down the chin course. This may sound corny, but here’s to a summer filled with a corn-u-copia of wonderful corn.

By Carla Snyder
Carla has spent the past 30 years in the food world as a caterer, artisan baker, cooking school teacher, food writer and author of 6 cook books including the James Beard nominated Big Book of Appetizers. Her passion is sharing fresh, cooked-from-scratch weeknight meals that cut prep time and practically eliminate that nightly sink full of dishes.

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