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How to Cook Corn on the Cob

Boiled Corn on the Cob
From picking out the freshest corn to shucking and cooking corn on the cob, here’s everything you need to know about this family dinner staple.

Introduction

For many of us, summer just isn’t summer without corn on the cob. From family barbecues to Fourth of July parties, you’ll find it hard to avoid this tasty golden veggie, and for good reason—it’s super easy to prepare and delicious. Never made it before? Sit back and relax—cooking corn on the cob is way easier than it seems. Here’s everything you need to know before you make it!

What Is Corn on the Cob?

Corn on the cob’s origins can be traced back thousands of years to when it was first cultivated in what is now present day Mexico and Central America. It traveled north to where Native Americans continued to grow corn before the first European settlers landed in the Americas. Now, it’s widely produced throughout the United States, especially the Heartland region.

Corn on the cob is a term typically used for a cooked ear of sweet corn eaten directly off the cob, which is one of the several major types of “corn” or “maize.” Though “corn” is the common term used in the United States, it is recognized internationally as “maize,” which is the term originally used by the Native Americans. Arguably one of the most quintessential tastes of summer, this golden veggie is widely available June through September at most grocery stores and markets. Typically it’s boiled or grilled, seasoned with salt and butter and eaten while still warm.

How to Select Fresh Corn

Corn on the cob in the husks

Corn picked straight from the farm is hard to beat, but luckily fresh crops of corn are available at most grocery stores during the summer months. Wherever you buy your corn, you’ll want to make sure it’s ripe and ready-to-eat the same day. There are a few different ways to tell when corn is ripe:

The ear method: Feel the end of an ear of corn. If it’s rounded or blunt, the corn is ready. If it’s pointy, it’s not quite ripe yet.

The eye method: It’s easy to tell if corn is ripe by taking a quick peek at the kernels. Pull back a bit of the husk and look to see if the ear is well-filled and the kernels are colored creamy yellow or white. Don’t pull the husk back too far—it’s a protective covering and should stay on until you’re ready to cook the corn.

The fingernail method: You can also pierce a kernel with your nail to test for ripeness. If the liquid inside is watery, it’s not ready yet. If it’s white or milky-colored, the corn is ripe and ready.

How to Shuck Corn

Once you’re ready to cook your ears of corn, you’ll need to shuck them. Corn has two parts to its natural protective covering: the husk and the silk. The husk is that greenish, papery outer part and the silk is the soft and stringy layer behind the husk. Both the husk and the silk need to be removed before the corn can be consumed. The process of removing these two pieces is called shucking, and it’s super easy. Easy enough that you can even have the kids help! Here’s how to do it.

First, peel back the husk leaves one at a time until only a thin layer of leaves remain around the corn. Make sure the brownish “tassel” at the end of the cob holding the silk layer together stays intact.

First, peel back the husk leaves one at a time until only a thin layer of leaves remain around the corn.

Next, grab the tassel along with the tops of the last layer of leaves and pull down.

Grab the tassel along with the tops of the last layer of leaves and pull down.

Depending on how you plan to prepare your corn on the cob, remove all of the silk and fold the husk leaves back, or remove them completely by snapping them off the base of the cob.

Corn on the cob with the silk removed and the husk leaves pulled down.
Remove the husk leaves from the corn on the cob.

Expert tip: Shucking can be a messy business. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the corn and get rid of any remaining silk threads. To minimize cleanup, shuck the corn over a plastic or paper bag.

How to Cook Corn on the Cob

Once all of your corn has been shucked, it’s time to get cooking. One of the most popular ways to cook corn on the cob is to boil it.

What you’ll need:

  • 5-quart saucepan, Dutch oven or large stockpot.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ears of fresh sweet corn with husks removed; cleaned 
  • 8 cups of water 
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

First, heat water and salt to boiling in a 5-squart saucepan, Dutch oven or large stockpot. Add corn and cook uncovered for 5 to 7 minutes or until heated through.

Boiling ears of corn.

Remove corn from the water and serve immediately. For a fun flavor twist, spread corn with butter and sprinkle with salt or freshly chopped herbs.

Boiled Corn on the Cob

Different Methods for Cooking Corn on the Cob

Though boiling corn is one of the most popular (and easiest) methods for cooking corn on the cob, you can also microwave, roast or grill ears of corn too.

How to Microwave Corn on the Cob

To microwave corn on the cob, you can leave the husk on, or shuck the corn and wrap each ear in wax paper. Microwave one or two ears at a time on high for 3 to 6 minutes. Allow the corn to stand and cool for a few minutes before and serving.

How to Grill Corn on the Cob

To grill corn on the cob, you’ll want to start by peeling back the husks, but leave them attached. Remove the silk and then brush corn with olive oil or butter and bring the husk back up to cover the corn. Place it on the grill and turn occasionally. Usually, it’ll take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to cook. For roasting corn on the cob, you can follow the same method except cook and turn on a heated roasting pan.

How to Eat Corn on the Cob

The best part about corn on the cob, of course, is eating it. However, it can be tricky to hold corn on the cob, which may be warm from cooking or slippery from butter. To make eating easier, you can buy corn on the cob holders, which are small holders that screw into the ends of the cobs so you can hold them up easily. These are especially helpful for small children! You can also cut off the kernels with a sharp knife, if you prefer to eat your corn this way. To do this, hold the ear of corn vertically, stalk end-down, take a sharp knife and carefully cut the kernels off by cutting down the length of the cob.

There are so many delicious ways to serve corn on the cob. Simply spreading it with butter and herbs is a tasty, classic way to eat it, but you can also add seasonings and toppings like grated Parmesan cheese, onion, taco seasoning, curry powder or chili sauce.

What to Do with Leftover Corn on the Cob

Corn is best eaten immediately when it’s fresh, but if you don’t eat all of it, it can be stored in the refrigerator still on the cob, covered for a day or two. You can also cut the kernels off and refrigerate in a tightly-sealed container.

If you don’t want to eat your leftovers right away, you can freeze them too! All you need to do is remove the kernels and store them in a sealed and labeled freezer bag with as much air removed as possible. Use within a couple months.

Expert tip: 4 large ears of corn equal about 2 to 3 cups of kernels.

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