How to grill perfect corn on the cob, according to a pitmaster
Here's the best way to grill your corn this summer.
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
My staple, can’t-live-without-it summer side dish is grilled corn on the cob. Corn is at its peak season in the warm weather months, and there’s nothing like pairing slightly charred, salty, buttery corn with my favorite grilled meats.
So many people are intimidated by grilling corn—but it’s a whole lot easier than you think. That state fair butter-dipped starch, or um, vegetable, can be recreated at home on your best charcoal grill or gas grill with very little skill needed.
We talked to chef and seven-time world barbecue champion Melissa Cookston to get the scoop on how to grill corn on the cob to perfection.
Before you start grilling
We’ve got good news: The prep work is minimal for grilled corn. But for the best flavor, you’ll want to pick the freshest corn you can find. Cookston says that corn, once picked, starts to quickly lose its sweetness, but there are a few indicators that let you know if it’s still fresh before you add it to your shopping cart.
“Look for silks that are fresh, not dry,” Cookston suggests. “When corn is older, the husk will brown and start separating from the cob.”
She also suggests giving the corn a light squeeze. If it feels plump, chances are you’ve picked a good ear. For me, I always like to open the husks slightly at the top. If the kernels are shriveled or wrinkled up top, I leave it. But if the top kernels are plump, firm and fully grown in, it goes in my cart. In short, choose corn that is firm, not dry and free of brown husks.
To soak or not to soak?
This is a big dilemma amongst corn experts, but Cookston says the answer truly depends and it could be served either way. “If you want to grill the corn in the husk, you should soak the corn in cool water with a bit of salt,” she suggests. However, if you’re going to shuck it completely and frill it, then skip the soaking. So truly, the choice is up to you.
What should you do with the husk?
Once you pick the freshest corn, it’s time to prepare the ears for grilling. Whether you choose to grill with the husk or not, Cookston recommends peeling back the husk and removing as much silk as possible before hitting the grill. To remove the silks, you can rub your hands up and down the ear of the corn or use a brush. Cookston’s tip: Add a little vegetable oil to a brush and brush away the remaining silks.
As for the difference between leaving the husk on or tossing it in the trash, the seven-time barbecue champion says it all comes down to your desired flavor and texture. “When grilled in the husk (after soaking), you’ll get a more steamed texture with just a hint from the grill.” But if you prefer a more charred and tighter texture, remove the husks and place directly on the grill.
What part of the grill should I use?
Cookston recommends leaving the indirect heat of the grill for smoking purposes. For the best charred results, you’ll want to place the corn on direct heat.
“I always recommend a two-zone fire in your grill.” This can be done with gas or charcoal grills. For charcoal grills, put 75% of your bricks on one side and 25% on the other to create a cooler zone. For gas, heat one side of the grill to high and the other side to medium-low. This gives you some wiggle room if the grill becomes too hot, you can move your items to the cooler side.
How long do I cook my corn?
Since corn won’t lay flush against a grill, the key to the perfect ear is cooking it on all sides. Cookston says she cooks her corn like a pork tenderloin, “15 to 20 minutes, turning every 4 to 5 minutes.” It doesn’t get much easier than that.
If you find that your corn is getting color too quickly or more than you’d like, take the corn and move to the cooler side of the grill. But don’t be afraid of a little char. As most food experts say: Char equals flavor.
How do I serve my grilled corn?
This is the fun part. Once your corn is fully cooked, you’ll want to serve it right away. If you cooked the corn inside of the husk, you can pull back the husks and tear them off or dress them up for a pretty presentation (i.e. braiding the husks to be like a handle or tying them in a knot).
Cookston says her preferred way of serving grilled corn is simply with butter. You can have softened butter on the side for guests to apply on their own, or you can brush melted butter along each ear for rich, decadent flavor. And don’t forget the salt!
If you want to dress up your corn, try adding in flavors from the other parts of your meal. Cookston suggests using “melted butter seasoned with spices that go along with the rest of your meal.” And if you’re serving fajitas or tacos, consider preparing your corn like Mexican elote by brushing it with mayo and topping with cotija, chili powder, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.