How To Grill Perfect Corn On The Cob, According To Chefs

Smoky, juicy and sweet, grilling gives corn on the cob that restaurant flavor and is easy to do at home.

Corn on the cob is a quintessential summer side dish that becomes intensely flavorful and smoky sweet when grilled. And ultra popular on restaurant menus, you may have tried elote (Mexican street corn), which is corn on the cob that’s been grilled and then slathered with mayo, sour cream, cotija cheese, chili powder and a squeeze of lime.

However you season and serve up your grilled corn, you can certainly make it at home. Don’t sleep on this simple technique that often takes less than fifteen minutes of cook time.

Do you need any special equipment?

Not really! Aside from your grill (which can be gas, charcoal, or whatever floats your boat), all you need are tongs to grab the cobs. And according to Kevin Scharpf, the chef/owner of Brazen Open Kitchen in Dubuque, Iowa, a grill tray can be handy to prevent flare-ups. “If you like to use a grill tray, just make sure it is perforated and allows the ears to rest flat on the surface to get as much even heat as possible,” he advised.

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Do you need to par-boil corn before grilling it?

Par-boiling (or blanching) is a method where you boil the corn in water just until it begins to turn soft (you don’t fully cook it).

Boone suggested this as a best practice before grilling corn on the cob. (But note that if you want to grill your corn inside the husk ― see more on that below ― you can’t par-boil it.) It’ll make your corn just a little juicier, preventing it from drying out on the grill, and it’ll also make your grilling time a little faster.

Boone advised shucking the corn before par-boiling it and cooking it for one minute in boiling water. Place the corn in an ice bath immediately after to stop the cooking process. “If you blanche corn before grilling it, pat it dry and grill over medium heat, turning, until kernels are tender and browned about 5 minutes,” Boone said.

Husk on or husk off?

Whether you remove the papery husk is up to you, but chef Sarah Farmer of Gumption Studio in Ottawa, Canada, recommended you keep the husk on to maintain the corn’s moisture. She said to soak your cobs for five to ten minutes before grilling.

If you do opt to keep the husks on, you can stuff your corn with butter and seasonings before putting it on the grill.
Acme Food Arts via Getty Images/If you do opt to keep the husks on, you can stuff your corn with butter and seasonings before putting it on the grill.

If you’ve bought pre-shucked corn or would rather skip the hassle, there’s no need to soak your naked cobs. “Soaking corn in the husks just prevents the husks from burning,” Rhoda Boone, the culinary creative director at Made In, explained. Just heat your grill to medium and cook the corn for seven to ten minutes, turning the corn occasionally and looking for tender kernels with browned bits.

An ideal way to grill corn, from start to finish

Dawn Burrell, the chef/partner at Late August in Houston, Texas, explained her ideal method:

“I start by soaking my corn in water with the husk on for five minutes. I heat my grill to about 450 to 500 degrees. I put the corn on the grill with the husks still on. Then I grill each side of the corn until the outside is completely charred.”

Depending on your grill, cooking time can be between eight to ten minutes.

“This process takes place with the grill lid closed. Once it’s charred, I take it off the grill; then remove the husks and corn silk,” Burrell added.

Keep the lid closed to maintain heat and moisture, but feel free to peek every once in a while to ensure the cobs aren’t over-crisping.

Burrell said to place the bare cobs back onto the grill for thirty seconds on each side for added caramelization. “I’m really looking for just a kiss of char, which means I only grill it for about 30 seconds on each side or until the kernels start to burst,” Burrell explained. “I keep the lid open during the corn’s second trip to the grill, as it’s a speedy process. I’ve found that that method keeps the corn moist and doesn’t dry out the kernels.”

How to tell if your corn is cooked

Before you dig into your grilled corn, use these tips to ensure it’s ready to eat.

“To check the corn, you can pull an ear from the heat and carefully give the ear a gentle pinch with your fingers. The kernels should still be slightly firm with just a little give. Think al dente pasta,” Scharpf suggested.

Another critical indicator of doneness is the kernels, which should be brightly colored once cooked, Burrell said.

“When corn is raw, it’s milky and pale. Once it’s fully cooked, you’ll notice that the kernels are rich and deep in color, whether white or yellow corn,” she added.

How to season your corn on the cob

This is the fun part. Whether you’re craving some elote-style street corn with cotija and cilantro or something simpler like butter, chives and sea salt, the possibilities are endless when adding flavor to your grilled corn.

Mexican style street corn, or elote, is topped with a mayo or sour cream sauce, cotjia cheese, chili powder and fresh cilantro.
LauriPatterson via Getty Images/Mexican style street corn, or elote, is topped with a mayo or sour cream sauce, cotjia cheese, chili powder and fresh cilantro.

If you’re grilling your corn with the husks on, you can begin before you get the corn on the grill; peel back the husks, but don’t remove them completely, and stuff them with flavor.

“To season the corn, mix together butter, salt, pepper, fresh chopped parsley and chopped garlic. Take each corn individually and start to bring the corn husk back up as if you were putting the ears of corn back together. Remove a large husk leaf from each ear and set it aside (we will use this to tie around the ear of corn to hold the husk ). Start placing little knobs of butter inside the husk on all sides, lightly pressing the butter into the ears of corn, so they stay. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, fresh parsley and garlic,” Scharpf explained.

Another delicious seasoning suggestion includes adding sambal (chile paste) butter. “I love adding sambal butter to my finished corn,” Burrell said. “Just mix two tablespoons of melted butter with 1 tablespoon of sambal.”

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