Corn is a summer staple that demands to be cooked in an equally summery state of mind: out of the kitchen, preferably over an open flame. Picked ripe enough, fresh in-season corn can be eaten raw, right off the cob (seriously!). But nothing tastes better than row upon row of sizzling, smoky kernels roasted over glowing embers. Not only does grilling corn get you out of a too-hot kitchen, but the convenient, easy prep paves the way for a number of delicious dishes.
Pictured recipe: Coconut Grilled Corn
We've got the lowdown on picking the best corn at your local farmers' market or grocery store, the various ways to cook corn over an open flame—shucked, in the husk or wrapped in foil— and how to utilize grilled corn in everything from salad to succotash.
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Pictured recipe: Grilled Corn with Chipotle-Lime Butter
What flavor results do you want? Smoky and charred? Or mostly sweet with a hint of smoke? This is an important distinction, as both results can be achieved on a grill. There are three methods for making the best grilled corn on the cob: shucked and straight on the grill, in the husk, and shucked and wrapped in foil.
If you're looking for charred, caramelized results, your best bet is to shuck the corn. Heat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high. Brush the shucked corn with olive oil or a neutral oil for optimal roasting, and then line up the cobs on the grill, parallel to the grates, nestling them in to ensure they don't roll over into your burgers and steaks. Avoid placing the corn directly over the flames to avoid burning. Cook the corn until nicely charred but not shriveled, rotating it a quarter turn every two minutes. Some kernels will inevitably get more blackened than others, but just remember, that's part of the visual appeal.
How long to cook shucked corn on the grill: The entire cooking process should take less than 10 minutes, so wandering away for another beer or to catch a crucial at-bat is not advised (sadly!).
If you're not concerned about coloring on the kernels and you're going more for a boiled effect (albeit with some residual smoke) with tender kernels, try grilling corn in the husk. Peel back the husks and remove the silks, then soak the corn along with some kitchen twine in a pot of cold water for 15 to 30 minutes prior to cooking. After soaking, tie the husks back in place with the twine. The extra moisture from soaking will help steam the corn kernels inside the husk and will keep the husks and twine from burning.
How long to cook corn in the husk on the grill: Cook the corn directly over a grill heated to medium-high, turning occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes. The charred husks should easily peel right off.
Try These: Healthy Corn Side Dish Recipes
Grilling corn in foil won't provide any char or smoky flavor, but it does keep the kernels moist. It's also a very forgiving method, so it's great when you can't constantly watch the corn—or if you want to cook the corn over a campfire or at a park. Shuck the corn and wrap each cob in heavy-duty foil before cooking.
How long to cook corn in foil on the grill: Place the foil-wrapped corn on a grill heated to medium-high and cook, turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly before carefully unwrapping.
Pictured recipe: Grilled Corn on the Cob
When cooking shucked corn, most seasonings are best added after removing the corn from the grill so they don't burn or just fall off. When grilling in foil or in the husk, feel free to season before or after cooking the corn on the grill. Salt and pepper are naturals, of course; but also consider a compound butter such as this chipotle-lime butter mixed with adobo sauce.
For something less fiery, sub out the canned chiles for cilantro, parsley and smashed garlic.
The compound butter rule of thumb: Softened, unsalted butter + fresh herbs + acid + heat (pepper, chiles, even Old Bay) = Instant corn upgrade.
Another tasty option is to go the elotes route. Mexican street corn gets richness and flavor from a mayo-based sauce flecked with chili powder and cotija cheese (chopped cilantro and jalapeño are also great additions). The subtle heat and rich, salty results are a foolproof way to impress at your next cookout.
Related: The Fastest Way to Cook Corn
Pictured recipe: Grilled Corn Salad with Chili-Miso Dressing
Grilled corn is truly summer's best friend. Not only is it ubiquitous and affordable, the sweet and toasty kernels are extremely versatile. We wouldn't blame you for biting right into a just-off-the-grates cob, but you can also combine corn with other peak-season produce (grilled eggplant, tomatoes, okra, peaches, etc.) for a simple salad that feeds a crowd. Or slice off the char-kissed kernels and make a succotash with shelled edamame, parsley and basil.
One of our favorites is a grilled corn relish that plays well with any kind of fish, burgers, tacos or pizza. Don't stress about making too much, as the mixture of sweet onion (also try with green onion), corn, lime and olive oil is just as good served cold the next day.
Pictured recipe: Grilled Summer Vegetable Salad
You don't need to shuck the corn to find the freshest product. Not only is the act of pre-shucking frowned upon at most stores and farmers' markets, the corn inside will get starchier and will dry out much faster if you shuck it before you're ready to use it. So avoid peeking and simply feel along the kernels through the husk.
You're looking for plump, uniform kernels (no holes) tucked inside a bright green, tightly wrapped husk. If the top of the cob is shriveled and dry, or if the tassels (or corn silk) sticking out of the top are dried and black, it's an old ear of corn.
Grilling corn on the cob is one of the easiest, healthiest and tastiest ways to enjoy this summer staple. Whether you want the smoky char of corn grilled directly on the grate or tender kernels from cooking in the husk or foil, grilled corn is a seasonal delight in salads, bowls, BBQs and eaten right off the cob. Time to light the grill and get cooking.