What's the best way to grill corn on the cob? A restaurant chef weighs in

·6 min read
Curious how to grill corn? A chef weighs in on the ins and outs of getting the perfect ear of grilled goodness. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Curious how to grill corn? A chef weighs in on the ins and outs of getting the perfect ear of grilled goodness. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Bright yellow corn on the cob is often a highlight at summer barbecues. Served up slathered in butter, salt and pepper at family dinners and featured on restaurant menus around the country during the warm summer months, sweet fresh corn is easy to find in local grocery stores or at farmers markets from late May through September in most parts of the country, making it a staple on warm-weather dinner tables.

While you can cook corn by boiling it on the stove or steam it in the microwave, one way to get the full essence of the vegetable's smoky flavor is to grill it. But what's the best way cook corn on the grill? Do you shuck the corn first? Or is corn better when left with its husk and silks?

How do you grill corn?

"All I do is just pop the corn right on the grill in the husk, and it gets so black and so charred to the point where you think it's burnt," says former Top Chef contestant Angelo Sosa, the founding chef and partner of Tía Carmen at JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort and Spa. "And what's really happened is yes, the husk is getting dark and you know, and all this beautiful complexity of flavor, but then it's steaming the inside."

Sosa's biggest tip is to keep it simple. "Honor nature," he says. "That's how it was meant to be."

If you do prefer to remove the corn husks before grilling, Sosa suggests doing so, but then putting the corn right onto the grill versus wrapping it in foil. "If you were to wrap it in foil, foil work 100% — though I don't know if it imparts more metallic flavor," he says. "The potential metallic flavor could impact your final dish, so mitigating that risk is best."

Do you need to soak corn in water before grilling?

Should you soak corn in water before grilling it? If you're leaving the husks on then yes, you should soak it in water first, says Sosa. "Sometimes the corn husks are a little green, so that's where I would 100% soak it in water prior to grilling it just to break all those fibers down," he tells Yahoo Life.

Sosa, a long-time restaurateur who competed on three seasons of Top Chef, suggests soaking corn for about 10 minutes before putting it on the grill so it doesn't get too soaked. "I don't want to oversaturate it where it becomes waterlogged because then you're not going to get that beautiful caramelization of the corn kernels," he explains.

This method of soaking and cooking corn on the grill takes about eight minutes according to Sosa: You’ll just want to be sure you tend to the corn and turn it over every few minutes so it cooks evenly.

How do you know when corn is done on the grill?

There are two ways Sosa says you'll know the corn is done. The first is to use your senses and smell it. "So one, smell the char because those sugars are caramelizing," he says. The second way is to peel back the husks just a tiny bit and see what's going on. "You can tell by the beautiful caramelization or even just the plumpness of the corn. Those are indicators that the corn is done."

What does grilled corn taste like?

When the corn is finished, Sosa suggests slathering it with butter and sprinkling it with sea salt for a perfect taste of summer. The corn by itself should be sweet — thanks to the caramelized sugars — and have a slightly charred flavor from cooking it on the grill.

Want to apply your corn-grilling knowledge? Sosa has a grilled corn recipe he serves to hungry patrons at Tía Carmen that utilizes the kernel and the husks. He's shared the recipe with us below, and while it does have a few steps, your patience will be rewarded with the ultimate taste of summer in one bite.

Tomato Salad with Corn Puree, Burnt Corn and Basil

Courtesy of chef Angelo Sosa at Tía Carmen

(Photo: Angelo Sosa)
(Photo: Angelo Sosa)

Summer Corn Puree Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup grapeseed oil

  • 1 tablespoon garlic, sliced thin

  • 3 tablespoon onion, sliced thin

  • 4 cups corn kernels

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, kosher

  • 1⁄2 piece arbol chile

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric

  • 3 tablespoon agave

Instructions:

  1. Heat a medium sized pot, add oil and sweat onions and garlic (until no color/translucent). Add salt to help extract moisture from onions and garlic. Add spices and sugar, allowing spices to bloom and to cook through, then add corn.

  2. It is essential once corn is added that a lid is used to retain natural juices being extracted from onions and corn. Continue to cook, remember no color.

  3. Place the mixture into a blender and blend until silky smooth. It is critical to the success of this component that this is done when corn mixture is very hot.

  4. If blending in batches, make sure to reheat corn mixture until very hot before pureeing the next batch. Store in a closed container and reserve at room temperature.

Burnt Corn Powder Ingredients:

  • 2 cups corn husks

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, kosher

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Instructions:

  1. Place corn husk on grill and char until black and place onto pan to hold.

  2. Combine with remaining ingredients and blend until a powder consistency, reserve.

Assembly Ingredients:

  • 1⁄4 cup corn puree

  • 1 whole tomato, quartered

  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

  • 1⁄2 tablespoon agave

  • 1 tablespoon onions, sliced thin

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon thyme, fresh

  • 1⁄4 piece of arbol chile

  • 4 thin slices Serrano chile

  • Salt, kosher, to taste

  • Cracked pepper, to taste

  • Epazote, to taste

  • Thai basil, to taste

  • Evoo, to taste

  • Edible flowers, for garnish

  • Burnt corn powder, to taste

Assembly Instructions:

  1. Using a medium-size bowl season tomatoes with vinegar, agave, onions, thyme, chiles, salt and cracked pepper.

  2. Place corn puree on a plate and spread. Place tomatoes aside the corn puree with a little bit of liquid pooling around the tomatoes.

  3. Garnish tomatoes with herbs and finish with extra virgin olive oil, and flowers.

  4. Next, lightly powder the corn puree with the burnt corn powder and serve.

Editor's note: Epazote is a traditional Mexican herb. If you cannot find it in your local Mexican food market, alternatives to consider substituting with include cilantro, Mexican oregano or lemon verbena.

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