Grilled Corn, On and Off the Cob
Sweet corn plus smoky char equals the best corn you’ll ever eat. Here’s how to grill corn on the cob, plus 15 ways to dive in.
I distinctly remember the first time I ever ate grilled corn on the cob. I was in my thirties, which still makes me sad to think about. All those years I could’ve been enjoying one of the best things about summer… Anyway. My then-boyfriend, now-husband and I were at a barbecue thrown by a guy who’d grown up in Elgin, Texas, which is home to some of the best sausages you’ll ever eat. Once a year, this guy got a shipment of hundreds of links plus ribs and other porky Elgin eats, and threw a massive party. The other guests were going bananas for the meat, but me? I swooned over the corn.
I’d never eaten anything that so perfectly combined sweetness, juiciness, and char. If I’m not mistaken, I polished off three ears of corn that day. And in the years since, I’ve eaten dozens (and dozens) more. Once fresh corn comes into season, my family is cooking corn at the grill two or three times a week, and we keep going until the last ears are harvested.
Jump ahead to:
How to grill corn
There are several ways to grill corn on the cob. In order of my preference, here are three basic methods and how long to grill corn.
1. In the husk. If you’re looking for the sweet/juicy/charred combo, as I usually am, grilled corn with husks delivers perfect results. Peel back the corn husks but leave them attached at the bottom. (It’s OK if some break away, as long as you’ve got enough for at least one layer all around.) Pull off and remove silks, then fold the husks back up. I like to tear a thin strip of husk and tie it around the top of the corn to hold the husks closed, but it’s not strictly necessary. You’ll see some folks recommend soaking the corn in cold water before throwing it on the grill, but I find that’s not necessary, either. Prepare your grill for high heat and place the ears directly on the grates. Close the grill and let it cook, turning every few minutes, until the husks are charred all around and the corn is bright yellow. It should take around 15 minutes total time. To eat, peel back the husks and use as a handle — messy, but fun.
2. Naked on the grill. For those who want serious char, grilled corn without husks is the way to go. The corn dries out a little more, but those smoky kernels are mighty delicious. Prepare a hot grill. Shuck (remove husks) from the corn completely and place the corn on the grates. Cook as above, until you’ve got some browning on the corn, but it’ll only take about 10 minutes.
3. Shucked, in foil. Foil-grilled corn on the cob offers the least smoky flavor, but it allows you to add seasoning before grilling the corn. Prepare the grill for high heat. Shuck corn and add butter, olive oil, kosher salt, herbs, spices — whatever you like — then wrap each ear in aluminum foil. Place on the grill and cook as above for about 15 minutes.
Now that you know how to grill corn, let’s talk about how to use it.
Grilled corn recipes on the cob
When I’m serving corn as a side, I often grill it up and add nothing but butter and salt. But sometimes I want to boost the flavor even more — that’s when I turn to different kinds of seasoning.
I may be new(ish) to grilled corn, but in Mexico it’s old-school, sold by street vendors. This homestyle version has you take naked ears off the grill, smoky and hot, and coat them in lime-scented mayonnaise, chili powder, and crumbled cotija (or Parmesan) cheese.
Buttery, sweet, and slightly spicy pretty much describes my ideal ear of corn. To make this alluring side, you melt together butter, honey, sriracha, and garlic. Brush it on naked ears and grill, basting with more of that fantastic butter as you go. Serve it with a squeeze of lemon juice for contrast.
We all know somebody who devours Buffalo wings by the dozen. Giving grilled corn the same treatment is sure to make them happy. Here you char naked ears, then toss with a sauce made of mayo, Frank’s Red Hot sauce, blue cheese, and chives. And for serving, you add even more hot sauce, blue cheese, and chives. Nothing like excess, right?
When I want something just a little fancier than plain corn but don’t have time for much effort, this is my choice. The ears get grilled in the husk, and when they come off you brush them with melted butter and garlic, then sprinkle with Parm and chopped parsley. Done!
I love this idea for entertaining — but since most of us aren’t doing much of that right now, I’ll point out that it’s also amazing for families with picky eaters. It couldn’t be easier: You grill up a bunch of corn and set out bowls of toppings and seasoning. Everyone makes their own, customized ear.
Grilled corn recipes off the cob: apps, sides, and snacks
Cutting the kernels off the cob give you so many options! Because the corn will be added to other ingredients, the recipes often have you maximize the char by grilling shucked corn. Next time you’re grilling corn to eat on the cob, add a few extra ears corn to play with tomorrow.
Corn isn’t the only item hitting the grill for this smoky salsa. You’ll also be popping red onion, a chile pepper, some bell peppers, and even an avocado onto the grates. Once everything’s good and charred, it gets chopped up and tossed with a lime-cilantro dressing.
Just a few summery ingredients — corn, of course, plus cherry tomatoes, basil, and green onions — combine with crumbled feta and a white balsamic dressing for a perfect side dish. Depending on how hungry you are, it could also be a light vegetarian main.
What do you get when you add smoky corn kernels to the classic guac combo of avocado, cilantro, lime juice, and jalapeño? This irresistible dip. I can see my husband having this for lunch and being perfectly happy.
Corn and avocado are so wonderful together, it’s no surprise that grilled corn turns out to be a fantastic way to liven up avocado toast. If you’re using leftover grilled corn, you’ll be eating in minutes.
As with the salsa, this creamy pureed soup has you grill corn plus another ingredient — in this case, scallions. Both get seasoned with butter and chili powder first, which adds another layer of flavor.
Grilled corn main dishes
That gorgeous, smoky flavor adds a bit of oomph to otherwise-ordinary dinners. These, too, often call for naked grilling to get as much char as possible.
This one’s perfect for the night after you grill corn, as long as you remember to add two extra ears. Those kernels add a knockout accent to chilaquiles — a Mexican dish made by simmering tortilla chips in salsa (along with, shrimp, in this case).
A hearty dinner salad, this one has you slather the corn with mayo then season it with cumin and salt before grilling. While it cools, you grill chicken tenders with BBQ Sauce — which makes an ideal partner for flame-licked corn. Both get chopped and tossed with bell peppers, apricots, chickpeas, avocado, and a honey-lime dressing. Simple, yet bursting with flavor.
Many grilled corn recipes have a Latin American accent, no surprise since the grain was first grown in southern Mexico thousands of years ago. But there are other directions you can go with it, like they do in Taiwan. This vegetarian dinner features grilled zucchini and cilantro-lime rice, but the real star is the grilled corn, which gets seasoned with a mixture of oyster sauce, rice vinegar, spicy gochujang, and other ingredients before grilling.
What better way to celebrate the glory of grilled corn than by eating it in taco form? In addition to the corn, the filling for these vegetarian tacos features grilled green beans and onions, cherry tomatoes, and tomatillo salsa. That all gets served up inside tortillas and topped with crumbled feta and a zingy serrano pepper.
Here’s another unexpected way to play up the smokiness of grilled corn — by using the kernels to top a store-bought flatbread spread with creamy mascarpone and goat cheese. Peppery arugula adds some extra bite, and tangy-sweet balsamic gets drizzled over the top. If you’re using leftover grilled corn, this will be on the table in about 15 minutes. Any extras that you don't polish off while it's hot would be amazing at room temperature.
A zillion more recipe ideas for fresh corn
With fresh corn season upon us, the only question is how many more of the 41,000 fresh corn recipes on Yummly you'll have time for. Here's to delicious exploration.