Hey, you there! Yes you with the timer set to 12 minutes and the canister of sugar out on the counter next to that big pot? You’re not boiling your corn right. Wait…I know we all have methods we swear by but I’m telling you, after years of experimentation and reading up from the experts and finally listening to my dad, this is the very best technique I’ve found.
It yields the most perfect kernels — just crisp enough on the outside to have that satisfying snap, but soft enough on the inside to fill your mouth with sweet, fresh flavor. Boiling corn on the cob this way will change your life. Or at least your summer dinner routine.
Corn these days is way way (way) sweeter than it used to be, so your grandmother’s recipe may not apply.
How to boil corn on the cob perfectly
1. In the largest pot you have, bring about 3/4 of the pot of water to a full boil, ideally with the lid on to speed it up a bit. Do not add anything to the water. No sugar, no milk, no cream. Don’t look at me like that. Just try it.
2. Add the corn cobs and push them under the water a bit with a wooden spoon so they are mostly covered.
3. When the water comes back to a slow boil, turn off the heat. Yes, for real.
4. Let the corn cook for just about 6 minutes, 8 at most. Try a kernel at 6 minutes to test and you’ll be surprised how wonderful it is.
Take it out of the pot and place all the corn in a colander to drain (especially if you have lots of ears), or directly into a big bowl ready for serving.
Best thing ever.
Other tips for making the best corn on the cob
1. Skip the white corn
I am fascinated by this infographic from the NY Times that demonstrates the difference in nutritional content between heirloom and wild species of corn, versus domestically produced varieties.
Choose bright yellow over white corn when possible — it has 60 time more beta-carotene!
2. Pick wisely
I’m an opener. I definitely crack open the very top of the corn husk before adding fresh ears of corn to my bag, just to make sure nothing is rotten in the state of corndom. Basically you’re looking for even, plump kernels, dry silks, and fresh green husks. If the corn feels heavy in your hand it should be good — but I still peek into the tops of the husks.
2. Try to make corn the day you pick it…mostly.
The new breeds of supersweet corn in the supermarket last longer than heirloom or wild varieties, because they don’t convert the sugar to starch nearly as fast. If you have great produce in the supermarket, you probably have a couple of days to get it on the table. But (BUT!) I still find the best ears we eat all summer come right from the farmer’s market or a local farm stand, and if I can get it on the table that very day, it’s always the best. Even the Farmer’s Almanac agrees. So don’t buy it then keep it unshucked in the fridge all week!
You can always cook it all off now, then slice off the kernels to use later in salads, recipes, or just side dishes. Here are also some good tips for freezing corn that’s been cooked fresh to use all winter.
3. Shuck it, shuck it real good
This is where I get the kids to help; there’s something kids love about shucking corn. I tell them, “peel it like a banana!” Just be sure to include the silks along with the husks, and get as many of the little silk strands off as possible if you don’t want complaining kids at the dinner table. Some people even use soft toothbrushes to really get it out, but for table eating, I think that’s overkill.
It’s super easy, but if you need more step-by-step shucking tips, The Kitchn has a detailed photo tutorial to help.
4. Put away those ingredients
No milk. No sugar. You probably don’t even need salt in the pot but that’s up to you. I know this is blasphemy in some parts, but to me, boiling fresh corn in sugar water is like adding sugar to orange juice — the supersweet varieties of corn available these days have nothing to do with your grandmother’s corn — or her recipe — you truly don’t need more sugar to bring it out.
Save the cup of sugar for dessert. Cherry pie, anyone?
5. Serve right away, hot out of the pot.
Try to time your meal so that when your corn is ready, dinner is ready. Or if you’re my eight-year-old, corn probably is dinner some nights. Whether you choose to slather it in butter and salt after it’s cooked is up to you. You may be surprised that you don’t even need it.