When I was a kid, there were nights we had nothing but fresh corn on the cob for dinner. And there was nothing better than sinking my teeth into that first ear of corn: Juices would go flying, butter would drip down my chin, and each bite was filled with a super sweetness you can only get from farm-fresh corn.
What I didn’t realize then was my mom had a secret for cooking the perfect ear of corn. I like my corn-on-the-cob cooked but still with a bit of a crunch.There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, than mushy, soft corn kernels. Over the years, I cooked corn on the cob many different ways—steamed it, boiled it, you name it. I loved them all but nothing beats mom’s version.
The Secret to Sweetness
How sweet your corn is depends a lot on factors that are, frankly, completely out of your hands. The specific variety of corn plays a big role, but it’s not the biggest. When the corn is growing in the field, it spends a lot of time converting starch into sugar. The longer it stays on the stalk, the sweeter it will be. However, once the corn is picked, the process pretty much reverses itself; the sugars start to convert back to starch.
In fact, the process starts almost immediately, so if you want the freshest, sweetest corn possible, you should pick it yourself and immediately cook it. I don’t know about you, but even though I live in the middle of farm country, this isn’t usually an option for me. (So, here’s how to pick the best corn at the grocery store.)
Chilling the corn right after picking helps slow down the sugar-to-starch conversion. So if your farmers market just piles the corn on a table in the sun, keep walking. Only buy ears that are on ice or in a cooler. Bonus points if you bring your own cooler to transport the corn home.
How to Cook the Perfect Corn on the Cob
- 4 quarts water
- 4 ears of corn, shucked
Step 1: Bring water to a boil
Lots of water is the first secret you need to know. Pour 1 quart of water per ear into your largest pot; the more room the better. In fact, if you’re cooking a lot of corn, go ahead and use two or more pots. Bring the water to a full rolling boil.
Step 2: Add only the corn
Once the water is at a full boil, add the shucked ears of corn. I know a lot of recipes say to add salt or sugar to your boiling water, but don’t bother. The corn isn’t going to be in the water long enough to absorb either, so don’t waste them. I add the salt, and plenty of it, after it’s done cooking.
Step 3: Turn off the heat
After you add the corn, cover the pot and immediately turn off the heat. Let it sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. At that point your corn is ready. If you’re not quite ready, you can let it stand in the water for an additional 10 minutes without it overcooking.
Dress It up—Quickly
It’s best to cook the ears as close as possible to the time you’re planning on eating. Once you pull them out of the water, get ready to spread on some softened butter or, better yet, any of these flavored butters. I also love to slather mine with mayonnaise, lime juice and cayenne pepper, similar to Mexican street corn. Or, you’ll be amazed at how good a drizzle of really good extra virgin olive oil, some flaky sea salt and a few twists from a pepper grinder can be.
And personally, I don’t mind getting my hands a little messy but if you’re so inclined go ahead and grab those cute corn on the cob holders. No matter how you hold the corn, dig in. It’s not going to last long.
Note: Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.