Corn lovers, is there anything quite like sinking your teeth into a juicy, properly charred corn? The sweet flavor of the kernels bursts into your mouth, and the smoky aroma is irresistible.
Let’s be honest; achieving perfectly charred corn is not always easy. You may feel frustrated that your charred corn is often undercooked or burnt to a crisp. Don’t worry.
Tip #1: Start Strong by Selecting the Best Corn
The first step to achieving mouthwatering charred corn is choosing the freshest and ripest corn. The foundation of any delicious outcome is using high-quality ingredients.
Indicators of Fresh and Ripe Corn
- Bright green husks. Fresh corn is tightly wrapped with vibrant green husks. Stay clear of corn with dry or yellowed husks. It is an indication that the corn is past its prime. Besides, dried corn is tough and lacks juiciness.
- Plump kernels. Gently press your fingertips underneath the husks to feel the kernels. They should feel plump and firm. Avoid corn with dented or shriveled kernels – they do not have the juiciness you crave.
- Moist and brightly colored silk strands. Peel back a small section of the husk at the top of the corn to reveal the silk strands. Ideally, the strands should be smooth, silky, and light-colored. Dry, rough spots or dark brown silk indicate that the corn is not as fresh and tasty as you would like.
Tips for Choosing the Best Corn at the Market
Here are some shopping tips to ensure that you go home with the freshest corn:
- Buy at the local farmers’ market. Local farmers typically pick the corn a day before or on the market day. Therefore, you have a better chance of finding fresh corn.
- Shop at a reputable grocery store. If you opt to buy from a grocery store instead of the local farmers’ market, go to a store with a reputation for high-quality produce. Check the grocery store’s reviews to get a sense of their reputation.
- Ask about the freshness of the corn. Whether you shop at a grocery store or the local market, ask the store attendant or vendor about the corn’s freshness. Find out when the corn was harvested and stocked.
Tip #2: Choose Your Grilling Method: Husk or No Husk?
When grilling corn, you have two options – either with husk or without. Each method has pros and cons, and your ultimate choice depends on your preference.
Grilling your corn with the husk on helps to retain moisture and results in juicier corn. The husk also creates a natural steaming effect for evenly cooked corn. However, the corn does not develop char and grill marks. It is also much harder to season the corn, and it takes longer to cook it.
I recommend grilling without husks. It leaves beautiful char and grill marks and imparts an enticing smoky flavor as the corn kernels are in direct contact with the grilling grates. It is easier to season the corn to achieve your preferred flavor, and the corn cooks quickly.
However, I have to point out that grilling corn without husks can lead to the kernels being a bit dry and an increased risk of it burning. So it’s crucial that you grill at the appropriate temperatures and keep a close eye on the corn.
Step-by-Step Guide for Husking Corn
Here are the steps for unleashing the ears of corn to enable you to achieve that perfect char and smoky flavor on the kernels:
- Hold the corn firmly with your non-dominant hand.
- Then, with the dominant hand, grab a section of the husk at the top.
- Gently but firmly begin to peel the husk downwards.
- Go around the corn, peeling the husk a section at a time until you remove all the husks.
- Grab all the peeled husks and break them from their attachment point at the bottom of the stalk.
- Finally, strip down loose silk strands from the corn.
Proper Cleaning Techniques for Corn
Once you have removed the husk, clean the corn to remove any dirt or residual silk strands. Give the corn a quick rinse under cool running water. If pesky silk strands remain, grab a damp paper towel and wipe the strands away.
You may also gently brush them away with a vegetable brush. Work your way around the corn to ensure you remove even the smallest bits of silk. You want the corn as clean as possible.
Run water down the corn again and then pat it dry with a paper towel. Now, your corn is ready for some grilling action!
Tip #3: Keep an Eye on the Grill Time
Achieving the perfect char comes down to finding a delicate balance between the heat and cooking time. Below are steps for a true-and-tried grilling technique for the best-charred corn.
Preheat the Grill to Medium High Heat – 400°F
Preheating is essential for achieving a nice sear and char while ensuring the corn cooks evenly. The medium-high heat also facilitates the caramelization process for flavor development.
If you use a gas grill or a pellet grill, set it at medium-high heat. If using a charcoal grill, ensure the coals are hot, glowing, and evenly spread across the grilling surface.
Lay the Corn on the Grilling Grates
You can place them horizontally, vertically, or whatever best fits your grill. Just ensure that there is enough space for the corn to cook evenly. Do not overcrowd the grate or grill pan.
Look for Signs of Doneness
The exact time it takes the corn to char varies depending on heat levels, the size of the corn, and the level of charring you prefer. Typically, it takes 10-15 minutes when grilling at medium-high heat.
Keep a watchful eye on the corn while you enjoy the sizzle and aroma as it cooks. Rotate and flip the corn every 2-3 minutes to ensure even charring and prevent any of it from getting undercooked or burnt. Use tongs or a spatula to turn the corn and monitor its color and texture.
When done, the corn kernels will be plump and tender with a slight to more pronounced char, depending on your preference. It should be a golden-brown color for light char, darker brown for a deeper char, but never black or burnt.
You may also poke one or two kernels with a fork to confirm that the corn is well-done. They should feel tender but slightly firm. You don’t want to overcook them to the point that they get mushy.
The ultimate test is taking a bite. Sample a few kernels (or a whole cob) to ensure they are well-cooked, juicy, and deliciously smoky.
Tip #4: Add Seasoning for an Extra Pop of Flavor
Now it’s time to take the flavor of your charred corn up a few delicious notches with your preferred choice of seasonings. Your options for seasoning are unlimited. Here are some of my favorite suggestions for you to try.
Traditional Butter and Salt Combination
Nothing beats this classic combination for your charred corn. The butter is best applied when the corn is still warm. Slather a generous amount of melted butter all over the corn, then sprinkle on a pinch of salt. The buttery richness and added saltiness complement the sweetness of the corn perfectly for a heavenly flavor.
Season your corn with smoked paprika, chipotle powder, or cumin for a bold smoky flavor. These seasonings give the corn a more earthy complexity taking the corn’s flavor to a whole new level.
Infuse the corn with some citrus zest for a tangy twist. Simply squeeze fresh lime juice and grate lime zest over the grilled corn for a burst of freshness.
Use fresh herbs to infuse herbaceous goodness into the corn. Make a mixture of melted butter with your favorite finely-chopped fresh herbs. For example, cilantro, basil, chives, and parsley. Garlic powder, onion powder, or fresh cilantro are also good.
Touch of Heat
Add a touch of heat with a sprinkle of chili powder or cayenne pepper, or serve your charred corn with your favorite hot sauce.
Finish With a Stunning Presentation and Plating
Enjoying your charred corn is not just about perfectly grilling and seasoning it but also coming up with a stunning presentation and amazing plating. Plating your corn on the cob creates an enticing visual experience. You can use garnishes like fresh basil, parsley, and other toppings to enhance flavor.
Stylish Plating and Serving Ideas
Arrange the grilled and seasoned corn on a platter with decorative skewers for a stylish presentation. Insert the skewers vertically into each corn cob for a beautiful display. It also makes picking up and enjoying the corn easy for you and your guests. Alternatively, serve the corn in individual husk wrappers.
Creative Toppings and Garnishes
There are unlimited ways to garnish your perfectly charred corn. Sprinkle the corn with crumbled cheese or herbs for an extra flavor boost. Or garnish the charred corn with finely chopped fresh herbs to add a pop of freshness. Take the flavor further by drizzling the corn with flavored oil and lime juice. Or, serve with your favorite dip or sauce.
Forget the boring canned corn. You can achieve perfectly charred corn in just a few easy steps. First, choose fresh and ripe corn from the supermarket or your local farmers’ market.
Secondly, choose your preferred grilling method. I recommend grilling the corn on the cob without the husk to achieve a nice char.
Thirdly, grill at 400°F and keep a close eye on the corn to avoid overcooking or burning it. Finally, season the corn to add flavor and plate it. You can even take the kernels off the cob and make a delicious charred corn salad. The perfect side for any summer get-together.
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