We Tried 8 Ways to Cook Corn on the Cob and Found a Clear Winner

published Jul 10, 2024
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An illustration on the best method for cooking corn
Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

Sinking my teeth into a warm, buttery corn on the cob is the unofficial start of summer I look forward to all year long. The mere memory of its salty sweet flavor is what helps me get through the long, cold winters. But cooking corn on the cob is a lot easier said than done. Sometimes the kernels dry out and become tough, and sometimes they turn out undercooked and hard. It’s not as easy to cook corn on the cob as some people might think! There are endless ways to cook it, from grilling to microwaving, each yielding completely different results.

To make sure you never end up with lackluster corn on the cob again, we put eight popular methods of cooking it to the test. We went out and bought a bunch of corn and tested each different method, then tasted them in a side-by-side taste test to see which one was the best. Some of the methods worked better than others, but there was one clear winner that made perfectly cooked corn. Here are the methods we tested.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

How We Tested the Methods

The first thing I did was search the internet for the most reliable and trusted methods of cooking corn on the cob. After landing on the eight popular methods below, each recipe was tested and tasted in my home kitchen. To keep testing fair I cooked all of the corn on the same day and used cobs that were all bought at the same time.

The judging criteria was based on two main factors: ease of preparation and flavor. I wanted to find a method of cooking corn that was simple and fuss-free, but it needed to taste good. I wanted plump, golden kernels that were crunchy-yet-tender and full of flavor. But I didn’t want to spend a ton of time cooking them. The winning method needed to strike a perfect balance.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Cooking Method: Microwave

  • Total time: 5 minutes
  • Rating: 1/10

About This Method: I was skeptical to microwave corn, but with over 500 reviews and an average 5-star rating, I knew it was worth testing. All you do is wrap whole, shucked cobs of corn in damp paper towels, place them on a plate, and microwave for 5 minutes. That’s it.

Results: The corn turned out dry and shriveled. Despite being wrapped in a damp paper towel, the kernels dried out, shrunk, and turned into sad little popcorn-like kernels. I could actually hear the corn pop and sizzle as it cooked. The corn was very disappointing, and not even a generous smearing of butter saved it.

My takeaway: Although microwaving corn is the quickest and easiest way to cook it, it’s not worth the time it saves. It dries out and becomes practically inedible.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Cooking Method: Grilling Without the Husks

  • Total time: 20 minutes
  • Rating: 2/10

About This Method: This method seemed like the easiest way to grill corn. You just preheat your grill for 10 minutes, throw shucked corn directly on the grates, and grill for 10 minutes — rotating it often so it doesn’t burn. As someone who loves corn that is deeply charred, I was eager to test this method.

Results: Cooking corn directly on the grill without any barrier resulted in shriveled, burnt kernels that were way too dry. The kernels shrunk significantly, making them hard to eat, and they lost all of their freshness. They had practically no moisture left and they lost their snappy crunch. The corn was burnt, dry, and very disappointing.

My takeaway: Corn can’t withstand the direct heat of the grill. It’s too hot, and it caused the corn to burn and dry out. I would not recommend grilling corn without some sort of barrier, whether that is foil or their husks.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Cooking Method: Instant Pot

  • Total time: 15 minutes — including the time it takes for the Instant Pot to pressurize
  • Rating: 7/10

About This Method: As a big fan of the Instant Pot, I was excited to give this method a try. You start by shucking and halving your corn, then lining them up vertically on top of the trivet insert inside of the Instant Pot. Cook on HIGH pressure for 5 minutes, quick release the pressure, and take them out. The recipe suggests melting butter in the still-warm insert and pouring it over the cobs, so that’s exactly what I did.

Results: The corn came out similarly to boiled corn with plump kernels that were juicy and bright yellow. They didn’t dry out and were tender without being overcooked or mushy. Adding the melted butter on top was a nice touch, and melting it in the Instant Pot was an easy way to avoid having to dirty another dish. This yielded a delicious, basic version of corn. It was simple and unfussy.

My takeaway: If you’re pinched for time (and own an Instant Pot) this method is a great option. It produces delicious, simple corn that’s tender and moist. It’s an unfussy technique that makes cleanup a breeze.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Cooking Method: Wrapped in Foil and Grilled

  • Total time: 15 minutes
  • Rating: 7/10

About This Method: This method uses foil to create a barrier between the corn and the grill, preventing it from burning and drying out. You start by shucking the corn cobs, then wrapping each one in foil with a little bit of butter inside. Cook them directly on the grill for 15 minutes, then unwrap and serve.

Results: The corn came out perfectly cooked and snappy. It was tender, bright yellow, and moist. It had a little bit of browning in the spots where it came in contact with the grill, but overall it remained bright yellow. The flavor, however, was a bit bland. It didn’t taste like it was grilled at all. It didn’t have a smoky or charred flavor and simply tasted like steamed corn with a bit of butter. It wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t as flavorful as I would have liked.

My takeaway: This method results in corn that is tender and juicy, but it lacks the deep smoky flavor you typically get from the grill. It was fine, but it was no better than boiled corn despite taking more effort. The method felt like a waste of time and foil.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Cooking Method: Cooking in a Butter Bath

  • Total time: 15 minutes
  • Rating: 7.5/10

About This Method: Butter bath corn is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You bring a large pot of milk or water to a boil, add a generous amount of butter, and simmer shucked corn cobs in it until tender. The recipe has over 200 comments and has been shared over 100,000 times (!), so I had high hopes for it. And besides, how bad can corn simmered in butter really be?

Results: The corn was perfectly plump, coated in the perfect amount of butter, and tender without being mushy. It took about eight minutes in total to cook the corn, and I didn’t have to stir them or make sure they were completely submerged. I just let them do their thing. I’m not sure the milk added anything, though. I couldn’t taste it, so it might not be worth adding. I would also recommend adding a generous pinch of salt to the butter bath — or, if you’re feeling wild, using salted butter instead.

My takeaway: Adding butter to your water bath is a great way to add extra flavor to your corn. It coats the cobs in a thin layer of butter, leaving you with perfectly glossy corn that’s buttery and rich. I’m not sure the milk added anything, so you might be better off just throwing a stick of butter in boiling salted water.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Cooking Method: Roasting in the Oven

  • Total time: 35 minutes
  • Rating: 7.7/10

About This Method: My family would always cook their corn in the oven, so I was excited to put this method to the test. This version (which has a promising 4.5-/5-star average) lines up whole corn cobs (with husks still attached) directly on oven grates and roasts them at 350° F for 35 minutes.

Results: Right off the bat I noticed that the corn smelled amazing. The husks burned and blackened and smelled just like corn being cooked at an outdoor summer festival. After peeling back the burnt husks I was delighted to find the corn itself was moist and delicious. It was tender, juicy, and had a wonderful deep smoky flavor. It didn’t burn or shrivel up at all, and it remained bright yellow all over.

My takeaway: Roasting corn in the oven is a great way to mimic the flavor of grilling without using a grill. The husks charred and burnt slightly, lending the corn a deep smoky flavor while keeping it moist and protected from the heat. The only drawback is that the corn itself didn’t get any color, so although it was flavorful, it wasn’t as flavorful as grilled corn. As someone who lives in the city without access to a grill, I will definitely be using this method again.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Cooking Method: Boiling in Salted Water

  • Total time: 25 minutes
  • Rating: 8/10

About This Method: This method was one of the simplest I came across. You just place whole, shucked corn cobs in boiling, salted water and boil them for 5 minutes. That’s it. (It also states that you can keep the corn in the water for an additional 10 minutes to keep them warm, but notes that anything longer than that will result in tough corn.)

Results: This resulted in perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned corn. The salt helped the corn shine and made it intensely flavorful without tasting salty. It was a total game-changer. The kernels were plump, juicy, and a beautiful bright yellow color.

My takeaway: Boiling corn in salted water is an easy way to make delicious, perfectly seasoned corn without a ton of effort. It cooks quickly, requires no special tools or equipment, and tastes delicious. It’s the perfect example that sometimes the simplest cooking methods are the best.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Cooking Method: Grilling with the Husks On

  • Total time: 20 minutes
  • Rating: 10/10

About This Method: This method is what I am most familiar with — I grew up eating it this way at fairs and outdoor festivals, so I was excited to give it a try. You just trim the silks off your corn, then, with their husks still attached, throw them onto a grill set to high heat. Cook, rotating often, for about 15 minutes, then serve.

Results: The corn was absolutely incredible. I was nervous that the corn would turn out dry, as the husks turned completely black, but after peeling them back I found that the corn was still perfectly plump, bright yellow, and moist. The charred husks gave the corn a deep smoky flavor that was savory and bold. It tasted just like the corn I ate at fairs growing up. It was the perfect balance of flavor and texture.

My takeaway: This method strikes the perfect balance between flavorful and tender. The husks not only protect the corn from drying out and burning, but they also lend it a deep smoky flavor. This is hands-down the best method I tested and resulted in the beloved fairground flavor I was after. It’s sweet, smoky, and savory.

The Biggest Takeaways

After testing all of these methods for cooking corn on the cob, grilling them in their husks was the clear winner. The husks helped steam the corn, keeping it moist and preventing it from drying out. But they also burnt on the outside and charred, giving the corn a bold smoky flavor. It was all of the flavor of grilled corn, without any of the dried, burnt bits that sometimes happen when you grill it without the husks. But if you don’t have a grill, boiling corn in salted water is a great option. You won’t get that charred flavor, but the kernels will be plump, juicy, and perfectly salted.

This post originally published on The Kitchn. Read it there: We Tried 8 Methods of Cooking Corn on the Cob and Found a Clear Winner