Perfect Corn on the Cob

Sweet corn waits for no one. This holds especially true on June 11, otherwise known as National Corn on the Cob Day.

We'd like to think that most have experienced the thrill of a farmer's market brimming with baskets, bushels, and bins of sweet corn, or taken that life-affirming, messy first bite into a just-cooked sweet ear. If not, what are you waiting for? All you need are some fresh sweet corn, a pot of boiling water, and seasonings of choice.

High in sugar and low in starch, freshly-picked corn is tender and sweet. A decade ago, corn was at its best only within a few days off the stalk. These days, most commercially-grown varieties are very slow to convert sugar to starch after picking, so we don't need to worry too much about the harvest date.

Pulling magically-delicious ears out of a pile is an easy trick. There's no need to peel back the husk. Just look at the ear's husk and silk, feel its weight, and give it a quick sniff. Important things to look for:

  • Mature ears have vivid green husks that hold tightly around the cob with noticeable rows of kernels beneath the husk and silk that’s just starting to brown. They are plump, heavy, and smell of fresh corn.
  • Older ears (and ones that have spent too much time on the stalk) have yellowed or dried husks which are loose around the top of the cob, mushy dark silk, feel light for their size, and have a musty smell.
  • Immature ears have pale green husks, semi-transparent silk, feel light with no noticeable rows of kernels, and a very grassy smell.
Pick out as many ears as will be used within a couple of days. Two ears per person is a good start (a small ear yields half a cup of kernels), but when the corn season is especially good, appetites often run high. Freezing fresh corn (off the cob, or on) is the best way to preserve corn that won’t be used right away.

Heat speeds up the sugar-to-starch conversion, so avoid buying picked corn sitting in full sun at the farmer’s market, and do try to get your corn into the fridge as quickly as possible. If you’ll be driving around, placing the ears in a cooler with ice can really make a difference. Never leave your fresh picked corn in the car on a hot day.

Boiling is the classic way to prepare sweet corn. Use a stockpot large enough to fit the corn with water to cover. Although older recipes often call for salt, don’t add any to the water because it will toughen the kernels.

How much butter is enough? As a rule of thumb, 1 tablespoon of butter (or olive oil) is plenty for two ears of corn. Softened or melted butter is the easiest way to achieve maximum coverage; using a basting brush adds maximum precision.

Fresh Corn on the Cob

Enough for 4 servings
Cooking corn in just-boiled water results in sweet, tender kernels. If a pot of boiling water on a hot, muggy day gives you pause, microwaving is a quick and easy alternative.
Fill a large pot with lid halfway full of water; bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, remove husks and silk from corn; cut out any blemishes.

Drop corn into boiling water. Cover and return to a boil, then turn off the heat and keep the pot covered. If your corn is very fresh, cook it for 3 minutes (5-8 minutes for older corn). Use tongs to remove ears (cooked ears can remain in the warm water for up to 10 minutes). Serve with lots of melted butter and coarse salt, or seasoned butter.

Microwaved Corn on the Cob

Place 1-2 unshucked ears in microwave and cook on HIGH for 4 minutes (6 minutes if your corn is older). Let cool, then shuck to remove husks and silk.

Note: Shucked corn can also be microwaved. Wrap ears in damp paper towels, then microwave as directed.

Seasoned Butter

Butter can be seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices. Try one of our seasoned butters, or experiment with different combinations of seasonings for your own signature spread. For a dairy-free version, substitute extra-virgin olive oil for the butter.

Each recipe makes enough to generously season 8 ears.

Herbed Butter

We like basil, tarragon, cilantro, chives, rosemary or thyme.
  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste
In small bowl, blend ingredients together until thoroughly combined. Use immediately, or refrigerate, covered for 1 week. Bring to room temperature before using.

Chili Butter

For a Chesapeake kick, try substituting Old Bay Seasoning for the chili powder.
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
In small bowl, stir ingredients together. Use immediately.

Chipotle-Lime Butter

Spicy without too much heat.
  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle in adobo, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste
In small bowl, blend ingredients together until thoroughly combined. Use immediately, or refrigerate, covered for 1 week. Bring to room temperature before using.

Lemon-Garlic Butter

For a Greek twist, add 1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried oregano.
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste
Heat butter and oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant but not browned, about 30 seconds. Add, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Use immediately.