On The Cob And On The Grill

For many people in America, corn defines summer and right now is the time to find corn at its seasonal best. In the ongoing Five-Minute Cooking School series with Williams-Sonoma, cookbook author and teacher Tori Ritchie tells us all about corn.

How Sweet It Is: Everybody wants to know how to tell if the corn they are buying is sweet. Here's how:

  • The closer to the farm you buy it, the sweeter it will be, because the sugars in corn start converting to starch as soon as it is picked. So the best choice is a farm stand or farmers' market (if you can't grow your own).
  • The good news is that newer varieties are sweeter than ever, so supermarket corn nowadays can be great, too.
  • Look for corn that's still completely in its husk. (Once the husk is removed, the corn starts to lose moisture and freshness.) The husks should be moist and green and feel cool. The silk should be pale yellow and moist, not straggly and drying. The kernels should look plump and be in tightly packed rows.
  • You can cheat and poke a kernel to see if it is moist. But you'd better buy that ear.

    Grilling Corn: One of the best ways to cook corn to accentuate its sweetness is to grill it in the husk.

    • For flavor variations, rub your choice of seasoned butter on raw corn before or after grilling.
    • Another easier option is to grill corn wrapped in foil instead of the husk.
    • For a smoky flavor, cook corn without the husk directly on grill; this is good for using kernels in salads or salsa (as in the Honey-Glazed Salmon with Roasted Corn Salsa recipe, found in page 2).

  • Cooking with corn:
    Other excellent ways to use corn kernels are Corn Chowder, a summer classic that can be made ahead and reheated or Corn Cakes. When making Corn Cakes, processing the kernels in a food processor breaks them up and releases some of that sweet corn flavor. The cakes can be served with savory toppings like smoked salmon and crème fraiche or served like a pancake with sweet blueberry syrup.

    The following are her recipes:

    Grilled Corn With Seasoned Butters
    Fresh corn still in the husk takes wonderfully to grilling. Serve it with one or all of the seasoned butters here and a platter of ribs or chicken hot off the grill.

    6 ears of corn
    1/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

    For the pecan butter:
    1/3 cup ground pecans

    For the lime butter:
    1 Tbs. grated lime zest
    1 Tbs. fresh lime juice

    For the chili butter:
    2 Tbs. chili powder
    1 tsp. cumin seeds

    For the Italian herb butter:
    2 tsp. minced fresh basil
    2 tsp. minced fresh oregano


    1. Prepare a fire in a covered grill.
    2. Working with 1 ear of corn at a time, carefully pull back the husks but leave them attached. Remove and discard the silk, then replace the husks around the ear. Soak the ears in cold water to cover for at least 20 minutes and then drain.
    3. To make the seasoned butter, in a small bowl, using a fork or a wooden spoon, beat the butter until soft. Mix in the ingredients of your choice until they are evenly distributed. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
    4. Carefully pull back the husks from each ear and spread the seasoned butter of your choice evenly over the kernels. Replace the husks.
    5. Place the corn on the grill rack, cover, open the vents, and grill until the husks are browned and the kernels are tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer the corn to a platter or individual plates and serve hot. Serves 6.

    Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Complete Grilling Cookbook, Edited by Chuck Williams (Time-Life Books, 2001).