We Tried 8 Different Methods for Grilling Corn and Two Tied for First Place
Grilled corn is one of those things the internet loves to create solutions for. But grilled corn isn’t so much a problem as it is an opportunity — there’s more than one way to do it. Perusing the internet, I found nearly a dozen different ways to tackle grilling corn. I tried eight different methods, and discovered there are a variety of winning options depending on your end goal.
So, What Is the Best Way to Grill Corn?
It’s a tie! One of my favorite ways to grill the corn was also the simplest: husk, oil, then grill. The corn cooks quickly and can go straight from the grill to your plate. The only downside is that it can cook a bit unevenly.
Another winning method is to grill in the husk, no pre-soaking required. It cooks more evenly (though it takes a little longer), but removing the charred husks and silks from the hot-from-the-grill corn can be a little tricky.
How I Found the Best Way to Grill Corn
- The corn: I purchased the corn from the grocery store. I wanted a good baseline method that did not rely on fresh-from-the-farm corn that might skew results. I stored it in the refrigerator as soon as I got home and cooked it all the same day as the purchase.
- Grilling method: Most recipes didn’t specify a preference for using a charcoal or gas grill. I used my gas grill for all methods. I grilled two ears of corn per method. If the corn required oil before grilling, I used avocado oil.
- Tasting the corn: All of the cooked corn was rubbed with unsalted butter before tasting. Some of the methods claimed to preseason the corn before cooking, so I skipped additional salt to see if I could notice a difference.
- Rating: Each method is rated on a scale of 10, 10 being a perfect score. I considered how well any extra “tricks” worked, how well the corn was cooked, and how much grill flavor was imparted.
Method: Remove silks, replace husks, soak 10 minutes, then grill
Prep: 1 minute silk removal, 10 minute soak
Cook: 15 minutes
This method uses a couple of different tricks. First peel back the husks (but keep them attached) to remove the silk. Replace the husks to protect the kernels during cooking, then soak the ears for 10 minutes in water before cooking on the grill over medium heat for 15 minutes.
Nothing about this method worked for me. While peeling back the husk, the outermost layers fell away, leaving only the innermost leaves able to be replaced around the cob. While cooking, the thin layer of husks at the top of the ear burned away while the kernels at the bottom were still protected by more layers. This resulted in the corn cooking really unevenly. The exposed kernels were overcooked, while the protected kernels could have used another minute to cook through. Plus, I don’t think soaking the corn helped at all. The only positive to this one is that the husks that completely burned away did provide a lot of smoky flavor.
This method might work better if staying close to the grill to constantly rotate and move the corn around for even cooking, but in my opinion, this would completely defeat the purpose of grilling in the husk.
Method: Microwave, then grill
Cook: 8 minute microwave, plus 5 minutes on the grill
This method came from the showdown to determine the best way to desilk corn on the cob. The winner was this clever microwave method. Nuke whole, unshucked cobs for eight minutes, then cut off the stem end and pull off the husks along with the silks in one easy pull. Oil and grill the corn for charred flavor.
The microwave did indeed result in very easy-to-shuck corn. But it was also fully cooked at this point. I oiled and grilled it over high heat to get some good color, which took about five minutes. But the corn was very overcooked at this point. It was also extremely hot. It was noticeably hotter than the rest of the corn I cooked, and stayed that way for much longer — so much so that it was actually difficult to eat.
This method would potentially work well with a reduced microwave cooking time, but I am not sure how long it would need to be cooked for it to still get the benefit of the easy shucking.
Method: Husk, wrap in foil, then grill
Prep: 1 minute per ear
Cook: 15 minutes
To prep this corn for cooking, remove the husks and silks from each ear. The shucked ears are then wrapped individually in foil. The foil protects the kernels from intense direct heat and traps moisture, which aids in steaming while it cooks on the grill for 15 minutes.
This corn cooked very evenly, and even had a few charred spots. It was juicy with a good corn flavor. I liked that all of the shucking was done ahead of time, making it easy to eat right after cooking. Removing the foil after cooking is a lot easier than shucking hot corn. But I did feel a little wasteful removing the natural barrier the corn came with just to use a bunch of foil to mimic the same effect. And while the corn cooked nicely with some charred spots, it didn’t have any grill flavor at all.
Method: Husk, brine, oil, then grill
Prep: 1 minute to shuck, plus 45 minutes to soak in salted water
Cook: 8 minutes
For this method, soak the shucked corn in a gallon of water and a 1/4 cup of salt. Extra spices or aromatics can be added for additional flavor. The idea is that the brine seasons and plumps the kernels from the inside out. Brining time is kept to under an hour, or the salt will actually start to dry the corn out. The brined corn is then oiled and then cooked directly on the grill.
This corn was tasty, but it wasn’t because of the brine. I did not notice any difference whatsoever in flavor between this brined corn and the corn I husked, oiled, and cooked directly on the grill. But this corn cooked nicely, and had a great toasty flavor. I did have to babysit it a bit. It can be left unattended for a minute or two, but otherwise it requires a lot more watching and turning to make sure it’s cooking evenly than the ears grilled in their husks.
Method: Brine, grill in husk, rest in a cooler
Prep: 2 hours
Cook: 15 minutes, plus a 15 minute rest
This method comes from Bon Appétit. Soak the corn in its husk in salted water for a full two hours. (It can be moved to the fridge and soaked for up to 12 hours.) Grill the corn in the husk for 15 minutes, then wrap all the corn together in a towel and put it in a cooler to rest in a cooler for at least 15 minutes and up to three hours.
I was curious if all the extra steps to this method would make a difference. Like the other brined method, the soak didn’t add much. Despite being twice as salty and soaking for more than twice as long as the other method, I didn’t taste any extra seasoning at all. (I also didn’t notice any shriveled kernels, like the other brined method cautioned against.)
After grilling, I let the corn rest in the cooler for about 25 minutes before unwrapping it and husking one of the ears. This rest made a noticeable difference. The husk and silks came off easily, perhaps because of the extra time steaming in the cooler. Bundling the ears together to rest in the charred husks really imparted a ton of flavor into each kernel. This corn was super smoky, different from the charred flavor on the shucked ears I grilled. (But it did mask some of the natural corn flavor.)
I took points off for the unnecessary brining step — it adds a considerable amount of time with little effect. This method also requires an extra cooler, and potentially ruining a towel with char marks. And letting the corn rest for up to three hours is optimistic. I retrieved one of the ears after two hours. The whole thing was pretty flabby and just barely warm. I think a rest of up to 30 minutes is more appropriate. This is also a great amount of time to put together any last parts of the meal together.
If I were to repeat this method, I’d try wrapping the cooked corn in several layers of old newspaper for 15 to 30 minutes. The paper can be laid out after the corn is unwrapped to catch all of the husks and silks.
Method: Boil, then grill
Prep: 1 minute per ear, plus time to bring large pot of water to boil
Cook: 3 minute boil, plus 5 minutes on the grill
To execute this two-step method, boil shucked corn for a few minutes in salted water. Oil it up and transfer it to the grill to char. The idea is that the corn can cook evenly in its bubbling bath, then pick up lots of flavor from the grill.
This is the winning method to use for consistent results. This corn was juicy and cooked evenly from end to end. While it wasn’t the smokiest of the bunch, it did get charred flavor from its quick trip on the grill. I also liked that the shucking was done ahead of time.
I did take a couple of points off because boiling a big enough pot of water to fit whole ears of corn is an annoying extra step, especially if the entire meal is otherwise cooked outdoors.
Husk, oil, then grill
Prep: 1 minute per ear
Cook: 8 minutes
This is a very straightforward method. Husk the corn, oil it, and toss the ears on the grill over medium heat. Cook until kernels lose some of their opacity and are charred, about 5 to 8 minutes.
This corn had a delicious popcorn-like flavor and good char. I also like that it cooks quickly and can go straight from grill to plate. The corn can be cooked while any grilled proteins rest before slicing. The whole meal is ready at the same time.
The trickiest part of this method is being able to cook it evenly. The two cobs I used had very different sized kernels. I cooked them both the same length of time, and the one with larger individual sized kernels was undercooked and very starchy in some places. This could potentially be mitigated by removing it from the fridge for an hour or so before cooking. (The brined corn I grilled in a similar method cooked more evenly, presumably because it was not fridge-cold when put on the grill.) This method also required me to be stationed at the grill the whole time, spinning and turning the corn for even charring. This method is probably best for super fresh corn where any undercooked spots wouldn’t be bothersome.
Method: Grilled in husk
Cook: 15 to 20 minutes
This is another very straightforward method. Place unhusked corn cobs straight onto the grill. Cook over medium heat, rotating every so often, for 15 to 20 minutes. Shuck and eat.
This method is a little tricker to tell when the corn is done cooking, so I opted to cook for a full 20 minutes to see if it overcooked at all. Surprisingly, it wasn’t. The many layers of husk and silks protects it from the direct heat and from overcooking too quickly. This corn had a great grassy flavor that made me think, “oh yeah, corn is a vegetable.” I liked that I didn’t have to keep a close eye on things either, only checking on things every five minutes or so.
This method lost a point because while it did have a distinct grilled corn flavor, it didn’t have the same charred or smoky flavors as some of the other methods. Removing the charred husks and silks from hot-from-the-grill corn is also a little tricky, and fairly messy. And given the option, I’d much rather shuck the corn before grilling.
There’s no need to soak corn before grilling it (in plain or salted water). There’s enough natural moisture in the many layers of husk to help steam it so that it cooks evenly without the inside charring. Otherwise, the variables to look at are the quality of corn you have and the result you’re looking for. If you’re planning to add your freshly grilled corn to any dishes, a corn stripper like this will help get every kernel without the mess — or you can just chow down.