Kitchn Love Letters

I Tried 6 Famous Corn Salad Recipes, and the Winner Is the Only Side Dish I’ll Be Making All Summer

published 2 days ago
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Overhead shot of six different corn salad recipes
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Fresh summer corn is absolutely irresistible, with its crunchy pop and intense flavor. Peak-season cobs are nowhere near as starchy as their winter counterparts, but juicy and almost candy-sweet. That’s why corn salad is so popular in the summer. Not only does it capitalize on this deliciousness, it’s also a fantastic make-ahead option for picnics, backyard barbecues, and potluck gatherings, as it’s generally a crowd favorite with kids and adults alike.

You’ll find all kinds of recipes for corn salad online, from vinegar-and-oil–dressed versions to lime-coated to creamy concoctions. They might use grilled corn, boiled cobs, skillet-charred ears, or raw kernels. Some include tomatoes, beans, or avocado, but the focus is always squarely on the corn. To see which versions make the best of summer corn’s goodness, we tested six popular recipes, pitting them against each other to see if one would rise to the top. And indeed, one certainly did.

Quick Overview

So, What’s the Best Corn Salad Recipe?

You can’t beat Aarti Sequeira’s Indian street corn salad. This make-ahead heavy hitter chars the corn in a skillet and adds in spices for the biggest and boldest flavor.

Meet Our 6 Corn Salad Contenders

We searched the internet for highly rated corn salad recipes, settling on these from beloved chefs, cookbook authors, and bloggers.

  • Ina Garten: The Barefoot Contessa’s 7-ingredient recipe tosses briefly boiled corn with raw red onion, cider vinegar, olive oil, basil, and salt and pepper.
  • Martha Stewart: The only recipe in the bunch to use raw corn, this one also includes corn pulp gathered by “milking” the cobs. It also incorporates chopped tomatoes, basil, lime juice, oil, and seasonings.
  • What’s Gaby Cooking: Along with grilled corn, sautéed onion and poblano peppers, lime juice, and lots of herbs, this recipe tosses in cubed avocado.
  • Aarti Sequeira: This version, based on a classic Indian street food offering, uses charred corn combined with lime juice, spices like cumin and chaat masala, tomatoes, and herbs.
  • Guy Fieri: The recipe from this TV chef leans on grilled corn, combining it with sautéed bell pepper and onion, canned black beans, vinegar, seasonings, and snow peas.
  • I Wash You Dry: The recipe calls for a creamy dressing made with mayo and Greek yogurt. It also adds raw bell pepper, onion, jalapeño, and cilantro to the mix. 

How I Tested the Corn Salad Recipes

  • I used bicolor corn for all of the recipes. I bought the freshest unshucked corn I could find, rolled up my sleeves, and shucked away (it ended up being 30 ears or corn!).
  • I tested all of the recipes on the same day. I made sure to first tackle the ones that stated they could be served chilled so they would have ample time in the fridge. For any recipes that were chilled, I let them sit out for 30 minutes at room temperature before tasting, as fridge-cold food’s flavor is typically blunted.
  • I tasted all of the recipes side by side. I went back and forth between the salads as I tried them.

Why You Should Trust Me as a Tester 

I have spent the last 25 years in food media — 20 as a magazine editor, 5 as a freelance recipe developer and food writer. Over the course of my career, I have written, tested, and developed literally thousands of recipes. I know how to evaluate a recipe for flavor, texture, and clarity and success (or failure) of the process.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

1. Better as a Taco Filling: Guy Fieri’s Black Bean and Corn Salad 

Overall rating: 6/10
Get the recipe: Guy Fieri’s Black Bean and Corn Salad

This recipe begins with four ears of corn that you grill until lightly charred; you then cut the kernels from the cobs. Next, you sauté diced red bell pepper and red onion, deglaze the pan with cider vinegar, and add a can of black beans and the corn, then some garlic and julienned snow peas. The recipe says you can serve the salad warm or cold; mine was chilled briefly before serving.

Black beans and corn make for a classic combo, I know, but when I tasted this salad alongside the five others, the beans simply muddied the flavor. The overall taste was washed out and rather bland because the beans diluted the vibrancy of the onion, vinegar, and sweet corn. Also, the handful of julienned snow peas did add some lovely color and crunch, but it seemed like an oddball ingredient in this application. As a salad, this dish simply fell a bit flat — but I do think it would be good in a taco, with some grilled meat, punchy salsa, and hot sauce.

One thing that I really loved about this recipe: It called for cutting the corn kernels off the cobs with a serrated knife (which I wouldn’t have thought to do), and that worked beautifully. I will always use a serrated knife for this task going forward.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

2. The Sole Raw Treatment: Martha Stewart’s Corn Salad

Overall rating: 6.5/10
Get the recipe: Martha Stewart’s Corn Salad

This super simple recipe has you cut corn kernels off the ears, milk the cobs (by scraping with the side of a spoon to extract the “milk”), and combine those elements with tomatoes, scallions, basil, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and black pepper. You can make this salad up to a day in advance; I made mine a few hours before serving and let it stand at room temperature for a half-hour before tasting.

I am no stranger to the joys of raw, peak-season corn; when it’s truly fresh, the kernels are absolutely delicious to eat uncooked. However, milking the cobs and adding that to the salad gave the dish an overall starchy effect that detracted from the sweet pop of the kernels and the freshness of the other ingredients. If I were to make this again, I’d definitely skip the milking step. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

3. The Supersweet Salad: Ina Garten’s Fresh Corn Salad

Overall rating: 7/10
Get the recipe: Ina Garten’s Fresh Corn Salad

For this easy recipe, you’ll start by boiling some ears of corn for a few minutes, plunging them in an ice water bath, and cutting the kernels from the cobs. Then you’ll toss in diced red onion, cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, black pepper, and basil. You can serve the salad cold or at room temperature (mine was at room temperature).

It’s rare that I try an Ina Garten recipe and do anything less than rave over it. If I had tasted this on its own, in a vacuum, I would have thought it was solid. But when I tried it against the other recipes in this showdown, it simply tasted a bit off-balance. It seemed overwhelmingly sweet; perhaps it needed more vinegar or more onion to punch through the sweetness of the corn and basil. Or maybe if the corn had been grilled or charred, those slightly bitter notes would have balanced out the flavors.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

4. The Rich, Herby Option: What’s Gaby Cooking’s Avocado Corn Salad

Overall rating: 8.5/10
Get the recipe: What’s Gaby Cooking’s Avocado Corn Salad

To begin this recipe, you’ll grill ears of corn to get some char going, then cut the kernels from the cobs. Next, you’ll sauté diced onion and poblano peppers, adding scallions and garlic at the end. You’ll then stir in the corn, salt, and black pepper and allow the mixture to cool. Shortly before serving, you’ll add fresh chives and basil, lime juice, cubed avocado, and more seasoning.

The avocado is a lovely addition here, lending richness to the salad, and the fresh chives and basil imbue the entire dish with loads of herbaceous goodness. Of course, with avocado in the mix, this salad has a shorter shelf life than the others — though you could make everything ahead and simply withhold the avo and herbs until just before serving. I did have to add more lime juice, as suggested, as a single lime wasn’t quite enough. And if I ever make this again, I’ll use less red onion and keep it raw, as I felt that the salad needs a little more bite. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

5. The Creamy Crowd-Pleaser: I Wash You Dry’s Creamy Corn Salad

Overall rating: 9.5/10
Get the recipe: I Wash You Dry’s Creamy Corn Salad

As I noted above in my testing notes, I used fresh corn for all of the recipes. This one lists frozen corn as the main ingredient, but does include notes about how to sub in fresh corn — and that’s what I did. I boiled the corn cobs for a few minutes, dunked them in an ice water bath, and removed the kernels. I then stirred in diced red bell pepper, red onion, and jalapeño. Then in a separate bowl, I whisked together the dressing of plain Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, salt, black pepper, and garlic powder. I then combined the dressing with the corn mixture and added chopped fresh cilantro.

I absolutely loved all the crunch in this salad, coming from the corn, red bell pepper, and red onion. I also loved that, aside from the corn, nothing was cooked — so the texture and, most importantly, the flavor of the onion and bell pepper remained punchy. The recipe used a smaller amount of onion than most of the others, but it was the perfect amount because it was raw and much more pungent. The sharp bite of raw onion was the perfect way to balance the sweetness of the corn. The dressing was perky, too, with the tang of the Greek yogurt cutting the richness of the mayonnaise. Bonus: This salad holds up very well to being made ahead of time.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

6. The Most Flavorful: Aarti Sequeira’s Indian Street Corn Salad

Overall rating: 10/10
Get the recipe: Aarti Sequeira’s Indian Street Corn Salad

The first step in this recipe calls for rubbing ears of corn with a little oil and then charring them in a cast-iron skillet for about 20 minutes, turning the corn occasionally. You’ll then whisk together some fresh lime juice and small amounts of ground cumin, cayenne pepper, ground cardamom, chaat masala, and then salt and black pepper to taste. Once the corn has cooled slightly, you’ll remove the kernels and add them to the dressing, along with halved cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced mint and cilantro.

I admit to being skeptical that the skillet-charring method would have any different effect than simply charring on the grill. This step did set off my smoke alarm a couple of times, and it took a good bit longer than grill-charring, but it was 100% worth it. You get a much richer, deeper, more robust char flavor this way, which is one secret to the deliciousness of this salad. 

The second secret? The judicious use of potent spices. You use only a quarter-teaspoon of cumin and a “big pinch” of cardamom and chaat masala, and the result is the perfect amount of earthy, smoky flavor — present, impactful, but not overpowering or detracting from the corn. Now, I happened to have chaat masala on hand but read in the comments that garam masala makes a reasonable sub if you don’t have or can’t find it. 

Finally, the lime juice and herbs make for the brightest, freshest taste. This salad packs in a truckload of intense flavor, and it happens to be vegan. You can also make it ahead with no dilution of flavor, holding out the herbs until you’re ready to enjoy it. My leftovers tasted just as vibrant and delicious the next day. I’ll be making this one all summer.