How To Make Elote (Mexican Street Corn)
Sweet corn is pretty hard to beat during the summer months. Whether roasted in the oven or grilled on the cob, corn usually requires little more than a pat of butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. However, don’t let the season pass without making elote, a beautiful mess of crema, mayonnaise, and cotija cheese.
With just a few simple techniques, elote (aka Mexican street corn) can become your ultimate grilled corn upgrade. Our step-by-step recipe shows you how to make this popular Mexican street snack at home, from husking to grilling to serving.
What Is Elote (Mexican Street Corn)?
Elote (pronounced: eh-loh-teh) is a dish comprised of cooked sweet corn slathered in a spicy mixture of mayonnaise, crema, and chili powder and then sprinkled with cheese.
It is often advertised as Mexican street corn because it’s a popular snack sold by vendors both on the streets and at festivals in Mexico.
The corn on the cob is cooked — boiled or roasted — and served either on the cob or a stick. Choose fresh corn cobs in their husks for roasting. See if you can pick up cobs with longer stalk ends to eliminate the need for sticks for serving.
What Spices Are Used in Elote?
The combination of cheese, mayo, and lime along with earthy spices like cumin and chili powder gives elote the flavor punch of sweet, spicy, smoky, salty, savory, and acidic.
- Cumin: Is common spice used in Mexican, South American, and Middle Eastern cuisines. It’s used often in spiced blends to provide an earthy, slightly sweet base flavor. It’s often included in many chili powder blends. It’s readily available at any supermarket or spice store, and is sold ground or as whole seeds.
- Chili: Chili powders can be blends of different chilis, different spices, or single chilies that have been dried or ground. Any chili powder available at a supermarket will work well in this recipe, but don’t be afraid to experiment with Tajín Clásico, a habanero chili blend, or pequín chili for those who don’t shy away from heat, or ground ancho chili, for those who like it mild.
The Crema and Cotija
You can find both crema and cotija cheese at your local Mexican market and well-stocked grocery stores.
- Crema: Crema is a cultured dairy product similar to sour cream. On elote, crema works as the glue for adhering the spices and cheese onto grilled corn. While similar to crème fraîche and sour cream in terms of tang, crema is a bit thinner and sweeter than its tarter relatives. Look for crema Mexicana, which is typically the thickest crema variety sold, for the best sticking power.
- Cotija: Cotija is a mild, salty, crumbly cheese similar to feta. Outside of elote, cotija is delicious crumbled over salads, frittatas, and even quick pasta dishes.
If you’re having trouble locating either of these items, substitutions are easy to find.
- The best substitute for Mexican crema is sour cream or crème fraîche. Add 1 tablespoon of milk to 1/2 cup of either of these products to thin them to a similar consistency to crema. You need it to be thick but spreadable or, as is the case for this recipe, thin enough to submerge the corn cob into the crema and mayonnaise mixture.
- It’s worth the effort to find cotija when making elote, but if it’s not available, crumbled feta or finely grated Parmesan can be used in place of the cotija; you’ll still get the desired tangy, savory results that make this dish so popular.
Know the difference: What’s the Difference Between Sour Cream and Crème Fraîche?
Making and eating elote is a glorious mess. The roasted corn is usually slathered with the mayonnaise and crema, then rolled in the crumbled cheese. The result is a bit of the crema flying here and there as the corn is rolled.
A purely optional solution, but highly recommended method, is to combine the mayonnaise and crema with the spices and lime juice and pour them into a tall glass or narrow pitcher. Then the roasted corn can be dunked in the mixture before rolling in the cheese. One important note: The crema mixture will stick best to cooled cobs.
Recipe Variations on Elote
The flavors of elote inspire endless recipe variations including elote in a cup, which is great to serve as a passed appetizer. We also recommend slow cooker elote rice or elote-inspired butter bath corn, which are both wonderful options for a weeknight dinner.
- Elote in a cup: To make elote in a cup, remove the grilled kernels from the cob and divide the corn into individual serving cups, drizzle with the crema and mayonnaise mixture, top with cotija cheese, dust with a dash of chili powder, and put a lime wedge on the side. Put a fork in each cup and set it out for guests to grab as needed.
- Esquites: Elote prepared off the corn cob and served in a dish is called esquites. It’s a great alternative to the on-the-cob variety if you want to capture these flavors in an easy-to-make, pass-and-serve dish for a crowd.
How To Make Elote (Mexican Street Corn)
Prep time 25 minutes
Cook time 12 minutes to 15 minutes
Makes6 ears of corn
Serves4 to 6
medium fresh ears of corn
- 1/2 cup
- 1/2 cup
Mexican crema or sour cream
- 2 tablespoons
lime juice (from 1 medium lime)
- 1/2 teaspoon
- 1/2 teaspoon
- 1 cup
crumbled cotija cheese (Parmesan will work if you can't find cotija)
medium lime, cut into wedges, for serving
Husk the corn: If your corn still has husks, remove them and the silk from the corn, but keep as much of the stalk end attached as possible.
Prepare a grill: Heat an outdoor gas grill to high or prepare a charcoal grill for indirect heat. A grill pan over medium heat will work as well.
Make the sauce: While the grill heats, place the 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup crema or sour cream, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon cumin in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Transfer this sauce into a tall, narrow drinking glass. Put 1 cup cotija on a large plate.
Grill the corn: Grill the corn uncovered until some the kernels are bright yellow and a few are charred, 2 to 3 minutes per side, for a total of 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the corn from the grill and cool for 5 minutes.
Dip the corn: Hold the drinking glass of sauce at an angle, then dip a cooled ear of corn into the mixture, turning the cob to coat completely. Hold the cob over the glass and shake gently to let the excess sauce drip back into the glass.
Roll in the cheese: Roll the dipped cob in the crumbled cheese to coat completely. Place on a serving platter.
Repeat and serve: Repeat dipping and rolling the remaining corn in the sauce and cheese. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over the corn.
Make ahead: The sauce mixture can be made and stored in the refrigerator up to 2 days ahead.