Summer is synonymous with firing up the grill, throwing on steaks and watching them sizzle along with the temperatures. Perhaps the best accompaniment to an outdoor dinner is fresh, ripe , sweet and crunchy corn on the cob. Sometimes getting it from the idea stage to the perfect sugary-smoky execution leaves the outdoor chef with the quandary of how to cook corn on the grill.
Where do I start?
There are probably as many ways to prepare corn over a fire as there are cooks, and they part ways right from the start: husk or no husk. If you don’t have a preference, the availability of fresh produce could make a difference.
Farmer’s markets have the freshest supply of this golden grain and have the added benefit of offering varieties you will never find in a supermarket. Ask your grower for the highest sugar content sweet corn for grilling.
But a special trip is not necessary. Grocery stores peel the husks to show the produce is blemish- and pest-free. Ask the department manager if you can have some fresh out of the box in the back, and you may get them with the wrappers still on.
What do I do next?
If you have a gas grill, remove the husks and prepare for direct grilling. Turn the heat up to high and leave the lid closed for a few minutes. Cream together margarine and finely chopped herbs. Parsley is good fresh, and minced or powdered garlic and cracked pepper hold up nicely and pair well with roasted corn, as does a little powdered cayenne pepper. But, then again, dill and paprika hold their own, too.
Brush the corn on all sides and grill, rotating a quarter turn every two or three minutes. Reapply the mixture halfway through. The attraction of this method is the beautiful caramelization of the kernels. You can make a complementary herbed salted butter for use by diners, but avoid using it during grilling, as it has a tendency to smoke and burn at these temperatures.
Another option is to leave the husks connected at the bottom and peel them down, wrapping them together at one end with butcher’s twine, to create a handle. Place this portion off the edge of the grill, or even encase it with foil so that it does not catch fire.
What about leaving the husk on?
Leaving the husk on means you will have to take a different approach to seasoning. Soak the corn in a five-gallon food grade plastic bucket for several hours in a brine made of water, salt and sugar. Then, just before serving time, stick the corn and its protective husk directly into the coals. Turn every two to three minutes a quarter of the way around, and keep doing it until the husk is basically gone.
You can also grill these indirectly. With a mound of hot coals in the center, put the soaked ears around the edges of the grate where they won’t be in direct flames and lower the lid. They will need to be on for between 20 and 30 minutes, checked regularly and turned anytime the husk starts to burn. Remove them with long tongs and let them rest a few minutes. This method produces a more steamed kind of corn that still has a smoky flavor.
Grilling corn outdoors is as old as corn itself, so pick your preparation style and method and enjoy the bounty of nature in your own back yard.