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Comfort Food

Test-Kitchen Secrets to the Best Corn on the Cob — and a Must-Try Air-Fryer Version

Corn on the cob is the perfect side dish for a summer BBQ — but it can take some finessing to get it just right. So we asked the Woman’s World Food Director Julie Miltenberger, who oversees all recipes created in our Test Kitchen, to answer top questions about the best ways to cook corn. Plus, a cheesy recipe for the grill and a south-of-the border air fryer recipe that will really make your corn’s kernels pop with flavor.

How long should you boil corn on the cob?

Making corn on the cob is super-fast, says Julie. All you need to do is boil it in a pot on the stovetop for 3 to 5 minutes to reach perfect tenderness. “I like a little crunch to my kernels, so for super-ripe corn, I like to drop it in the boiling water for 2 minutes and then turn off the heat and let it sit in the hot water.”

Why do people put milk in the water for corn on the cob?

The lactose in milk lactose will help soften the kernels, so they taste even better. The simple how-to? Add a splash of milk (nonfat, 1 percent, 2 percent, or full-fat) to the cooking water and cook as usual.

Do you put corn on the cob in boiling water or before it boils?

Boiling corn on the cob couldn’t be easier: Simply bring a large pot of water to a boil on the stove. Once it’s boiling, then you’ll add the corn (with husks removed) to the water. “If you add the corn before bringing the water to a boil, you risk chewy kernels or even worse — a mushy mess,” Julie says.

What’s the best way to shuck corn on the cob?

Julie and the test kitchen pros swear by this simple shucking secret to save time: Microwave up to four ears of unshucked corn for four minutes. This traps steam in the husk, infusing the kernels with juicy moisture and loosening the silks. Then, with a sharp knife, trim enough from the stem end of the ear to expose the kernels and slide the husk and silks off in one smooth move.

To keep corn kernels from flying all over the kitchen when you try to cut them off the cob, invert a Bundt pan and place a shucked ear of corn in the center, then carefully slice downward with a knife. The kernels will release into the bottom of the pan and stay contained. 

See how easy it is as food blogger and cookbook author Kelly Senyei gets her kernels recipe-ready

How do I get the best result when grilling corn on the cob?

Grilling corn on the cob infuses it with a wonderful smoky, caramelized flavor, but sometimes the high heat of the fire can cause the kernels to dry out and become tough. To avoid this, peel back the husks and remove the silks, then soak the corn in cold water 15 minutes before grilling. The bath infuses kernels with moisture so they cook more evenly.

Another secret to flavorful kernels? Sugar and vinegar. Simply add about 2 tablespoons of each per gallon of water to the pot of boiling water. The pantry staples bring out the corn’s naturally sweet, fresh flavor, plus help the kernels retain moisture so they stay plump and juicy.

What’s the best way to butter corn on the cob?

Corn on the cob tastes best when it’s slathered in butter — but it can get messy when the melting pat of butter keeps sliding off the piping-hot corn. A better strategy: Slather a slice of bread with butter and wrap it around the corn, twisting the corn until it’s evenly covered in butter. The bread absorbs the heat, melting the butter so it spreads on evenly and protecting your hand from the heat

2 Tasty Corn on the Cob Recipes To Try

Smoky Parmesan Corn on the Cob

Parmesan Corn on the cob on a plate
Elena Shashkina/Shutterstock

Nosh on this delicious side dish created by recipe developer Kristen Stevens who shares her creations at (TheEndlessMeal.com). “The Parmesan deliciously melts between the kernels, and paprika is a nice contrast to sweet corn,” she notes.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
  • ¼ cup softened butter
  • 2 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Green onions

Directions:

  • Stir first five ingredients in a bowl. Spread over corn.
  • Wrap the corn in foil and grill on medium-high for 10 minutes, turning once.
  • Garnish with Parmesan and green onions. 

Spicy Air Fryer Corn on the Cob

Air fryer corn on the cob
From my point of view/Shutterstock

Inspired by the popular Mexican street corn, this set-it-and-forget-it air fryer recipe from the Woman’s World test kitchen is packed with flavor!

Ingredients:

  • 6 ears fresh corn, husks removed 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise 
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream 
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice 
  • 1 clove garlic, minced 
  • ¼ teaspoon chipotle chili powder 
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro 
  • ⅓ cup crumbled Cotija cheese or grated Parmesan
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro 

Directions:

  1. Place crisper plate in basket of 7-quart air fryer. Place basket in air fryer; heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Rub corn with oil. Place in air-fryer basket. Air-fry until golden brown, shaking basket occasionally, 15 to 20 minutes
  3. In bowl, combine next five ingredients. Spread over corn. Top with cheese and cilantro.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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