- The three main ways to grill corn are with the husk on, husk off, or wrapped in aluminum foil.
- Grilling with the husk on is the best way to retain the corn’s natural moisture.
- Only grill corn for around 15 minutes until the kernels are plump, otherwise it will dry out.
- Visit Insider’s Home & Kitchen Reference library for more stories.
Nothing says summer quite like firing up the grill for a barbecue. And while delicate cuts of steak and grilled chicken may be the long-reigning fan favorites of the cookout, celebrity chef Jernard Wells says grilled corn is really the “star of the dinner table.”
Whether you prefer throwing it on the grill husk-on, husk-off, or wrapped in aluminum foil, each method is simple and requires less than 30 minutes of overall cook and prep time.
While there’s no “right” way to grill corn, there are advantages to each method:
- The husk-on method helps the corn retain the most moisture and therefore brings out the natural sweetness trademarked to the veggie, says Wells.
- The husk-off method keeps the corn in direct contact with the grill, maximizing the char and smokey flavor.
- The foil-wrapped method allows you to season the corn the most deeply – best if you’re going for a street-corn style recipe.
The cardinal rules of grilling corn all three ways? Rinse it, oil it, and season it, Wells says.
How to prep corn for the grill
Each method requires you to take three quick steps before you toss your corn on the grill.
Husk off: For a bare corn grill, use your hands to remove the entire husk. Start at the top of the ear where the tuft of strings – also called silk – protrudes. Separate the husk and peel it downward exposing the kernels. Remove the entire husk and all the silk you can manage. Wells suggests using a toothbrush to brush out any excess stringy pieces.
Husk on: While you don’t want to shuck the corn entirely, you still want to thin out the husk so the heat can penetrate to the kernels. Remove two or three layers of husk, but stop short of a full shuck. Trim any excess silk sticking out of the top with kitchen scissors.
Husk off: Simply rinse with water to remove any dirt or excess silk.
Husk on: If you’re grilling with the husk on, it still needs some primping. Using kitchen scissors, snip off any excess strings on the husk. Wells then says to wash and rinse the actual husk with water. Not only will this remove any dirt, it will also wet the husk, preventing it from burning on the grill.
Brush with oil and season
Husk off: Brush on melted butter or oil and sprinkle with seasoning (think: paprika and cracked salt and pepper) right before placing it on the grill.
Foil-wrapped: Grilling with corn wrapped in aluminum foil is where you can infuse most flavor. You can season the kernels directly, then the foil acts as a husk, holding in the natural juices. Once again, rub the corn – husk completely off – in oil or butter and seasoning and then wrap the whole ear in foil. Make small slits with a fork around the corn to “allow tidbits of the kernels on the cob to actually touch the surface of the grill to get those beautiful char marks,” Wells says.
Husk on: If you’re keeping the husk on, Wells says to put olive oil, butter, or (his go-to) coconut oil, directly on the husk. This acts as a barrier between the heat and the corn to help retain its moisture.
How to pick sweet, ripe corn
Corn is in season from May through September, Wells says. Growing up in Mississippi, Wells used to pick fresh corn from his great-grandparents’ farm, so he knows exactly what to look for in the right ear of corn.
The first indicator to search for is a vibrant, green husk wrapped tightly around the ear of corn. Check to make sure the kernels feel plump and firm, but don’t remove the husk until just before you plan to cook it or after it’s already cooked. Removing the husk prematurely could cause the kernels to dry out.
Along with thoroughly washing, oiling, and seasoning your corn, time is a key factor in the grilling process. There’s a finite amount of time before the perfect plump kernels turn into overcooked corn. Keep your corn on the grill for 15 minutes or less to ensure it earns its rightful place at the barbecue spread as the flavor standout.