4 Great Ways to Cook Corn on the Cob
Cook corn on the cob for a crowd or just for yourself with our 4 favorite ways. Boil, pressure cook, roast, or microwave to get your sweet corn on!
Featured corn photographs by Brittany Conerly
Corn is serious business where I’m from. I’ve lived all over the U.S., including on both coasts, and I can confidently state no one knows or loves sweet corn more than the folks in the middle.
Since moving back to Ohio, I’ve savored dozens of ears of corn prepared every which way. While corn might be a side dish for some, for me it’s the main event. I easily eat three ears in a sitting, if it’s good.
The best corn on the cob starts with the freshest corn possible. After that, just use the cooking method that’s most convenient. Grilling steaks with no room for corn? Then boil, roast, or pressure cook it. Want quickie corn on the cob for two? Look to your microwave. (You want to grill corn? We’ve got a whole article just for you.)
Here’s the lowdown on the four handiest of the many ways to cook corn. But first, a little corn know-how.
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Buy the freshest corn
Once corn is picked, its sugars begin converting to starches, leading to tough corn.
I may be hours away from the nearest Target and Trader Joe’s, but the rural area I live in has farm stands that sell corn harvested that very day. It’s plump and sweet and I feel totally lucky every time I buy a dozen or two ears. Which is basically once a week during sweet corn season, from July to early September.
If you can’t get freshly harvested corn, try a store or market you know has a high turnover. Fresh corn has silky tassels that are supple. Avoid corn with shriveled, dry tassels. The husks should be pliable and green, not brittle.
Lots of produce sections set out trash cans for convenient in-store shucking. Don’t do it! Leave the corn husks on until right before you cook to keep the sugars intact and kernels plump.
Husks on or off?
Depending on the cooking method, you can cook corn on the cub with husks or without. A plus of cooking in the husk is how easily the silks come off after the corn is cooked. A drawback? Shucking hot corn can be tricky. To remove the husks and silks from steaming-hot corn, protect your hand with a potholder, dry towel, or oven mitt. Better yet, do what my dad does: wear a pair of heavy-duty work or gardening gloves dedicated specifically for that purpose.
How long to cook corn on the cob
Cooking corn on the cob in a microwave or Instant Pot takes 3-4 minutes, boiling it on the stove takes 5-7 minutes, and roasting can take 25-40 minutes. But the exact time depends on the method. In general, err on less cooking time. You can cook the corn longer if needed, but you can’t uncook corn. To check on doneness, get a look at the kernels, which will be a brighter yellow if it’s yellow corn, or have less of a pearly look if it’s white corn. (If the corn is in its husk, protect your hands with mitts or gloves and carefully peel back a segment of the husk). You’re ultimately aiming for hot, juicy kernels that burst under the pressure of your teeth. If the corn isn't there yet, cook it a little longer. Read on for details.
How to cook corn on the cob in the microwave
Yield: 1 to 3 ears
Best for: Cooking corn quickly for just a few people
How-to: You can microwave corn husked or unhusked, but with husks is preferable for keeping the kernels moist. If the corn is husked, wrap each ear in a damp paper towel. Set ears side by side in a single layer. Microwave 1-2 ears for 3-4 minutes; for 3 ears, try 6-7 minutes. If you think the corn needs a little more cooking, pop it back in for 30-second blasts until it’s how you like it. The cook time will depend on the wattage of your microwave and personal preference. Be careful when shucking the hot corn!
How to cook corn on the cob in an Instant Pot
Yield: 1 to 12 ears
Best for: Hands-off cooking for a small crowd when you don’t want to get the kitchen hot
How-to: Shuck the corn. You can steam corn in a 6-quart Instant Pot, but longer ears fit better in an 8-quart pressure cooker. Put 1 cup water in the pot. If possible, arrange the ears standing up on their stem ends (this way, there’s no need for a steamer rack). If they’re too tall to fit, stack them on a rack, criss-crossing layers like a log cabin, or cut ears in half. Lock on the lid and pressure cook at high pressure for 3 minutes (for a stovetop pressure cooker, cook under pressure 4 minutes). When the cooker beeps, quick-release the steam. To keep the corn warm for serving, switch to the “keep warm” setting.
How to cook corn on the cob on the stove
Yield: 1 to 12 ears
Best for: Boiling corn for a small crowd the old-fashioned way
How-to: Shuck the corn. Cooking corn on the stovetop is straightforward, but steams up your kitchen. How many ears you can boil at once depends on the size of your pot. Fill a large pot or saucepan with enough water to fit your corn and still leave lots of wiggle room. Some people use salted water or add a few tablespoons of sugar or honey, but I skip it. Cover pot and bring water to a boil over high heat. Add corn to the boiling water one ear at a time. When the water returns to a boil, start your timer and cook, covered, for 5-7 minutes. Remove the boiled corn with tongs and serve immediately.
How to cook corn on the cob in the oven
Yield: 1 ear to 2 dozen
Best for: Making a lot of corn at one time, with a little browning, if it’s husked. Roasting in a pan with butter and herbs adds flavor, while roasting husked corn directly on the rack gives you browner corn with kernels that are a little chewy. Or you can roast the corn in the husks. Either way, there’s no hot water needed!
How-to: Preheat the oven to 400°F and set the rack in the middle. Shuck the corn. (Or take the easy route and leave the husks and silks on. Just remove any dark green outer leaves and trim off dangling silks so they don’t burn. After cooking, it’s easy to remove the husks and silks.)
For shucked roasted corn that’s plumper with just light caramelization in some spots, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lay as many ears as you like on the pan. Brush with melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30-40 minutes total time, turning the ears halfway through. Sprinkle with fresh herbs if you like. Or set the unseasoned shucked or unshucked corn directly on the oven rack and roast 25-30 minutes.
Summertime recipes for corn on the cob
Now that you have cooked corn, here are exciting ideas for seasoning it, plus recipes for leftover corn.
Here are three options you can make for sprinkling your corn. One is flaky Maldon salt with orange zest; the second, kosher salt with black pepper; the third, smoked salt and paprika. Set out all three salts and have fun deciding which you like best.
Cook your corn however you like it, then season it up Mexican-style to make elote, the creamy, cheesy, spice-packed Mexican street food classic that Americans can’t seem to get enough of.
The recipe says “roasted," but don’t be afraid to use this quick savory butter on corn prepared any which way.
Making your own seasoned salt (think copycat Lowry’s) gives you a bolder flavor and no anti-caking additives. Get a batch together for your corn feast and you’ll find yourself reaching for it to season steak, chicken, and fish, too.
If you want to fancy up your butter treatment, here’s a deluxe butter that’s nutty from cooking on the stove until the milk solids brown. Just add a little maple syrup and a splash of whiskey. Perfect side for a BBQ!
Sure, these are over the top, but it’s fine to go big with corn. Smear freshly cooked ears with a mixture of mayonnaise and sour cream, then roll them in smashed Cheetos. Your favorite flavor of chili powder-laced Doritos would probably work great, too.
Got leftover cooked corn? Here’s a great recipe to use it up. This succotash calls for fresh corn, but cooked corn that you’ve cut off the cob will work just as well. Just hold off on adding the corn to the pan until the shallot is soft.
I love this corn recipe! You give the kernels a little sear in a hot, dry skillet. The recipe says to use frozen corn, but regular leftover corn that’s been in the fridge will work just as nicely; you’re only cooking it long enough to get it hot, with some light char.
More summertime recipes
We’re digging into summer produce every way we can! You too? Here’s more inspiration.