Grilled Corn On The Cob is one of life’s great pleasures. Grilling corn allows the true nature and flavor of the grain to reach it’s full potential. And, like most grilled foods, it is satisfying on a deep primitive level. It harkens to the days of Hunter-Gatherers, open fires, and Saber-Toothed Tigers.
Of course, corn in it’s present form did not exist in the neolithic world. Corn, or maize, as it is properly known in the rest of the world, was a grass, with small seeds enclosed in a hard bivalve pod back then. It was indigenous to Latin America. Sometime around 12,000 B.C., an enterprising early Homo Sapiens decided to try and cook some of this grass to eat, and discovered that the kernels ‘popped’, and became much larger and were delicious. Another savvy person (probably a much more practical female) figured out that the plants could be transplanted closer to home, making the harvest much safer (remember those big cats), and had the added bonus of being able to modify the plant through selective breeding. So the kernels and cobs got bigger, sweeter, softer, and humans learned to cook them in many different ways. The earliest evidence of domesticated corn has been found in the Lowlands of the Balsas River Valley in South-Central Mexico, carbon dated to around 8200 BC. By 1500 BC, corn had reached it’s recognizable form, and quickly spread far and wide through Pre-Columbian North America, Meso America, South America, and the Caribbean. It was a major staple food for all of the cultures present in the Americas. Corn was transplanted and cultivated by Native Americans as far north as southeastern Canada, forever changing the landscape as they cleared huge tracts of forest to make room for their crops. For Europeans, the history of corn begins in 1492, when Christopher Columbus (born Salvador Fernandes Zarco, a Jewish mariner from Tomo, Portugal. How he became Christopher Columbus is another story, possibly for future publication) obtained some from the Native Americans in Cuba, and brought it back to Europe. It spread through the rest of the world like wildfire.
For our purposes, an ear of corn has 4 main parts: The cob, the kernels, the silk, and the husk. The cob is the hard base that the kernels are attached to. The kernels are the actual grains that are consumed. The silk is the fine hair-like filaments that lay in between the kernels. The husk is the fibrous, multi-leaved bundle of sheaths folded around the outside of the ‘ear’. There are several types of corn available, but for the purposes of grilling, only one is of concern to us, and that is sweet corn. There are other sub-varieties such as super-sweet, enhanced super-sweet, and such, but they are just genetic variations on sweet corn. There are too many subspecies to list here, but all of them work for grilling, so use your favorite variety. Mine is Snowbell white corn. Whatever type you use, it needs to be as fresh as possible, preferably picked within minutes from your own garden. The sugars begin to turn to starch as soon as the corn is picked, and within hours, an ear can lose as much as 50% of its sugar content. You can grill frozen corn on the cob, but it is a very poor substitute. However, it is better than no grilled corn at all.
There are two ways to grill corn on the cob. Either in it’s own husk (my favorite way) or wrapped in foil. Each method has it’s own advantages and drawbacks. In the husk, the corn retains all of it’s natural flavor, but it is difficult to add any extra flavorings (not that it needs it) because they will drip out from between the leaves of the husks. Foil-Wrapped corn may lose a small amount of character, but the foil seals in all the juices and flavors, and allows extra things like olive oil, butter and spices to be added during the cooking process. Everyone has their favorite method, and both ways result in absolutely delectable grilled corn.
The secret to outstanding grilled corn is, like most things, all in how the corn is handled before the cooking process begins. Start by firing up the grill and letting it get hot. You want the fire only on one side of the grill, so you can move the ears over indirect heat after searing. While the coals are heating, you can prepare the ears. First, peel off some of the outer layers of husk, leaving the last layer on for protection. Then soak the ears of corn in cold water, husks and all, for at least 15 minutes. This plumps the kernels up and keeps them from drying out. Make sure the cobs are completely covered with water. After soaking, peel back the last layers of husk, leaving them, attached at the bottom of the cob if you plan to roast them in the husks. Otherwise, you can take them loose and discard them , or do what I do, dry them and use them to make tamales later. Now, you want to peel the silk filament from between the kernels. Rinse the ears under cold water to remove the last bits of silk, and pull the husks back over the corn (if you are roasting them this way). Now, they are ready to grill.
You can add a small bit of spice to the ears before cooking if desired, such as a little garlic, onion, oregano, butter, olive oil, etc…, but do not add anything with salt in it. This will make the kernels shrivel and dry out. Salt can be added after cooking. If grilling the corn in the husk, pull the leaves back over the ears, and secure them at the top with a piece of cooking twine, or a strip of husk. Otherwise, wrap the ears tightly in foil.
Place the ears directly over the heat, and turn them every few minutes to keep them from getting too charred on one side. After around 7 minutes, or a few turns, place the ears on the indirect heating side of the grill, or on the top shelf, and close the lid. Continue cooking for around 15 more minutes. If grilling in the husk, the corn is done when the husk picks up dark silhouettes of the kernels, and begins to pull away from the ear at the tip. For foil grilling, just time it. You can check the ears for doneness. If they are still very firm, then wrap them back up and throw them back in for a few minutes. Do not over cook them. It is much better to under-cook, than over-cook. If the ears flex easily when you pick them up, you’ve gone too far, and the corn will be mushy.
Use oven-mitts to remove the corn. All that’s left now is to peel the husks, or foil, and serve with lots of butter, margarine and good cheer.
That’s really all there is to know about how to grill corn-on-the-cob to perfection. If you’ve never tried it, you’re really missing out.