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How to Choose an Ear of Corn (Without Peeking!)

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: You can get fresh, bright, perfect corn -- while practicing proper corn-buying etiquette, too.

Corn from Food52

We can't stop talking about corn, cooking corn, wishing for little corn-on-the-cob-shaped cob-holders to hold our corn cobs in place while we moan about how much we love, we adore, we cherish, corn.

But before all that, before the salad-ing and the cream-ing, the talking and the moaning and the corn-on-the-cob-ing, the corn needs to be bought. The corn needs to be chosen.

We're here to help.

Shucking corn

Because of course, the easiest way to choose an ear of corn is to take a peek: to peel down a teensy bit of the husk and check for bright, plump kernels. But doing this before buying the corn is not proper corn-buying etiquette. You will get dirty stares at the market -- and that corn that looked so gorgeous and milky and bright when you peeled it will get sad and shriveled and starchy quicker.

Here's how to choose corn without taking that peek.

Corn from Food52

Look for teensy brown holes in the husk, especially towards the top. Those are wormholes, and, naturally, worms are best avoided.

Feel the kernels through the husk. You want to make sure that they're plump and plentiful; if you can feel holes where kernels should be, then choose another.

Look for tassels (those things sticking up out of the top) that are brown and sticky to the touch. If they're dry or black, then it's an old ear of corn.

Check out the color of the husk. If it's a bright green and tightly wrapped against the cob, then the corn is fresh. (In some cases, it will even feel slightly damp.)

How do you choose your corn? Let us know in the comments!

Tags: kitchen confidence, corn, summer, how to choose corn, choosing corn, buying corn, how-to & diy

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Comments (21)

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24 days ago Ryan Hart

I'm from Iowa (the tall corn state) and old and I agree with Mr. Duveyoung below. Two things about peeling back the husk, sometimes only one worm came in and a small hole is not as easy to spot, two, if the ear is bad it helps everyone involved to see that. The farmer doesnt want people bad mouthing his Peaches and Cream, and they buyer wants to get make sure the carbs they are ingesting are worth it. Its not the same as asking for a plug of six or seven melons to find the right one. OT, damn I wish they still plugged watermelons for you, all the tapping and pressing in the world wont tell you its a good melon, and the sample melon they've got cut up might be an outlier, or the one you pick might be. No way to tell 100% without a plug.

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about 1 month ago Gary Duveyoung

The only way to tell if the corn is good(I mean popping good) is if the kernels are small and when you bite into the corn it pops! You cannot know this unless you open the wrapping enough to see the kernels and pop one or two with your thumb or finger. I have never had corn with plump kernels that popped when you bit into them. 62 years of living gives me the knowledge to know this.

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about 1 year ago rick maynard

THAT'S AWESOME........UPHILL FROM YOUR HOUSE !!!!

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about 1 year ago George Kern

My father-in-law always said that you should plant your garden uphill of your house — so that it’s a downhill dash all the way from the corn patch to the pot of boiling water.

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about 1 year ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

I love that.

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over 1 year ago Charles Garrod,

If You believe that You should'nt peek. Then you should never eat corn on the cob. I've grown corn for resale and you have to peek. You do not have to strip the husk off of the ear, just pull it down about four inches and you will see enough of the ear to make your decision. Happy eating. You can also bring your own raccoon with you and it will eat every ear of corn that is ready. Of Course you will be liable for what the coon ravages. I do not suggest that you try and take the ear of corn away from the coon. You could end up missing a hand or two.

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over 1 year ago George Alexa

At Wegmans and other stores, you might find that they allow you to remove the husk from the corn and thus it is proper to "peak"!

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over 1 year ago KarenLyons

Who made up the no-peek rule? I've always peeked and will continue!

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almost 2 years ago lsgerman

Great information.

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about 2 years ago muse2323

My favorite grocery store provides a garbage bag for husks, so people who want to can husk the whole thing for dinner right there and put back the one(s) they don't like the look of.

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about 2 years ago Andrew Wittman

Another crucial point is weight. I usually select the fattest ears that are heavy for their size. This is important early in the season to ensure you have a mature ear that is well filled-out with tasty kernels, and later in the season improves the odds that you will select an ear that is fresher and retaining more of its original moisture.

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about 2 years ago RandomLoop

What? My uncle farmed corn. Where does the "no peek" rule come from?

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about 2 years ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

I'm appalled to learn that I haven't been practicing proper corn-buying etiquette. Thanks for setting me straight Brette!

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about 2 years ago Kelly Fogwell

Those are great tips, but how do you know whether or not the kernels are tough without looking? I think there are cobs that would pass all those tests but still taste bad because they've been picked past their prime. I agree with bigpan that I will probably still peel back in spite of etiquette.

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about 2 years ago bigpan

Etiquette or not, I'll still peel back a husk to make sure.

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about 2 years ago LauriL

Yeah, hate those nasty stares!! Good info that I'll try out tomorrow!!

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about 2 years ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

Ha, truth.

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about 2 years ago ccwhat

Along with the weight of the ear I look for an ear that is not too skinny nor too fat. Too skinny and the kernals may be underdeveloped. Too fat and the ear may have been picked past its prime. The ear should have a nice uniformity to it so you'll have a pretty good idea that the kernals have developed from stern to tip. Lastly, hopefully there's no mushiness which might indicate that someone has carelessly dropped the ear.

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about 2 years ago softenbrownsugar

I also feel I must say that if there is a really good sale on cobs of corn, I buy several of the crappy ones because I have a squirrel feeder, and they're not nearly as fussy as I am. :)

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about 2 years ago JanaVee

It drives me crazy to see people stripping the husks! In addition to Brette's tips, a good ear will have a nice heft to it. If it feels heavy for its size, it's fresh.

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about 2 years ago softenbrownsugar

Loved this information! Thank you!