The Essential Grilling Technique the Food52 Team Still Can't Agree On

September 14, 2016

Welcome to Your Home Outdoors, our summertime series on tips and tricks that'll help you live your best life outside―no matter the size of your space! So pull up a chair, grab a glass of something icy-cold, and join us.

Faced with a lot of corn and a grill over Labor Day weekend, none of the Food52 employees present could come up with a definitive answer to the simple question: How do we do it?

Here's a group of us trying to decide:

How many Food52 employees does it take to decide the best way to grill corn? #f52market @ #brimfield #cornfight

A photo posted by Victoria Maynard (@torymaynard) on

The problem wasn't that no one could figure it out but that no one knew the optimal method. It seems like everyone grills corn a little bit differently.

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Some argued for grilling in the husk (but wouldn't that mean we'd have to soak it first?), some argued for putting the shucked cobs directly on the grill (but wouldn't they dry out?), and some argued for slathering the naked cobs in butter and wrapping them in foil. ​

Sure, we could have read up on the various belief systems circulating on the web...

  • Kenji at Serious Eats prefers the "grilling naked" method
  • Grilling expert Steve Raichlen insists that corn without its husk must be oiled or buttered and that corn left in its husk must be soaked to stop it from going up in smoke
  • Epicurious recommends removing the silk from the corn without removing the husk, then re-shrouding the cob in its husk ​in order to protect the kernels from flame exposure while still allowing the grilled flavor to reach them
  • And Bobbi Flay takes Epicurious' suggestion one step further, soaking the de-silked, re-husked cobs for 10 minutes in ice water and salt to prevent burning

...but we didn't.

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Top Comment:
“Throw the whole thing on the grill. Cook a few minutes per side...done! Peel the shuck like a banana. Don't remove it! It becomes the handle”
— Gary G.

Instead, we tested our three techniques—1) in the husk, no-soak, silk remaining; 2) straight on the grill; 3) buttered and foiled—completely in the dark (both literally and figuratively):

Testing all methods for science #cornfight #f52market @ #brimfield

A photo posted by Victoria Maynard (@torymaynard) on

The judgment was just as haphazard, splitting up the cobs between eight of us so we could all taste the results of each method.

Some unedited captures of Amanda Sims from our Controller Victoria Maynard's Snapchat story.

While the verdict over at Serious Eats was that corn stripped of all its silk and husk and put right on the heat source is best—it "results in corn with charred, browned, nutty bits that really make it taste, well, grilled"—the naked corn lost our competition overall (but was my personal favorite). For most of us, it was a bit too toasty and chewy-dry: good in its own right but missing the juicy freshness we look for in late summer kernels. If you're able to monitor each ear carefully, rotating and removing as kernels char, this method might be more successful for you than it was for us.

Between the foil-wrapped and the husk-protected, we had a tie: The foil-wrapped was buttery (...because we rubbed it in butter) and not-at-all parched, but it lacked the smoky flavor that is often the reason for using a grill in the first place. It produced corn cobs that tasted as if they may as well been steamed or boiled. (If you want cobs that taste boiled, ​but you only have a grill, foil is your friend.)

​The corn that went on the grill in its husk did catch fire from time to time, but our grill master (and buyer for our Shop) Kristina kept them in check. Protected from the flame by the stringy silk and the leathery exterior, these kernels didn't dehydrate or take on as much color as the naked cobs, and the smokiness from the grill was able to penetrate the oft-on-fire husks where it could not make headway on the foil.

"It's more of an art than a science" #thegrillmasterisfemale

A photo posted by Victoria Maynard (@torymaynard) on

We have an answer for how we'll grill corn next time: leave the cobs in the husks and put them right on the grill for results halfway between charring and steaming.

But we still have to test whether the kernels will be plumper if we soak the cobs, husks and all, first. And should the soaking liquid be salted? Or should we bypass the soaking complications, blanch the cobs first, then grill them just to get color and crisp bits?

Just when we thought we figured it out, there's more testing to be done. ​

Someone instructs you to grill corn. What method is your go-to? Tell us in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Gary Glen
    Gary Glen
  • Joy Huang | The Cooking of Joy
    Joy Huang | The Cooking of Joy
  • Smaug
  • Pastraminator
  • PHIL
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Gary G. September 16, 2016
Being from Midwestern corn country, I've been to many corn festivals. Around here we cook a lot of corn outside. Who has time for all that prep work? That's the great thing about corn. Throw the whole thing on the grill. Cook a few minutes per side...done! Peel the shuck like a banana. Don't remove it! It becomes the handle
Joy H. September 15, 2016
Have you tried par-cooking it first (I use the microwave to both par-cook the corn and make it easier to shuck) and then grilling it naked? I find that because it's already mostly cooked, it chars a lot faster and the corn doesn't get too dry. I outline the technique in my recipe for making Taiwanese style street corn:
PHIL September 15, 2016
I agree, I shuck them,par cook and just finish on the grill, much easier, I usually cut them in half after the are done and slather them with butter and herbs. easier for guests to handle .
Smaug September 15, 2016
I'm curious about how long people are cooking this- ripe corn doesn't need to do more than get hot to be done-5 or 6 minutes straight out of the refrigerator. It shouldn't dry out noticeably.
PHIL September 15, 2016
I boil it 5 minutes and then char quickly on the grill, slather on toppings . always great reviews. I do like my corn a little soft though.
Smaug September 14, 2016
No contest, naked on the grill. I've never had it turn out even remotely dry, and oiling it before does it no good at all- I brush it with flavored butter(usually Ancho chile and salt) afterward.
Pastraminator September 14, 2016
the effort shucking and dealing with the silk is such a pain! Shucking after it's grilled is makes for a smooth clean delicious cob that comes clean in an instant. The downside you have to pass the trashcan around the table as everyone shucks the corn and it's a hot! But i think the trade off is worth it.