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