How-To & Diy

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

August  8, 2013

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

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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!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Karen S Bodnar
    Karen S Bodnar
  • Old mike
    Old mike
  • Crystal
  • Terry Donovan Brown
    Terry Donovan Brown
  • Js
Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.


Karen S. September 15, 2020
I go by weight. An old farmer told me this, he grew the best I've ever had!
Said if its heavy it hasn't dried out and the sugars haven't dried up.
Old M. May 21, 2020
Great suggestions. Raised on a farm and in the field we would pull pack the husk on test ears to see if the corn is ripe early in the year or too old later in the year. If you are getting your corn at the grocery or farmer’s market they have already done this.
I just use the weight and fresh look/ feel of the husk to pick corn at the grocery. You can use season to tell what the corn is like, but most grocery store corn in a bin is going to be the same. Don’t expect off season corn to be like mid-summer corn. Pulling back the husk on store bought corn is not necessary and just rude. You are leaving a mess on something that does not need to be done on a $.25 item.
Crystal August 8, 2019
Never peek. Go for round, plump bottoms!
Terry D. July 3, 2019
Growing up on a farm in Iowa, it was us kids' job to go get the sweet corn once Grandma put the pot on to boil. We were taught to pierce a kernel with a thumbnail. Watery milk wasn't ready. Thick white milk was too late (that went to the hogs.)
Js July 3, 2019
I choose the largest and heaviest ears. All around me people are peeling the husks and putting them back for some reason.
Ryan H. August 6, 2015
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.
Gary D. July 10, 2015
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.
Connie August 27, 2017
Seriously! Squishing a kernel or two seems inconsiderate and frankly rude.
rick M. August 14, 2014
George K. July 27, 2014
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.
Lindsay-Jean H. July 28, 2014
I love that.
Charles G. May 7, 2014
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.
George A. May 7, 2014
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"!
KarenLyons May 4, 2014
Who made up the no-peek rule? I've always peeked and will continue!
lsgerman September 6, 2013
Great information.
muse2323 August 21, 2013
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.
Andrew W. August 18, 2013
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.
RandomLoop August 10, 2013
What? My uncle farmed corn. Where does the "no peek" rule come from?
Lindsay-Jean H. August 9, 2013
I'm appalled to learn that I haven't been practicing proper corn-buying etiquette. Thanks for setting me straight Brette!
Kelly F. August 8, 2013
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.
bigpan August 8, 2013
Etiquette or not, I'll still peel back a husk to make sure.
LauriL August 8, 2013
Yeah, hate those nasty stares!! Good info that I'll try out tomorrow!!
Kenzi W. August 8, 2013
Ha, truth.