How to Cook Corn on the Cob

Wondering how long to boil corn? Here’s how to cook corn on the cob to perfection, with juicy, sweet kernels practically begging for a little butter and salt!

Cooked corn on the cob ears with a pat of butter on a blue flower plate

Lori Rice

I grew up with access to fresh, sweet corn from an Indiana garden every summer, so I admit it’s made me a little picky about my corn. Corn on the cob is a simple seasonal side, but when the corn isn’t fresh or it’s boiled too long, you can end up with chewy, tough kernels instead of the tender, sweet kernels you want – the ones that nearly pop as you work your way around the cob. (This is true whether you are enjoying white, yellow, or bi-color sweet corn.)

For the best corn on the cob, keep these tips and techniques in mind.

Three ears of cooked corn on the cob on a blue flower plate

Lori Rice

How to Choose a Fresh Ear of Corn

You don’t need to peel back the husks on every ear of corn to find the best choices when shopping. In fact, doing so can decrease the shelf-life of the ear, so even if you take that one home with you and don’t cook it right away you aren’t doing yourself any favors.

Start by giving the husks a good look. They should be bright green and tightly wrapped to the ear of corn with no signs of drying out. It’s better if they are a little damp, although not noticeably wet. Also make sure that you don’t spy any small brown holes in the husk which can be an indication of bugs.

Next, check out the exposed, golden silks at the top of the ear of corn. They reveal details about the freshness of the ear beneath the husk. These silks should be golden to dark brown, but not black or showing signs of decay. Also, make sure they’re slightly sticky versus dried out. Dryness can indicate a less fresh ear.

Gently rub your fingers on the outside of the ear to trace the kernels through the husk. You should feel each kernel and not find any soft spots that could indicate that the ear is already going bad.

If it passes all these tests, then feel free to take it home. The odds are in your favor that you’ve picked a fresh ear of corn on the cob!

Keep in mind that even the freshest looking corn might come home with a visitor. Most sweet corn doesn’t run the risk of having a worm inside, but if you buy it at the farmers market or grow your own, there is always a slight chance. The good news is that most of the time these worms hang out at the very top of the ear and they are easy to discard of once you are in the kitchen and prepping your corn.

These earworms feed on the silks of the corn so they tend to have little impact on the kernels. You can remove the worm and cut off any spots that may have damaged the kernels then boil the corn as usual.

Hand shucking an ear of corn

Lori Rice

How to Shuck Corn

There are a lot of tips floating around for how to shuck corn, but none of them work better than simply using two hands and a trash can. The silks can be messy, so I do like to shuck outside if I’m preparing several ears to make clean up easier.

Grasp the top of the browned silks and pull them apart, get a good grip of the husks and silks, then pull them down and away from the corn. Repeat until the husks are removed, then go back and gently pick off any remaining silks.

It’s true that the silks slip right off the corn when the ear is microwaved in the husk. It’s important to note that this is only a good option when you are completely cooking corn in the microwave, not when you plan to boil it. Microwaving the corn and then boiling it will lead to tough kernels.

Ears of corn boiling in a pot of water

Lori Rice

How Long to Boil Corn

A fresh ear of corn can quickly be ruined by boiling it too long. Three to four ears of corn will be done in 3 to 5 minutes.

The changes in the corn are very subtle, but they are there if you watch closely. The kernels will plump slightly and turn one shade darker. The color change is harder to notice with white corn, but it does darken a little bit. Carefully remove the corn from the pot with tongs immediately once you see these minor changes.

And yes, leftover corn on the cob can be frozen!

If you don't want to heat up your kitchen with a pot of boiling water, throw that corn on the grill! It's another fantastic way to enjoy fresh corn.

Recipes That Pair Well with Corn on the Cob

How to Cook Corn on the Cob

Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 4 mins
Total Time 9 mins
Servings 3 servings
Yield 3 ears of corn

Ingredients

  • 3 ears of corn, husks on

Method

  1. Boil the water:

    Bring a large pot filled with at least 6 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Don’t add salt to the water. Adding salt toughens the kernels during boiling. Plan to season the corn after it cooks.

  2. Prepare the corn:

    Meanwhile, prepare the corn by shucking it to remove the husk and silks. Pull apart the silks at the top of the ear. Grab the top of the husk and silks on one side of the corn and pull it down and away from the ear of corn. Repeat this process until the corn husks are fully removed and then pick away any remaining silks from the corn.

    Pulling the husk off an ear of corn

    Lori Rice

  3. Trim the ends of the corn:

    Cut off both ends of the corn just enough to remove any dry or damaged kernels and the end stalk.

    Trimming off the ends of an ear of corn

    Lori Rice

  4. Add the corn to the boiling water:

    When the water is boiling, use tongs to add each ear of corn to the water. Add only 3 to 4 ears at a time to avoid overcrowding the pot and dropping the temperature of the water. Don’t leave the kitchen. Watch the corn closely so that you can remove it from the water the second it’s done cooking.

    Tongs adding an ear of corn into a pot of boiling water

    Lori Rice

  5. Boil the corn for 3 to 5 minutes:

    Boil the corn for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the corn from the water with tongs as soon as you notice subtle changes in the kernels as they get plumper and darken a shade in color.

  6. Serve:

    Transfer the corn to a platter, top it with butter and salt while it’s still warm and serve.

    Three ears of corn on a blue plate

    Lori Rice