Why My Summer Celebrations Always Include a Corn on the Cob Bar

High summer corn on the cob is the perfect base for all sorts of delicious toppings, from miso butter to kimchi mayo.

Someone holding a plate filled with elotes

Simply Recipes / Megan Keno

I love summer entertaining—the sizzling grill, the popsicles, the hunks of unattended watermelon. With two kids (10 and 4), having friends over to run through the sprinklers or wade in the kiddie pool often turns into an occasion for a meal with friends. But, if winter’s dinner parties require schematics of menu planning, summer is when I do my best, least encumbered work. I assemble platters of peak-season summer produce and let them do the talking—salted tomatoes with mounds of burrata, freshly picked cucumbers, smashed and drizzled with soy vinaigrette. The best summer foods don’t need much to shine.

One such go-to move is a corn on the cob bar. Yes, it is just what it sounds like, and yet, it’s so much more. High summer corn on the cob is grilled in the husk and served with a bevy of toppings and sides so that everyone can assemble the cobs of their dreams. 

The idea all started when I wanted to make elotes for a group of friends one July night. None of our kids, otherwise devout corn eaters, were interested in the spicy crema, cotija cheese, or fresh cilantro I had prepared. Instead, one wanted butter and salt; one wanted a plain cob, plain (bless her three-year-old heart); and one (I’m sorry, readers) wanted ketchup. By the time I had unloaded all of the requested ingredients, my counter looked like the toppings bar at Sweet Frog (but savory), and the corn on the cob bar was born.

How to Make Your Own Corn on the Cob Bar

The whole thing comes together in about 45 minutes. To start, I pull back the corn husks to the base without removing them. Then I gently remove the silks and spread the husks back over the ears of corn, dropping the cobs in a tub of ice water to soak for 15 minutes before grilling (I use a big metal drink tub for this, and I let the kids help shuck and soak the corn since this was, kind of, their idea). Soaking the cobs keeps the husks from burning and provides extra moisture for steaming the kernels of corn within. Once they’ve had a little soak, they go straight on a hot grill for about 20 minutes, turning every five minutes or so, until you’ve got some nice looking grill marks.

Then it’s time for the spreads, toppings, and accoutrements. A few of our favorites include: 

  • Miso butter
  • Kimchi mayo
  • Barbecue seasoning mix (or straight-up barbecue sauce is also welcome here)
  • Vegan Sriracha aioli.
  • Fresh herbs like chives, mint, basil, and chervil
  • Togarashi
  • Tajin
  • Dukkah
  • Chili Crisp
  • Green Sauce (as in the little plastic containers I’ve hoarded from the Peruvian chicken place)
  • And, of course, the aforementioned elotes fixings

Sides for Your Corn on the Cob Bar

Round out the meal with some salted watermelon, pasta salad loaded with grilled chicken and pesto, creamy potato salad, slaw of any kind, and deviled eggs. Keep dessert simple with a few homemade popsicles or some fresh peaches with whipped cream.

Skip the Flimsy Plates

Also, don’t expect flimsy paper plates to work here. Once you’ve added a loaded cob of corn to a paper plate, you’re on a countdown to disaster. Instead, I love plastic plates like these (with a little rim for keeping everything securely on your plate) for such purposes. They can handle a mountain of summer salads better than paper and they look nicer. When the party’s over, they’re easy to clean by hand or in the dishwasher.