Good fresh corn is one of the best things about summer. Sweet and milky, kernels with a satisfying snap; even if you’re eating it raw and totally plain, it’s luxurious.
The only thing you have to do is pick the right ears of corn and you’re in for pure bliss. But how do you do that? And what about storing, prepping, and saving some for the winter? Here’s what you need to know (and more) to get all the splendor out of sweet summer corn.
In season: Mid to late June through August or September
Varieties: Popcorn, Flint, Flour, Dent, and Sweet
How to store: Keep ears in the fridge — husks and silks still well intact — for a day or two; eat as soon as possible for the best flavor and texture
When is Corn in Season?
Corn season starts in mid-late June and goes through August and some of September. If you’re buying fresh corn outside of this timeframe, keep your expectations low because it’ll only be a mediocre (at best) impression of the real thing.
The many varieties of corn (and there are tons) can be divided up into five groups: Popcorn, Flint, Flour, Dent, and Sweet. These groups are defined by their kernel structure — how much starch and sugar is present, the ratio of hard to soft endosperm — and each type is best suited for a specific use.
Popcorn has a hard hull and a dense interior. It comes in lots of colors, but all popcorn pops white, no matter the color the kernel.
Flint is another hard-hulled type. Harder than popcorn, this group gets its name because the kernels are said to be “harder than flint.” They have low sugar content and come in the widest array of colors. Flint corn varieties are good for grinding into polenta and grits, and they’re the best kind to nixtamalize for hominy or masa. This is also the kind you’ll find in autumnal displays with decorative gourds.
Flour corn kernels are soft and full of starch with little sugar. They’re the best for grinding into fine cornmeal.
Dent corn (aka field corn) is the controversial kind. It’s what’s grown in all the monocrops of the corn belt. Dent corn is bred to be high in starch; fresh kernels are tough, not sweet, and not at all pleasurable to eat. You know that corn is the primary animal feed for industrial meat production, and is the primary sweetener in processed foods, and is used to make ethanol, right? Well, all of that is done with dent corn.
Sweet corn is the top prize. It’s soft and has the highest sugar content, and is the best for eating fresh. There are varieties with white, yellow, bicolor, or ruby-red kernels, and all of them are what we want at a summer party. On or off the cob, raw or cooked, sweet corn is one of the defining features of summer, and one of the greatest pleasures of the year.
Choosing Good Corn: Look and Touch, but Do Not Peel!
Corn starts going starchy as soon as it’s harvested, so you want ears that are as fresh as can be. Grocery stores will have mountains of corn when it’s in season, but it’s likely that the cobs on those displays have been off their stalks for longer than is ideal. Even if they’re from nearby farms, you don’t know when they were harvested or how long they’ve been sitting in the store.
Farmers markets are the best bet for super fresh corn — it’s harvested the day, night, or just hours before it’s put on stands.
You do not ever need to peel the husks back and take a peek. When you peel back the husks and expose the cobs, you’re basically jumpstarting deterioration. The sugars start converting to starch at a faster rate, and all the things we love about a cob of sweet corn fade away before their time.
So, if you peel back a husk, decide for whatever reason the cob isn’t for you, you’ve ruined it for everyone else. Do we know what people are even looking for under there? You can tell everything you need to know without breaking the bond between husk and cob, I promise.
You want corn with husks that are a happy green, moist, and hugging the cob with a good tight grip. Look for fresh healthy silks that are pale green or golden or white; avoid those that are dry, very dark brown or black, and weepy-looking. A good ear of corn will feel heavy and plump and should not have any give when gently squeezed.
If you’re worried about worms or bugs, just feel around. You’ll notice indentations under the husks if something’s been snacking on kernels in there. Some worms and bugs will leave obvious signs like deep holes through the husks; you can’t miss them.
How to Store
Fresh corn is not a keeper, period. It’s best to enjoy it the day you bring it home. If you can’t do that, keep the ears in the fridge — husks and silks still well intact — for a day. Two days at the very most, but keep in mind that the longer you wait the more sweetness and juiciness and good texture you lose.
How to Get Cut Corn Off the Cob
Some people do things to make removing the silks “easier,” but I’ve never found myself wanting a hack for removing corn silks because it’s in no way a challenge. Are you with me?
When it comes to removing kernels from the cob, the fun and tidy bundt pan method (seen here!) is a popular choice. I’m partial to using a knife and a cutting board. There are tools made specifically for the job, and if you like using them, use them. The point here is: it’s your kitchen, you can do what you want.
Once the kernels are off, make sure to scrape the cob with the back of a knife to get all the corn milk you can! That stuff is liquid gold.
Grilled Corn on the Cob
There’s a lot of noise out there about the best way to grill corn. Soak the ears? Remove the husks? Wrap in foil? And on and on. We like what we like, and if you have a strong preference, stick to it.
My favorite method is to just put whole ears directly onto the grill. No soaking, no removing husks, no fussing whatsoever. Maybe it’s lazy, but I think the results are swoon-worthy. And, some trustworthy authorities around here agree.
Microwave Corn on the Cob
We've got everything you need to know right here.
Boiling Corn on the Cob
The easiest and most popular way to eat fresh corn!
How to Freeze Corn
If you want to eat corn out of season, fill your freezer up with corn while it’s in season. 100% guarantee you’ll have the best-tasting frozen corn.
It’s always a good idea to save the cobs after you’ve removed the kernels. Keep them in a bag in the freezer, and make corn stock when you have the time. Store some of that in the freezer and your future self will thank you.