Steam or grill? The answer may surprise you. 

Advertisement

When the sweet corn comes into season every summer, so does the age-old debate about the best way to cook it. You'll have the old-school boilers pushing back against those who prefer steaming, and the grilling folks will weigh in as if there are no other options. The outliers enter the fray with roasting in the oven or cooking inside a cooler (seriously, it's a thing, and also, don't do it). And that is just for cooking it on the cob!

I'm the last one to be prescriptive about such things -- you do you with your corn -- but for me, I have found a method I love that marries two of my favorite cooking methods into one delicious result. I par-steam, then grill. And here is why: Steaming protects texture and cooks evenly and consistently, and then grilling brings flavor.

The best way to cook sweet corn

When I am not grilling something for dinner, I always steam my fresh corn. The method is gentler than boiling, the corn cooks evenly without losing any of its natural freshness or flavor, and the kernels don't waterlog. But if I am grilling any part of the meal? I stop the steaming shy of fully cooked, and finish the ears on the cool side of my grill, just to add a bit of smoke and char.

So why not just grill the corn from the start? Because grilled corn can be a huge pain in the butt! You have to soak the husks to prevent a conflagration, which also makes them a bit hard to maneuver on the grill, and then you have to shuck them when they are scorching hot, dealing with the silk and getting charred husk all over your hands. Because you can't see what is happening inside the husk, certain parts get over- or undercooked. And the level of heat can make kernels a bit tough or starchy. BUT, that grilled flavor, a little hint of smoke, really brings out the sweetness. So, I shuck them, steam to cook almost all the way, then finish on the grill while my meat is resting to just give a little extra oomph.

Corn on the cob
Credit: Getty / BRETT STEVENS

How to steam and grill sweet corn

Here's what to do: 

Shuck and steam the corn for just about 5-6 minutes (so that the cooking is about halfway), then remove from the pot and let cool to room temp, by which point the carryover will have them about ¾ cooked.

You can go from this step straight to grilling, below, but you can also do this step in advance when it's convenient and then stash in the fridge for up to four days. 

If you do chill your semi-cooked corn, pull them from the fridge to come to room temp about an hour before starting the grill. 

When dinner is grilled and the meat is off and resting, put the ears on the cooler side of the grill, close the lid for about 5 minutes to warm them through, then shift to the hot side for about 15-20 seconds per side, just enough to get a little bit of char mark on the ears.

PRO TIP: The best part of steaming in advance is this: Corn begins to go starchy as soon as it is off the stalk. So, the sooner you can cook it after you get it home, the sweeter it will be. I bring it home, shuck it, steam it, and stash it and then enjoy it all week long.