By Gretchen McKay


Jazz up corn on the cob

Categories : Food
Mexican-style corn/Gretchen McKay

Lots of sweet butter and a sprinkle, or two, of salt. Maybe some freshly ground black pepper, if a shaker’s within easy reach on the picnic table. That’s how so many of us enjoy fresh-picked corn on the cob.

It’s hard to go wrong with tradition, but simple isn’t necessarily better when it comes to summer’s hallmark vegetable. It’s just … simpler.

Sweet and tender, corn on the cob lends itself to any number of toppings.

Mexican-style corn, topped with spicy sriracha- or chipotle-flavored mayonnaise and crumbly cotija cheese, is particularly hot right now, showing up in any number of this season’s grilling cookbooks and also making a welcome appearance in local Pittsburgh restaurants such as Tako, Downtown, and Big Burritos’ Max Mex.

But that’s just the start. It turns out corn can be made even tastier when you brush it with a tangy basil vinaigrette and dust it with salty Parmigiano-Reggiano, or slather it with a homemade herb butter. And how about wrapping it in thick slices of bacon before you throw it on the grill. While it’s cooking, brush it with a peppery chipotle-honey glaze. Talk about savory treats that will get kids and veggie-adverse grownups to eat their vegetables.

Local corn soon will be available in spades, so why not start thinking about some ways to jazz it up a bit with color, flavor and texture after you’ve tired of plain and simple cobs?

The traditional method of cooking corn on the cob, after it is husked and the silky threads pulled away from the kernels, is to boil it: Drop the corn into a large pot filled with boiling salted water, cover, let the water return to a boil, and then turn off the heat and keep the pot covered. After about five minutes, remove what you’ll eat during a first round; remaining corn can be kept warm in the water for another 10 minutes or so. But it also can be broiled (four to six inches from the heat, for 10 to 15 minutes), roasted in the oven (at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes), or cooked on the grill.

Grilling adds a hint of smoke and char to the vegetable. Throw the naked cobs over a hot fire and grill them, turning occasionally, until the kernels are tender and charred, about 10 minutes total. Or, wrap ears in aluminum foil, with or without butter or oil inside, and cook over a hot grate or directly on hot coals, until is done, about 15 to 20 minutes.

My favorite way to grill corn is the easiest way, in the husk. Soak the unshucked ears in water to cover for at least 15 to 20 minutes, remove corn from water and shake off excess. Place corn on the hot grill grates (heat should be medium-high), close cover and grill for 20 minutes, turning every five minutes or so until the corn is tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Pull the husks back before serving (the silks will come right off). The husks will get black, but no worries! The corn inside will stay moist.

If you like, you can get fancy and pull the husks off during the last five minutes of cooking, remove the silks and grill the ears until they’re lightly browned all over.

When choosing corn, look for the freshest cobs possible — preferably corn that’s been picked that morning; the longer it’s off the stalk, the more the corn is past its prime. The debate over whether to go with tiny kernels or plump ones is endless. Ditto with whether to choose yellow, white or bi-color butter and sugar corn (no matter what your parents told you when you were a kid, there’s no correlation between the color of corn and its sweetness). What is important is that the kernels, when you gently peel back the top of the cob or feel them through the husk, are closely spaced and even.

Fresh corn will keep for a day or so in the refrigerator, unshucked in a bag. But really, who can wait that long for the quintessential taste of summer?

Gretchen McKay:, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

Basil-Parmesan Corn

Basil-Parmesan Corn/Gretchen McKay

PG tested

Fresh and zesty basil vinaigrette doesn’t just dress up tomatoes, grilled chicken and pasta salad — it also makes a great topping for grilled corn. 

For basil vinaigrette

1 small shallot, roughly chopped

2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves, stems removed (about 4 ounces)

1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

For corn

8 ears fresh corn

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Blend all the ingredients for the basil vinaigrette for 1 minute, until very smooth. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Serve immediately, or refrigerate the vinaigrette for up to 3 days.

Prepare corn: Preheat an indoor or outdoor grill to high heat. Pull the husk down and keep it on to use for holding the corn later. Grill the corn over high heat until it starts to char. Remove from grill.

Using a pastry brush, brush some of the basil vinaigrette onto the corn and then heavily sprinkle with the grated cheese. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings.

— Adapted from

Bacon-Wrapped Corn with Chipotle Glaze

Bacon-Wrapped Corn with Chipotle Glaze/Gretchen McKay

PG tested

If they can make bacon ice cream, why not bacon-wrapped corn on the cob? It’s delicious! Be sure to secure the bacon strips with toothpicks; I didn’t and it fell off the cob when I turned it. For an even easier preparation, wrap the cobs in aluminum foil.

4 corn ears, husked

4 bacon slices

1/4 cup canned chipotle peppers

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup butter, melted

Going from one end to the other, wrap bacon around each ear and secure with toothpicks. Set aside.

In a food processor or blender, pulse chipotle peppers until smooth. In a bowl, combine pureed peppers, honey and butter.

Spray grates of grill with cooking spray and set over medium-hot coals. Liberally brush bacon-wrapped corn with chipotle-honey glaze and arrange on grill. Grill corn, turning every 2 to 3 minutes and basting regularly with glaze, for about 20 to 25 minutes or until corn is cooked and bacon is crisp.

Serves 4.


Mexican-Style Grilled Street Corn

PG tested

This spicy corn dish is a typical street food in Mexico. You can adjust the level of spiciness by adding more, or less, sriracha. If you can’t find cotija cheese, substitute parmesan. 

8 ears corn, husked

For sriracha aioli

½ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons sriracha, or more to taste

Juice ½ lime

Salt and cayenne pepper, to taste

For toppings

Crumbled cotija cheese

Red pepper flakes

Chopped scallions

Chopped fresh cilantro

Lime wedges, for squeezing

Prepare corn: Preheat an indoor or outdoor grill to high heat. Pull the husk down and keep it on to use for holding the corn later. Brush grill grate and coat with oil.

Make aiolil: Combine mayonnaise, sriracha, and lime juice in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Put corn on grate and cook, turning every 5 minutes or so, until it starts to char. Remove from grill.

Drizzle corn with sriracha aioli, then spinkle with crumbled cotija cheese, red pepper flakes, chopped scallions and and chopped cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

Serves 8.

— Jack McKay, Gretchen McKay’s son

Grilled Corn With Herb Butter

Grilled Corn with Herbed Butter/Gretchen McKay

PG tested

Compound (flavored) butters are ridiculously easy to make at home, and add so much flavor to meats, vegetables and roasted fish. All you need is a fork, full-flavored ingredients such as fresh herbs and garlic, and some plastic wrap. Use the ingredients below as a jumping off point; you can also use rosemary, sage and thyme. 

8 ears corn

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup chopped fresh chervil

1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon

1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

1 small clove garlic, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Prepare butter: In bowl, using a fork, stir together butter, herbs, garlic, anchovy paste, salt and pepper. Transfer to a sheet of plastic wrap and using a rubber spatula and the plastic wrap, shape the butter into a log about 1½ inches in diameter. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes, before using, or store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Prepare corn: Heat a charcoal or gas grill to medium-high. If you plan to grill the corn naked (out of the husk), peel back the husk and remove the silks. Keep the peeled-back husk on the cob, using it as a handle. Lube the corn with a little oil or butter. If you slip some foil under the husks during grilling, you will prevent them from burning.

If you prefer to grill the corn in the husk, simply toss the ears of corn over a medium-high fire — husk, silks and all.

Place corn on hot grill and cook. For unhusked corn, grill corn 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes.

Serve corn with herbed butter.

Makes 8 servings.

— Adapted from “Williams-Sonoma Grill School” by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim (Weldon Owen, June 2016, $29.95)