How to Boil Corn on the Cob

Summer sweet corn is ready to eat in a matter of minutes with this no-fuss method.

boiled corn on the cob on a platter with salt and pepper
Photo: Emily Laurae/Southern Living
Active Time:
5 mins
Total Time:
5 mins
Servings:
4

Nothing says summer like fresh corn on the cob. There's just something about biting into a tender, sweet ear that brings a smile, albeit a messy one, to anyone's face. You could fry it, roast it, grill it, microwave it, bake it, or even air fry it, but learning how to boil corn on the cob is a culinary skill that'll serve you well in any setting—and it honestly couldn't be any easier.

Read on to learn how to boil sweet corn to perfection.

How to Buy Perfect Corn on the Cob

You'll find mountains of loose ears of corn in grocery stores every summer, but not all ears are worthy of making their way into your shopping cart. Look for bright green husks that are tightly wrapped around the corn. If they are slightly damp, all the better—a little moisture signifies freshness. Avoid any husks that have holes, which indicate that insects have taken some bites. And if you see any brown spots, the ear has likely lost its freshness, so find another.

Examining the tassel can also yield some helpful info: A golden tassel that's slightly sticky is a good sign, while dry or dark tassels and strange odors are not.

Finally, give the ear a gentle squeeze to feel the kernels through the husk; avoid ears that have missing kernels or soft spots. The ear should feel heavy for its size in your hand.

fresh ears of corn
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

How to Prep Corn

Shuck it, shuck it good! Yep, that's the mantra you should be humming while prepping your corn.

Over a trash can, start at the tip and grab the husk and silk, pulling downward toward the thicker end of the ear. No doubt some silky strands will be left behind, so rub off as many of those as possible with your fingers before you begin cooking. For extra stubborn strands, a quick wipe with a clean, dry kitchen towel or vegetable brush will do the trick.

a person with white hands holds corn on the cob in one hand and a produce brush in another
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

How to Boil Corn on the Cob

Of all the ways to cook corn on the cob, boiling is the easiest. This method yields juicy, ready-to-eat sweet corn in a matter of minutes.

Step 1. Choose the right cooking pot

Choose a pot large enough so that all your ears can move around freely (four should be your upper limit to avoid overcrowding), and add roughly one quart of water per ear. Be sure to add a big pinch, or three, of salt once it reaches a boil.

Step 2. Bring water to a boil and season

Should you season your water? Yes, but only if you want delicious corn. In fact, the water in your pot should mimic the salinity of the ocean. The purpose of this step is to help bring out the corn's natural sweetness, not to season it for eating (you'll want to do that prior to serving). So don't be shy: Add a generous amount of salt once the pot begins boiling, and maybe even a little more for good measure.

a pot of water boils with corn on the cob nearby
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

Step 3. Add corn on the cob to the pot

Use tongs to lower the corn into the boiling water. Once the pot returns to a strong boil, set your timer for 3 to 5 minutes—that's really all it takes. When your timer goes off, pull the corn out with tongs, and let it cool before enjoying.

a person holds tongs in their hands with a corn on the cob in the tongs
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

How Long Does It Take to Boil Corn on the Cob?

One of the most important parts of learning how to boil corn on the cob is mastering the duration of the boil. Depending on how crunchy or tender you prefer your ear of corn, drop it in the boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes. It also depends on how fresh the corn is, as fresher corn usually cooks faster.

Another corn boiling method—favored by Iowans, who certainly know their corn—involves bringing the salted water to a boil, dropping in the corn, covering it with a lid, and then taking the pot off the heat. Wait 10 minutes, and it should be perfect. Both methods yield delicious results, so it may just come down to how quickly you want to eat.

How to Tell When Corn on the Cob Is Cooked

It's a delicate change, but corn on the cob is cooked when the yellow color intensifies, the kernels grow plumper, and the kernels should feel tender (you can poke one with a sharp knife if you must). Leaving them in the pot for too long will cause them to turn tough or soggy.

holding corn on the cob with tongs
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

How to Serve Boiled Corn on the Cob

Corn on the cob purists will just add a little salt and butter and call it a day, and why not? Fresh, sweet corn on the cob is already near-perfect, straight from Mother Nature. But if you'd like to jazz things up, how about jalapeno-lime corn on the cob or corn with charred scallion-lime butter?

You could also sprinkle some Parmesan cheese, seasoned salts (smoky options are divine), or turn it into a Mexican street-style corn by spreading mayonnaise over the kernels and sprinkling with Cotija cheese and chile powder.

How Much Corn Is on an Ear of Corn?

If you're counting macros or learning how to boil corn on the cob specifically for use in another recipe (such as these easy dinners that start with corn), know that each ear will yield approximately 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of kernels.

How to Store Boiled Corn on the Cob

Now that you've mastered how to boil corn on the cob, you probably want to preserve your efforts when it comes to storing leftovers—assuming you have any, because who can say no to just one more ear when it's at its prime deliciousness?

Simply wrap it in plastic or foil, and pop it into the fridge; it'll keep for 3 to 5 days.

If you want to freeze corn on the cob, it's best to do this before it's been cooked; however, if you want a taste of summer after the season is long gone, cut the kernels off the cob after boiling and store them in an airtight container in the freezer for up to nine months.

corn cobs wrapped in aluminum foil
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

How to Reheat Cooked Corn on the Cob

If you aren't planning on using the leftover corn cobs for cold side dishes or salads, you can reheat them a number of ways:

- Enclose each individual cob in foil, and pop them in the oven at 350℉ for 5 to 7 minutes. If they appear dry, add a few drops of water to the packets before closing.

- Place the cobs on a plate, drape with a damp paper towel, and microwave for 10 to 20 seconds at a time until you reach your desired temperature.

- Boil the cobs again for a minute or two in a large pot of water.

Ingredients

  • 4 ears fresh corn, husks removed

  • Big pinch of salt

Directions

  1. In a large pot, bring four quarts of water to a boil. Season the boiling water with salt.

  2. Gently drop ears of corn into boiling water one at a time. Boil corn on the cob for 3-5 minutes or until tender.