Lighting up a backyard grill creates a one-stop shop for summertime meals; an entire spread can be prepped on this al fresco cooking surface, from burgers and hot dogs to steaks and chicken, to fish and plant-based patties, and even to fruits and vegetables. One key element of a classic barbecue-corn on the cob-is traditionally cooked by boiling the corn on a stove top, but a smokier, more BBQ-friendly version can be made right on the grill itself. If you're concerned about your fresh summer corn drying out and losing both flavor and texture on the grill, a few pieces of aluminum foil can solve this problem in an easy and satisfying way.
How Does Foil Affect the Corn-Grilling Process?
To grill corn in foil, remove the husks and the silk from the corn cob. Next, rub the corn with your olive oil or butter, then season with salt and pepper. Loosely wrap the corn in foil (be sure not to pull too tightly-you want to leave space between the corn and the foil, for reasons that we'll explain later) and seal the ends. Use a fork to poke a few holes in the foil to allow for air circulation. Place the corn on a grill over medium-high heat, then cook until the corn turns bright yellow (should take about 20 minutes). Flip the foil-wrapped corn over on the grill every now and then to ensure an even cook.
Executive chef Brett Riley of Maya in Charleston, South Carolina tells us that a loose foil cocoon provides many benefits to grilled corn: "The foil will hold in any steam created by the corn itself and whatever else you put in there (i.e. butter). You're basically steaming the corn using your grill top as the heat source rather than grilling it directly on top. It can burn and dry out directly on the grill if you aren't attentive to it, [but] when using the foil, the corn won't get ruined if you forget it for a few minutes extra."
How Can You Get Char Marks on Corn When Grilling With Foil?
As Riley says, grilling corn with foil basically duplicates a steaming process. But, for many corn connoisseurs, the magic of grilled corn comes from the dark char marks and the corresponding smoky flavor. According to Riley, you can get both the tenderness of the foil "steamed" corn and the "barbecue" quality of direct grilling by using a two-pronged approach. "To utilize both methods, I would suggest using an open flame. [First,] char your corn directly over an open flame first to get the color, and then cool it immediately. The heat source needs to be extremely hot, or else the corn will cook too much in the charring process, which would negate needing the foil method. You're only trying to get some color on the outside, and [you'll] finish the actual cooking process in the foil," Riley explains.
If You Don't Have Foil on Hand, How Else Can You Get Perfectly Moist Grilled Corn?
We've all been there. We set out to make an exciting recipe, only to discover that we're missing a key ingredient (or a key cooking tool). If you're craving grilled corn but don't have any foil in your kitchen, then we've got good news for you: there's another way. Executive chef Rob McDaniel of Helen in Birmingham, Alabama tells us that the corn husk itself can also make a perfect capsule to protect the corn on the grill. "The natural husk of the corn can be used in the same application as foil, all while reducing waste, imparting flavor, and throwing nothing in the trash. The husks can be composted afterwards."
To "steam" the corn in its husk, peel back the husk enough to remove the corn silk (corn silk is highly flammable). If you'd like to get char marks on the corn, fold back the husks and briefly grill the corn until you get those distinct colors. Then, spread olive oil or butter on the corn, season with salt and pepper, fold the husks back down, and proceed with the "steaming" process.
READ: 10 Grilled Veggie Recipes That Are Smoky and Savory