For good corn on the cob, drop it in boiling water. For perfect corn on the cob, drop it in boiling water—and then turn off the heat.
Boiled corn might seem like something you don’t need a recipe for, but fresh-corn season is too short to eat corn that’s anything but perfect. So a few years ago, Cook’s Illustrated test cook Lan Lam cooked hundreds of ears of corn in pursuit of a method that produced crisp, juicy kernels every time.
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That method involves bringing a measured amount of water to a boil; shutting off the heat; dropping in the corn; and letting it stand in the water until the kernels are snappy, not starchy or shriveled.
The key to success isn’t time, it’s temperature. In uncooked corn, the starches inside the kernels are raw and taste chalky.
But as the corn reaches 150 degrees, those starches begin to gelatinize and take on a silkier texture. When cooked beyond 170 degrees, the pectin that gives the kernels their structure starts to break down, which makes the corn seem mushy. So for perfectly cooked corn, the sweet spot is 150 to 170 degrees.
Foolproof Boiled CornThe best way to guarantee perfectly crisp, juicy kernels? Not boiling the corn at all.
In addition to turning out crisp corn, this method is flexible: It can accommodate six to eight ears of different sizes, and the corn can sit in the water for as long as 30 minutes without overcooking.
“When all was said and done, my method was not only more reliable but also more forgiving than not using a recipe at all,” Lan wrote after finalizing the technique.
Watch Lan’s genius technique in action in the video below, and check out the full recipe for specific instructions and helpful comments from our members.