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Cooking Tips

The Secret to Award-Winning Chili? Corn Cobs.

Take your chili up a notch using an ingredient you’d normally toss.
By Published Aug. 12, 2022

You might think of chili as a dead-of-winter warmer, but the best time to make chili is during the summer. Why? Because it’s corn season. In the colder months you might reach for a frozen bag of corn to stir into your chili, but in the summer you can get the real deal. 

And it’s not just the kernels. If you’re using fresh corn, use the whole thing.

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Many chili aficionados add a little sweetness to their chili with some brown sugar or even maple syrup to complement the earthy peppers and balance out some of the spice.

But adding corn cobs to your chili is the secret to bringing natural sweetness without adding sugar.

Fresh ears of sweet corn are the perfect backdrop for a Roasted Poblano and White Bean Chili. In this recipe, the corn’s natural sweetness is amplified by cooking it in two ways: broiled and simmered. This technique rounds out the slightly spicy, earthy notes of the chili, but can be applied to any recipe using fresh ears of corn (corn chowder, anyone?). Here’s how to do it. 

1. Remove the kernels from the cobs.

First, remove the kernels–they’ll be broiled separately and added at the end. Even after you’ve cut off the kernels, there is still a ton of flavor still left behind in the cob.

2. Broil the cobs (and the kernels).

We love browning (and you should, too). It is a simple way to enhance the flavor of any ingredient. Jump-start the corn’s golden goodness in your broiler for a toasty edge. This could be done in a skillet, but the oven is more hands-off and will yield more evenly roasted results. 

3. Simmer cobs in the chili pot.

When your bean mixture and spices are cooking down and thickening up, add the corn cobs. This low-and-slow heat will pull the flavors out of the cob and imbue your chili with a floral sweetness. Remember to remove them before you add the fresh corn kernels (cobs don’t make a great garnish).