Invite friends and family to bite into summer with an old-fashioned corn roast.
By Lucie Amundsen
St. Anthony Village, Minnesota
Sweet corn brings out the kid in everyone. A corn roast is a great way to gather everyone to inhale the earthy scent of fresh-picked ears, is infused with memories of back-stoop shucking and the anticipation of a meal where you’re encouraged to eat your weight in butter.
So whether you’re looking for a simple, barefoot affair or something a little more stylish, a backyard corn roast is a great way to spark magic among friends.
Before You Buy
If you haven’t grown your own this year, the local farmers market or farmstand is the next best thing. That’s because even more important than the variety of corn you buy is the length of time the ear’s been off the stalk. “Ideally, you want to buy corn that has been picked that day,” says Terry Nennich, a University of Minnesota Extension professor. “Within 48 hours, 15 to 20 percent of the corn’s sugar content has dropped. That’s a difference you’re sure to taste.”
At the market, be a fussy consumer. Start by peeling the top part of the husk back to make sure that there are no soft spots and the ear is fully developed. Then prick a kernel using your fingernail. If it oozes a milky liquid, the corn is fresh.
How much corn you buy for your roast depends on what else you’re serving. If meat makes up the main course, you can figure on about 1 to 1-1/2 ears per guest. But if corn is the main attraction, along with side dishes, bump that up to 2 or 2-1/2. Don’t be afraid to have extra grilled corn as leftovers—it’s wonderful in salads and salsa and can even be reheated in the microwave.
Setting the Table
Almost as important as the corn itself at a roast is the mood you create. Here are some tips to help you dress up your outdoor space:
Pick up some inexpensive seasonal flowers like daisies. A bouquet displayed in an old-fashioned metal watering can make a charming centerpiece. Or make our cheery centerpiece.
Smaller arrangements in empty food cans—with labels off and dressed in ribbon—add a sweet and simple touch to picnic tables. Just be sure to file down any sharp edges. Or recycle mason jars by turning them into one-of-a-kind photo frames to display your most treasured pictures.
If your casual event relies on paper products, remember that corn is heavy— and it rolls. To avoid butter-soaked knees, invest in heavy-duty plates or purchase rectangular corn-shaped dishes. Corn dishes are now available in plastic and are often paired with corn-holder picks so diners can avoid touching hot ears.
Dress up your party glasses with Japanese washi tape. Available in a variety of colors and patterns, it instantly and temporarily decorates glassware and coordinates with most any tablescape. Plus, washi tape peels off easily, making cleanup a breeze.
Set up a “beyond butter” condiment buffet for adventurous guests to try. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Set out fresh sliced lime, which can be paired with a dash of paprika or used to make lime butter on the spot.
- Provide bowls of commercially prepared olive oils infused with herbs like thyme. Swipe onto ears with a cooking brush.
- Put out shredded Parmesan or pepper Jack cheese to sprinkle on ears.
- Make several flavored butters, and serve them in little dishes. Fresh chopped herbs, spices and even a dash of hot sauce can make plain butter extraordinary. Here are three we like: Basil Butter, Cajun Butter and Herb Butter.
For a moist and mild ear of corn, soak it, husk and all, until the husk is fully penetrated, usually an hour or more. The silks will be easier to remove once the corn is cooked by wiping down the ear with a paper towel, but you can remove them before grilling as well.
Grill heat varies greatly, making it impossible to give an exact cooking time, but ears are usually done in 25 to 30 minutes. When the outer husks become brown and brittle, test kernels with a fork for softness.
Or, for more outdoorsy flavor, grill ears out of their husks. Peel back the husks, remove the silk and wash the corn. When the corn is dry, brush oil on the kernels. Grill the corn over medium heat. Turn it every few minutes until lightly browned all over.
You can give corn savory aroma by wrapping it in heavy-duty foil with an herb-and-butter mixture. Turn corn on the grill for approximately 15 minutes and check for doneness. Although it may not be as “charming” as the charred-husk version, its flavor is remarkable and the foil package serves up neatly.