The right way to eat corn on the cob – around or across?

'The great corn debate' divides a family each summer.

Summer in North America is the season for eating corn on the cob and with that rages the annual debate within my family: Is it better to eat it around or across? When I was a boy, it was a split decision in my immediate family: Mom and my brother ate it across, Dad and I ate it around.

Since then, the family has expanded and we wait to see how each new arrival will eat corn on the cob and tip the balance one way or the other.

I married a woman who eats it across, adding one to the "enemy camp." My nephews invented their own hybrid way of eating – they nibble around on the edges and then eat it across.

Whose side are they on anyway?

Now my young daughter is just starting to eat corn on the cob. So far she seems to take random bites, which I suppose is a third method. My wife and I are trying not to influence her, to see which way she naturally chooses – but that takes all our powers of restraint.

I have already admitted my bias for eating corn on the cob around. It just seems to make so much sense. I have yet to hear a good argument for eating corn across, but I try to keep an open mind.

My reasoning is this – freshly cooked corn is not uniformly hot. It cools more quickly on the edges. By eating around on the edges first, you create natural hand holds and then can proceed to eat around to the center, which cools last.

Eating across seems to me to be as antiquated as the typewriter, serving no useful purpose.

My brother argues that Mom grew up on a farm where the family raised corn. She eats it across, and who is better qualified to know how to eat corn?

I counter that corn is not Mom's favorite food. On the other hand, I have met few people who enjoy corn more than Dad, a city boy. He could eat multiple ears every day all year, if it was available, without batting an eye.

My farmer uncle was amazed at Dad's corn-eating ability. "He's like a rabbit," Uncle said. "He gets an ear of corn in front of him, wiggles his nose, and zoop! It's gone!" So I modeled my style after Dad's. If he loves corn that much and eats it around, it must be correct.

I'll concede that I don't quite have Dad's zeal for corn. He has been known in his exuberance to apply enough butter, salt, and pepper to each ear that it makes him sneeze.

As an interesting aside: Have you ever counted the rows of kernels on any given ear of corn? If you do, you will find that the total is almost always an even number.

Some might think this is an odd topic for such an animated family discussion. I prefer to think that at least we are not arguing about something unimportant.

Grilled corn four ways

Feelings run strong among grilled-corn aficionados about whether to shuck the corn before roasting or to grill it still in the husk.

Eric Nager (see essay at right) says that when corn is grilled in the husk, it's really steamed and doesn't have a grilled taste. "One then has to deal with hot husks," he adds. Mr. Nager likes the "fire" flavor that comes from grilling shucked corn.

Others counter that the husks keep the corn moist and tender.

Here's how Mr. Nager roasts corn on a charcoal grill:

Shuck corn and remove silk. In a small pan, melt a stick of butter per four ears of corn.

Place corn on the grill for about 10 minutes until kernels are browned and then brush with melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

To keep unshucked ears of corn more moist while grilling, you may want to baste them with butter or wrap them in slices of bacon before grilling.

To grill corn in the husks, carefully peel back the husks and remove the silk. Replace the husks (you can tie the top with twine, if you like) and soak the ears in water to cover for 30 minutes.

Grill over hot coals for 15 minutes, turning 2 or 3 times. Remove husks carefully – they'll be hot! Season with butter, salt, and pepper.

Here's a flavorful method that wraps the ears in aluminum foil:

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon herbs (marjoram, rosemary, cilantro, sage, basil) OR 2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

6 ears of corn, silk removed

An hour before grilling, mix butter and herbs or Tabasco sauce.

Then place each ear of corn on a square of aluminum foil that will cover the corn completely. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the butter mixture over each ear. Rewrap the husks over the butter-covered corn. Seal the foil around the ears.

Place foil packets on a hot grill and cook for 15 minutes or until the corn is hot and cooked.

Corn on the cob in the oven

You can also roast corn in the oven. Peel back the husks and remove the silk. Then replace the husks. Soak ears in water to cover for 30 minutes. Drain.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Place ears of corn directly on the middle oven rack and roast, turning occasionally with tongs, for 20 to 30 minutes or until the corn is lightly browned. Carefully remove husks and serve with butter, salt, and pepper.

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