The Best Way to Cut Corn Kernels From the Cob

Knife Skills

Videos and step-by-step guides, each highlighting an essential knife technique.

[Photographs and video: Vicky Wasik]

Nothing beats sweet summer corn eaten straight from the cob—whether you like it plainly cooked or grilled, corn on the cob is a treat. But sometimes you want the corn kernels off the cob, maybe so you can char them in a cast iron skillet for esquites or mix them raw into a simple salad. Or maybe you want to sauté them with chorizo and cilantro, or add them to a savory bacon-cheddar pancake batter. Here's how to prep an ear of corn for sautéing, making soups and chowders, or stir-frying.

Shopping and Storage

The very best corn comes direct from the farmer, either at a farm stand or at a farmers market. Corn starts losing sweetness the moment it is picked. After one day at room temperature, over 90% of an ear of corn's sugars will have converted to starch, which means that, for best results, consume it as soon as humanly possible after harvest. (For more information about the different varieties of corn you might find out there, check out our guide to corn.)

When selecting corn at the supermarket, look for ears that are tightly shut, with bright green leaves that show no signs of wilting. Squeeze the ears, particularly around their tips, to ensure that the kernels inside are full and juicy. A good ear of corn should have very little give and feel heavy for its size.

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Avoid ears of corn that have been pre-shucked or come packaged under plastic wrap. Any excess handling or packaging means that those ears are that much further away from their original time of harvest.

The best way to store corn is not at all—don't buy it until the day you plan on eating it. If you must store it, keep it in its husk in the refrigerator's crisper drawer, but don't store it for more than a day, or you'll have starchy, flavorless corn on your hands.

For longer-term storage, remove the kernels following the instructions below or the video above, then blanch in boiling water for one minute and plunge into an ice water bath to chill them. Spread the blanched kernels out on a rimmed baking sheet, and place in the freezer until fully frozen. Transfer the individually frozen kernels to a plastic zipper-lock freezer bag, and store them in the freezer for up to three months.

How to Cut Corn From the Cob

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While cutting corn off the cob may seem pretty straightforward, the primary obstacle you'll face is keeping the kernels from going all over the place. The best way to do that is to place the ear inside a large bowl and cut it there.

To avoid knocking the blade of your knife against the rim of the bowl as you cut downward (which can dull or even chip your knife's edge), we've found it helpful to invert a small bowl within the larger bowl. The smaller bowl can then serve as a base on which to rest the corncob. Some people use a Bundt cake pan to cut corn, but, aside from the fact that many cooks may not own a Bundt cake pan, we've found the two-bowl setup to be less fussy.

Once you've got your bowls set up, you'll want to remove the husk from your corncobs by taking off a few leaves at a time, working around each ear radially until it's completely bare. Snap off the husk in one piece at the base of the ear of corn. By rubbing the ear in a single direction with your hands, you can remove all the silk that's stuck between the kernels.

Place one end of the cob on the inverted, smaller bowl. Then, using a sharp chef's knife, cut downward, as close to the base of the kernels as possible, while taking care not to angle the blade into the cob itself. Rotate the ear of corn, and repeat the cut until all the kernels have been removed.

After you've removed all the kernels, run the back of your knife along the length of the cob to extract all the excess corn milk (this can add a lot of extra flavor to your dishes). If you plan on making a corn soup or chowder, save the bare corncobs to add flavor to your stock.