At Serious Eats, we often speak ill of unitaskers, which have a tendency to take up substantial space in your kitchen without making a substantial difference in convenience or the speed it takes to perform basic tasks. But there are, of course, a number of exceptions to that rule, and hey—you never know if you don't try, right?
Which brings us to the rather surprising world of corn strippers.
Corn strippers, you say? Indeed! Corn strippers! A class of unitasker devoted to one noble purpose: separating kernels of corn from their cobs. It's a straightforward task that I, and generations of other humans, have long accomplished with a knife. Well, a knife plus whatever other gear helps contain the inevitable mess of turning one big thing into dozens of small bouncy things. At Serious Eats, we solve that problem by inverting a small bowl in a larger bowl, then resting the corn on the smaller bowl, so that the kernels don't fly all over the kitchen when you slice them away from the cob. It's quick and not particularly messy. It does, however, get two bowls and a knife dirty.
The questions seemingly posed by the corn stripper community are, what if (a) you were scared of knives, (b) you only wanted to get one tool and one bowl dirty, and/or (c) you were convinced that there was an even faster, easier way than the already quite fast and easy way of denuding your cob?
As the official office corn investigator and a person with middling knife skills who has always felt marginally inconvenienced by the process of removing corn from the cob, I thought, okay. Sure. Why not. Let's take this unlikely candidate for a spin and then document my findings in exhaustive detail to serve other mildly curious corn consumers with nothing better to do with their time.
Now, I must be sure to give credit where credit is due, and in this case Sho Spaeth deserves all the credit for this brilliantly conceived project; he is, after all, the one who told me that Michael Ruhlman—the cookbook author responsible for well-respected works such as Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing and The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Chef’s Craft For Every Kitchen—has, on a number of occasions, waxed rhapsodic about his "quaint, goofy" Lee Wooden Corn Cutter. Ruhlman has even addressed my go-to critique, singing his corn cutter's praises despite the fact that "it goes against [his] advice to rid your kitchen of unitaskers."
Originally, I'd intended to simply put Ruhlman's beloved cutter to the test. But, in looking for it on Amazon, I was instantly bowled over and, indeed, captivated by the sheer volume of corn strippers available. Take a look yourself. You'll note that the strippers can be divided into three basic categories: vegetable peeler–style strippers, which are exactly what they sound like; old-timey corn strippers, à la Ruhlman's pick (more on that in a moment); and circular corn strippers that tackle 360 degrees of cob, occasionally even appearing to simultaneously remove the kernels and capture them in some kind of vessel in one fell swoop.
I went ahead and ordered one of each kind to see if any of them could replace the ultimate corn stripper: me!* What follows is a not-remotely-scientific account of my impressions.
*And my knife and bowls.
Old-Fashioned Corn Stripper
Michael Ruhlman's preferred tool, the Lee Manufacturing Company's Original Corn Cutter & Creamer ($14.95 at the time of writing), has a definite ye olde corn stripper vibe: it's essentially a long, thin wooden plank with a blade set in the center. A depression along its length is designed to cradle the cob as you run it over the blade, similar to a mandoline. The whole setup looks pretty simple.
But you've been pranked because—ha!—it's not. The Lee corn cutter actually has two different setups: one designed to cut kernels from the cob, and the other to render "cream style" corn—presumably meaning that it milks the cob of the flavorful liquid that I typically extract by running the back of a knife up and down the stripped cob. To switch between the two functions, you have no fewer than five components in play: A blade, a blade adjustment screw, a scraper, a scraper adjustment screw, and a removable shredder plate. Leave the shredder plate on and adjust the scraper to a higher height, and you're promised cream-style corn; remove the plate and lower the scraper, and it's designed to remove the whole kernels.
Since I'd set out to test how well the various corn strippers removed whole kernels, I removed the small shredder plate (so small, I'll add, that the likelihood of losing it seems rather high) and used a screwdriver to lower the scraper out of the way. But I wasn't done yet, because when you use the Lee corn cutter, you're instructed to "raise blade to level that will remove entire kernel from cob yet not dig into the cob." And so ensued many raisings and lowerings of the blade, followed by failed attempt after failed attempt to run an uncooked ear of corn along the groove, and, as instructed, "push with full stroke and QUICK motion over blade."
Not only could I have cut the kernels off several ears of corn in the time it took me to deal with all the required setup, but the stripper was neither faster nor easier than my go-to method. I initially assumed any issues were user error on my part, but three of my colleagues, presented with the same set of instructions, were similarly unable to smoothly remove corn from the cob. Instead, it was a grueling process to push the ear of corn against the blade, which seemed too dull to do much of anything at all (adjusting blade height did not address our problems). It also made a mess—not only were my countertop and shirt covered in corn splatter, but the tool itself has so many nooks and crannies that cleaning it thoroughly would require yet more screwdriver work and a rigorous scrubbing.
To be fair, it appears Michael Ruhlman uses the Lee corn cutter primarily with the shredder on. It's possible that makes all the difference, but I'll never know because I threw the damn thing out in a fit of rage after having to use the screwdriver. For corn. I repeat: I used a screwdriver for corn.
Peeler-Style Corn Stripper
The testing of the Kuhn Rikon Corn Zipper is a much happier tale. This little fellow is a much more reasonable size for a unitasker and, though it remains wholly unnecessary, it does indeed perform as promised.
As you can see in the photo above, this style of corn stripper is exactly like a vegetable peeler, only it has a toothed blade with a roughly kernel-size opening. After a wobbly start, I quickly learned that so long as you apply firm, even pressure as you drag the stripper along the ear of corn, it's pretty much a breeze.
That said, a fair amount more of squirting than with the knife-and-bowl method, without making the process any faster. So who is this tool for? It would work well for a child who wants to participate in the kitchen but isn't quite deft enough with a knife. And it would similarly work for adults with limited knife skills who feel nervous using our recommended corn-stripping technique. Given its small size and low price of $12, I wouldn't judge you (too hard) for choosing to throw one in your drawer. Just keep in mind that, as with most bladed unitaskers, you can't sharpen it the way you can a knife, so its lifespan is inherently limited.
Gimmicky Corn Stripper
I cannot tell you enough about this corn stripper! First of all, just BEHOLD:
Somebody made that. And here's how that somebody wants you to use it:
You begin by taking both(!) plungers out of the corn stripper. Then you unscrew the bottom of the tube and spear your corn on a small bed of blades. But—a twist!—the threads are backwards, righty-tighty lefty-loosy be damned! (Anyone tempted to suggest that I was holding it upside down can leave now.) You then re-secure the base of the tube, so that the cob is inside the clear plastic chamber.
Next, you place the serrated metal plunger into the top of the tube and, rotating your hand with downward pressure, sever the kernels from the cob. The chamber collects the kernels as the metal plunger encases the naked cob.
Now for the fun part! You withdraw the metal plunger, which still contains the cob, from the corn stripper and then take the second, plastic, plunger, then simply...push.
Behold the true treasure, a perfectly cylindrical cob that has surely passed, not through a corn hole, nor a tube hole, but an interdimensional wormhole carrying a cryptic message from the future. Just look how round it is. Only future things are so round:
What can I say? It was a profoundly satisfying experience. The corn was perfectly stripped. It would make a good party trick. It could double as a suggestive objet d'art. It broke on my second try. A giant piece of plastic splintered off, and the metal plunger got stuck in the cob. The RSVP International Endurance Deluxe Corn Stripper ($17.95 at time of writing) joined the Lee Wooden Corn Cutter in the trash bin. I wept.
So now you know: I really am the best corn stripper in town—and you can be, too. As for what's next, I like a good dare. Think there's another gimmicky unitasker that can win me over? Try me.