Elote (Grilled Mexican Street Corn) Recipe

Try this recipe once, and you'll understand why we call the Mexican elote one of the best ways to serve corn, hands down.

Elotes (Mexican street corn) topped with cheese on a cutting board.

Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Grilling shucked ears of corn directly over very hot coals brings out the corn's nutty flavor and chars the kernels slightly.
  • A blend of garlic, cilantro, chili powder, mayo, and Cotija cheese in the sauce, plus a final squeeze of lime, makes the corn sweet, salty, savory, nutty, creamy, and tart all at once.

Elotes—the classic Mexican street food of corn on the cob charred on the grill, then slathered in a spicy and creamy chili-, garlic-, and Cotija cheese–spiked sauce—are the best way to serve corn, period.

I know that's a bold statement, but it's one I've backed up with years of detailed scientific studies on the eating habits of my wife and the occasional friend or neighbor. I've calculated to several decimal places exactly how much faster the average ear of corn cooked in this manner disappears from the table and down the gullet of an unsuspecting dinner guest than an ear of corn cooked through other means, cross-referencing and controlling for seasonality, the °Bx of the corn, and the starting appetite of the diner. I've conducted blind, double-blind, and even triple-blind* taste tests and run the results through sophisticated analysis algorithms I had specially programmed.

*That's when even the corn doesn't know it's being eaten.

As luck would have it, I've since lost all of this data in an unfortunate diving accident (note: never attempt to free-dive without rubber pants your size), but believe me when I tell you that I have rigorously proven this corn to be more delicious than any other.

Don't believe me? Just try out this recipe, risk-free. If you are in any way unsatisfied, I offer a 100%, no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee.**

** Cost of time, ingredients, internet connection fees, paper, printer ink, gas, coal, cooking equipment, beers, or any other items of actual monetary value not included.

A hand holding up an ear of corn smothered with mayo and Cotija cheese (elote), with several other ears of corn visible below

J. Kenji López-Alt

The basic premise is to start out with really great grilled corn, already inarguably one of the most delicious things on the face of the planet. There are many ways to grill corn, but in this case, you want to go with fully shucked cobs, cooked directly over very hot coals. If all goes well, the corn should be completely cooked through just as it begins to char, rendering each kernel bursting with sweet juice, with a rich, nutty flavor from the toasting.

Next up, you'll want to combine a few more delicious things. Cotija cheese, crumbled finely (if you can't find it, a good, crumbly feta will do well); Mexican crema (or sour cream); mayonnaise; garlic; cilantro; and powdered chile.

The most delicious thing about all those delicious ingredients is that they become even more delicious when you combine them all in a creamy sauce.

Want to know how to take what's already more delicious and turn it into something that's more than more delicious? Slather more delicious item A over more delicious item B to create more more delicious item C.

A + B = C, but magically, C > A + B. That's the magic of synergy in foods, and it comes out in spades in this recipe. The result is sweet, salty, savory, creamy, nutty, and—with the help of a squeeze of lime—tart. To my mind, it's the very best way to get a taste of summer. Gloriously drippy, fat-smothered summer.

1:07

When I make corn like this, I plan on at least an ear and a half per person, though, realistically, it's better to go with two. It's that darn delicious.

And, if you're in the mood for something a bit more demure, you can always go the fork-and-plate route by making esquites, a close cousin to this dish, and equally delicious.***

*** How can the most delicious way to eat corn be just as delicious as a different way to eat corn? Because they're both the most delicious way. Just go with it.

Recipe Facts

Active: 30 mins
Total: 30 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) sour cream or Mexican crema
  • 1/2 cup (110g) finely crumbled Cotija or feta cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho or guajillo chile powder, plus more for serving
  • 1 medium clove garlic, finely minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 4 ears shucked corn (see note)
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Directions

  1. Light 1 chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread coals evenly over half of coal grate. Alternatively, set half the burners of a gas grill to high heat. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate.

  2. While coals heat, combine mayonnaise, sour cream or crema, cheese, chile powder, garlic, and cilantro in a large bowl. Stir until homogeneous and set aside.

    Metal mixing bowl of coating for elotes: mayonnaise, Cotija cheese, cilantro, garlic, crema or sour cream, and chili powder

    J. Kenji López-Alt

  3. When grill is hot, place corn directly over hot side of grill and cook, rotating occasionally, until cooked through and charred in spots on all sides, about 8 minutes total.

    Four husked ears of corn on the grill.

    J. Kenji López-Alt

  4. Transfer corn to bowl with cheese mixture and use a large spoon to evenly coat corn on all sides with mixture. Sprinkle with extra cheese and chili powder and serve immediately with lime wedges.

    Spooning mayonnaise and Cotija mixture over ears of grilled corn in a ceramic dish

    J. Kenji López-Alt

Special equipment

Charcoal grill or gas grill, chimney starter

Notes

When husking your corn, remove the silk and husk from the cob, but keep a few inches of the stalk end attached to use as a handle. If your corn is already husked, skewer the cooked corn with a wooden skewer.