From Farm to Fork: Growing, Picking & Cooking Sweet Corn

From Farm to Fork: Growing, Picking & Cooking Sweet Corn

By Brandie Piper
Monsanto Corporate Engagement

(Originally published in Discover Monsanto)

Sweet corn is a summertime staple, and it’s delicious no matter how it’s cooked.

We’ve put together some tips about how to choose the best ear at your local grocery store or supermarket or farmers’ market, as well as some popular cooking techniques. But first, we should probably explain the difference between field corn and sweet corn.

More than 99 percent of the corn you see while driving through the Midwest is field corn, which is different from sweet corn. Field corn is used for livestock feed, ethanol and ingredients in our food.

Field corn is usually pretty impressive to drive past, with stalks usually reaching 6-to-8-feet tall. Tractors (called combines) are specifically made to  pick the corn, usually from July in the southern United States through November (and sometimes later) in the northern United States. Field corn is high in starch with bright yellow kernels with small dents in them (most corn is called No. 2 Yellow Dent). About 90 million acres of field corn are planted each year, mostly in the Midwest.

Sweet corn is typically a bit shorter, topping out at 4-to-5-feet tall. The kernels can be white, yellow or bi-color, and it’s hand-picked from April through August. The kernels are plumper, because the corn is picked at the peak of its maturity. Sweet corn has higher sugar content than field corn, hence the name.

Sweet corn is usually still all wrapped up in its husk when you buy it, so it’s good to know what to look to select the best ears. Some people pull back pieces of the husk to take a peek, but there’s an easier way to visually inspect an ear of corn to determine if it’s fresh.

  • Silks: Silks are the stringy stuff at the top of the husk. The silks should be moist and brown.
  • Husk color: The husk should be bright green and moist.
  • Spotting and holes: Beware of small holes in the husk. They’re usually brown, and are wormholes. Worms, particularly the corn earworm, likes corn as much as we do.
  • Kernels: Feel the kernels through the husk. They should be plump and there shouldn’t be any areas missing kernels.


Microwave: One of the easiest ways to cook sweet corn is to leave it in its husk and pop it in the microwave for four minutes. Pull it out, chop off one end and the husk and silks will slide right off.

Boiling: This method takes a little more time, but it’s just as delicious. Boil some water in a large pot, toss in the corn (with or without its husk), cover, and cook for about 10 minutes.

Grilling: Three methods to consider: Leave the ears in the husks and place directly on a hot grill. Cover the grill, and turn them occasionally, letting them cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Some people wrap the corn in aluminum foil and then place them on the grill. Others place the sweet corn, husk-free, directly on the grill.

No matter which method you use, sweet corn is a delicious and juicy summertime side to add to your meals!

Looking to cook a more elaborate dish with your carefully selected corn? Try some of these!