How do you pick fresh corn from the store?

You’ve likely seen those enticing bins of corn at the grocery store and farmer’s market during the summer months. When fresh and ripe, corn on the cob makes for an unbeatable side dish or snack. But how can you be sure you’re getting the best, sweetest, freshest ears that are worth the price? While there’s no foolproof way to guarantee perfect corn every time, there are some tips and tricks you can use to optimize your chances. Here’s what you need to know about how to pick only the freshest, juiciest corn cob every time you shop.

Why Does Freshness Matter with Corn?

Corn is one of those vegetables that declines rapidly in quality after being picked. The sugars start converting to starches quickly, which means the corn loses both sweetness and crisp texture over time. Older, staler corn may have a mealy or dry texture when you bite into it. The kernals can be small and shriveled rather than plump. So when you’re shopping for corn on the cob, always aim for ears picked as recently as possible. The freshest corn will have the very best flavor and enjoyable crunch you want.

How to Tell if Corn is Fresh

Luckily, there are some clear signs that indicate freshness when you’re shopping for corn. Here are the top traits that signal corn is freshly picked:

Full, green husks

The husks surrounding each ear of corn should be vibrant green and tightly wrapped over the cob. Avoid corn with dried out, browning, loose husks, which indicate it’s past peak freshness. The husks help seal in moisture. Tight, green husks show the corn hasn’t been off the stalk for long.

Plump, closely spaced kernels

Pull back the husk gently and peek at the kernels. They should be plump and rounded, not shriveled. There should only be slender threads between the rows of kernels, rather than large gaps. This shows the corn is at ideal ripeness. As corn ages and dries out, the kernels lose volume.

Moist silk strands

You’ll see strands of corn silk sticking out from the husks. The silk should look glossy and moist, not brittle or dry. This indicates the corn hasn’t been sitting around too long after harvest.

Heavy weight

Heft the ear of corn in your hand. It should feel heavy for its size. Light, underdeveloped ears are likely to be lacking flavor. The kernels likely didn’t mature fully if the cob doesn’t have enough heft. Go for substantial, weighty ears of corn for the best results.

Bright green stem

The spot where the stem connects to the rest of the cob is visible sticking out of the husk. It should look fresh and green, not dry brown. A vibrant stem is a great indicator the corn was recently picked.

Tips for Picking the Freshest In-Store Corn

Use these tips next time you’re shopping to pick the best ears of corn:

Shop in season

In most regions, corn season spans from around July through September. Make sure to buy corn during these peak months for optimal freshness and sweetness. Out of season corn is typically imported or trucked long distances, which negatively impacts freshness.

Inspect the bin

Take a quick look at the overall corn supply. Avoid bins with ears that look dried out or have damage/blemishes. Check that most ears appear plump and have moist silk. This increases your odds of grabbing a winner.

Go for uniformly filled ears

Run your fingers along the rows of kernels, checking for gaps. Fully filled out ears are your best bet, rather than lopsided or sparsely filled ones. Even kernel rows indicate proper ripening.

Press kernels

Gently press a few random kernels with your thumb. They should be somewhat firm, not super soft. Really soft spots signal overripe corn nearing the end of its shelf life. A bit of resistance shows good freshness.

Mind the husk

Press down along the ear to detect gaps between kernels under the husk. Avoid corn with more husk room than kernel rows, which allows kernels to dry out. Tight husks prevent moisture loss.

Consider size

While not always definitive, larger ears tend to have fuller kernels and better developed flavor. Size can indicate maturity level and timeframe from harvest to shelf.

How Long Does Corn Stay Fresh?

Properly stored fresh corn will stay crisp and sweet for 3-5 days in the refrigerator. Here are some corn storage tips:

Leave husks on

Don’t shuck the corn until you’re ready to cook and eat it. The protective husks prevent moisture loss and keep the kernels plump.

Use a perforated plastic bag

Store ears of corn loose or inside a perforated bag. Don’t seal fresh corn in a fully closed plastic bag. Airflow helps reduce condensation.

Refrigerate immediately

Once home from the store, quickly refrigerate corn. Leaving corn at room temp drastically speeds up conversion of sugars to starches.

Keep it cold

The fridge’s cool environment slows down changes in texture and flavor. Store corn toward the back of the bottom shelf.

How to Prepare and Cook Fresh Corn

Fresh corn offers versatility in cooking methods. Here are some top ways to make the most of peak season corn:


Leave corn in husks and grill directly over medium flames, turning every few minutes. The husks protect kernels while imparting great charred flavor.


Shuck corn, brush with oil, and roast at 400°F for 15-20 minutes. The kernels will caramelize while the cobs develop a smoky richness.


Steaming is one of the best ways to prevent loss of corn’s natural sweetness. It only takes 5-7 minutes to steam corn until tender.


Stripped kernels can be quickly sautéed in butter or oil over medium-high heat. Toss frequently until lightly browned but still crisp.


Microwaving in-husk corn for 3-4 minutes per ear steams it conveniently. Just peel back husks afterward to eat.

Common Mistakes When Selecting Corn

It’s easy to grab less-than-perfect ears if you’re not careful about checking for freshness. Avoid these mistakes:

Ignoring the husks

Don’t just glance at the exposed kernels. Peel back the husks and inspect the entire ear to get the full picture.

Assuming bigger is better

Larger size can indicate better corn, but it’s not a definitive factor. Check kernals and silk closely regardless of size.

Not opening the husk

You can’t fully gauge freshness without looking under the husk at the rows of kernels. It only takes a quick peek.

Buying out of season

It’s tempting to grab corn anytime you want it, but corn won’t be at peak quality unless locally in season.

Selecting light or hollow ears

Favor the heftier ears over very light ones, which likely weren’t able to fully fill out. Hollow spots also signal poor development.

Storing Leftover Cooked Corn

Have leftover grilled or boiled corn? Here are some storage tips:

Allow to cool

Don’t cover hot cooked corn. Let it cool to room temperature before refrigerating in a covered container.

Leave on the cob

If possible, store cooked corn still on the cob with husks removed. Kernels retain moisture better this way.

Use moisture-retaining wrap

If kerneled, store in an airtight container lined with damp paper towels to mimic corn’s natural humidity.

Refrigerate immediately

Get any remaining cooked corn into the fridge within 2 hours of cooking. Eat within 3-5 days.

Reheat gently

Microwave kernels gently with a dash of water to restore moisture and prevent rubbery texture.

Enjoying Corn on the Cob

Once you’ve selected the perfect ears of corn, it’s time to enjoy! Here are some serving tips:

Boil a big pot of water

Boiling is usually the quickest, easiest way to prepare corn for eating. Use plenty of water for even cooking.

Know your cook times

Boil large ears for 5-7 minutes, smaller ears for 3-5 minutes. Overcooking makes corn tough.

Butter while hot

Brush cooked corn with butter or other toppings like olive oil or mayo right after cooking. Flavors absorb better.

Spice it up

Jazz up corn’s natural sweetness with a dash of paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, or lime juice and zest.

Skip the salad

Pass on cut vegetable salads when serving corn. Dressings can make the corn soggy.


A bit of corn-picking know-how goes a long way when you want to enjoy perfect ears every time. Focus on signs of freshness like bright husks, moist silk, and plump, even kernels. Refrigerate promptly, cook lightly, and savor those sweet morsels. With the right selection and storage methods, you can make the most of corn season.

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