How To Choose the Best Corn Every Single Time, According to Two Corn Farmers

I spoke to two corn farmers about choosing the freshest corn at the grocery store. I learned that bigger isn't always better, plus smart tips for picking the sweetest corn.

How To Choose the Best Corn Every Single Time, According to Two Corn Farmers
corn with husks on
Simply Recipes / Adobe Stock

I had been clueless about how to pick ears of corn at the grocery store or farmers market. Bigger is better, right?

No way, says Mike Buis, a Martinsville, Indiana farmer who farms 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans with his brother. Both have farmed since they were teenagers and are now in their 60th crop season.

“People like sweet corn at different stages of maturity. I like it really young and tender,” says Buis. People often sort through the corners to find the biggest, fullest ears. “That corn is more mature and can be a little chewy.”

He chooses the smaller ears. “Shuck it back and make sure there’s not any bugs or worms in it, which could possibly happen, and see if it’s filled out,” Buis suggests. “Go for the smaller ears with kernels not as filled out because that means it’s sweet and tender.”

But not too small, says April Robertson of Robertson Family Farm in King, North Carolina. They grow about 35 acres of produce—everything from seed and sell at their community farm stand. “Huge fat ears can tend to be tough, so pick the average-size ears instead,” she says. “Skinny ears tend to be not filled out completely.”

Then Take a Look at the Husks

Another way to ensure you’re getting the freshest ears of corn is to examine the husks.

“When choosing fresh corn at the market, pick the ears that are the freshest and not dried up. As the husk dries, the corn dries out,” says Robertson. “At our place, the corn is freshly picked two times a week. At the grocery store, stay away from the dried-looking husks.” 

Look for green husks and avoid ears with brownish husks or brownish silk. Those are signs that the corn was picked a while ago.

“Anytime you take an ear off the stalk, you’re taking it away from its nutrients and habitat. It's like an umbilical cord, and it’s going to start drying out,” says Buis. “The longer it’s away from the stalk, the drier it will get.”

corn (partially shucked) on a table
Simply Recipes / Getty Images

Should You Remove the Husks at the Store?

My grocery store always has a big bin next to the fresh corn so customers can shuck the ears. I’ve never been sure if that’s because people want to check out the kernels before they buy or if they just don’t want the mess at home.

Maybe a little bit of both.

“You need to leave the corn in their husks until ready to eat,” says Robertson. If you take the husks off before you're ready to cook the corn, it can dry out and not taste so fresh.

If you’re going to grill the corn or cook it in the microwave, Buis suggests leaving the shucks on and soaking the ears in water. Then, the wet shucks help steam the corn and make it tender.

The other secret to selecting the best ears of corn is purchasing it right after it’s been picked. If you buy corn at the grocery store, it could easily be two weeks old, especially if it’s been transported from far away. Buying it directly from a farm stand or farmers market is the best bet for finding the freshest corn.

Robertson adds, “Corn is the freshest right after picking. It is best to buy it straight from the farm.”