Boiling, microwave, Instant Pot. Which is best?
There isn’t much to cooking corn on the cob: you just shuck each ear, maybe cut off some of the stem, peel off the corn silks and drop them into boiling, salted water, and cook for 5 minutes. That’s it. The water should be salted enough that it smells like the ocean, and it is easiest to use kosher salt to achieve this. Serve with butter and salt on the side.
What’s wrong with this? Nothing except you might need a big pot for a large crowd. And, of course, you are steaming up your kitchen.
But some people rave about using the microwave or the Instant Pot for cooking corn, so we compared all three methods.
Some people claim that the microwave does the best job and you don’t have to heat up the kitchen with a pot of boiling water, so we tried this.
We cut the base off an ear of corn, but left the husk on, and using our best Internet research, microwaved the corn for 4 minutes. Taking a hot ear of corn out of the microwave requires hot pads and some care, and removing the hot, steaming husks is a challenge. And, all the silks come off smoothly, unlike the other methods.
The disadvantage again, is one of scale: you can only microwave a few ears at a time and removing the steaming hot husks from a bunch of them is best done with gloves or oven mitts. And, frankly, the corn tastes awful! (more below)
In the Instant Pot
Lots of people are enthusiastic about corn on the cob cooked in an Instant Pot. You have to shuck the corn as usual and pull of most of the silks by hand, but you can probably get 4-6 or more ears in an Instant Pot at once. We recommend putting the ears on the little trivet so they don’t stick to the pot. Add a cup of water and cook the ears for 3 minutes. Of course, by the time the water in the pot comes to a boil, this actually takes at least as long as boiling the water on the stove would, but you can cook a lot of ears quickly, and you don’t have to deal with scalding yourself on the husks.
How do they compare?
- Cooking the ears in a pot of water tastes the best.
- Ears cooked for 4 minutes in an 1100 watt microwave are hot and hard to handle, because the cobs are very hot, too. Further the corn takes on a bitter, cobby taste from the cob being heated. Actually they are really terrible.
- We repeated the experiment, cooking the corn for only 3 minutes and this removed some (but not all) of the bitter aftertaste.
- Our best corn came from cooking for 4 minutes at 50% power, where the bitterness is least apparent.
Surprisingly the corn cooked in the Instant Pot was little better.
- Pressure cooking the corn for 3 minutes also cooks the cob, and some of that bitter aftertaste was present in the Instant Pot corn.
- So, we repeated the corn cooking at low pressure instead of high pressure, which removed nearly all of that bitterness. But 3 minutes was not nearly enough. Six minutes at low pressure seems better. Quick Release either way.
- 5 minutes in boiling, salted water
- 4 minutes at 50% power in an 1100 watt microwave
- 6 minutes at low pressure in an Instant Pot
Some recipes suggest adding sugar and butter to the water in the Instant Pot. This probably doesn’t do much, because the water doesn’t touch the corn, and sugar is not volatile.
We found that spreading solid butter on the hot corn gives the bets flavor. Butter is an emulsion and melted butter usually leaves out the aqueous part.