Years ago I lived in Japan and loved to go to the local town festivals. There were games, people carrying giant dragons, taiko drums, kimonos, and great food. Really great food.
Everything was cooked outdoors on grills, not the urban cowboy gas style grill, but over charcoal or even over actual wood. The taste so achieved was unbelievable, and to me the best of the best of Japanese festival food was corn-on-the-cob.
No kidding. Corn-on-the-cob always beat the grilled squid, it beat the yakitori chicken, even the grilled beef. Well, sometimes. It’s pretty hard to beat grilled beef if it’s done right.
After several years and a few experiments and a happy accident, I’ve replicated and then improved on the taste of Japanese festival corn-on-the-cob.
You’ll need good quality ears of corn, soy sauce, a small bowl, a cooking paint brush, and small hickory chips for smoke grilling.
First you have to start with good, sweet ears of corn. Quality counts. It’s best to buy it in the husk so that it will be fresh, but we’ll remove the husk before we put it on the grill.
I grill my corn at the end of a charcoal grilling run, so that I can slow roast it at less than 300 degrees while controlling the fires started using hickory chips. So take the corn, get it out of the husk, and boil it in the kitchen while you’re grilling your steaks, chicken, and everything else you intend to grill. You’ll grill the corn last.
Once you’re ready to grill the corn, take it to the grill and lay it on the racks. Start using the paintbrush to slather the soy sauce onto it. Turn the corn a few times and paint the soy sauce onto the corn until you’ve covered its entire surface. The soy sauce will tend to run off the corn and into the coals so don’t worry about putting too much on. It won’t happen. You want to get enough on so that the heat carmelizes some of it onto the corn to flavor it.
Next we’ll benefit from my happy accident. The first time I tried to use hickory chips with corn on the grill, I obeyed the instructions on the chip bag and wrapped them in foil. I poked a few holes into the foil to let smoke out, and put the homebrew smoker box onto the grill as instructed. Nothing happened. The coals weren’t hot enough at that point to create smoke from the wood chips.
Impatience won out after a few minutes and I decided to take the chips out of the foil. I sprinkled a few around the corn on the grill, and several fell through onto the coals. After a few seconds those chips caught fire, and the flames and smoke licked the corn. I realized that this would probably turn out good, so I flipped the corn and kept dropping chips in twos and threes into the fire. I also kept painting the soy sauce onto the corn as I flipped it.
It ended up looking like this.
That’s the look you’re aiming for, and if you’ve used enough soy sauce and kept the hickory smoke going, you’ll have the best corn-on-the-cob you will ever eat. It will be sweet, salty and smoky all at the same time.