It’s obvious by now that when it comes to grilling corn, I’m a partisan of husk-off grilling. But if anyone were to cause me rethink my position, it’s the pit masters of the Metro Moore County Volunteer Fire Department in Lynchburg, Tennessee. These fire folk know a thing or two about grilling corn: They serve up to eight hundred ears a day at festivals like the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue Cook-Off and Frontier Days at the beginning of July. The corn is soaked in salted, sugared water to add flavor and slow down combustion and then cooked on a grill that’s hot as a blast furnace until the ears look like something that might be left in the wake of an arsonist. When you pull off the burnt husk, you get corn of incomparable moistness and sweetness.
Step 1: Combine the sugar with 1/2 cup of salt and 1 gallon of water in a large pot or clean bucket and stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Cut off the stems and 1/4 inch of the tip of each ear of corn and remove any protruding silk. Place the ears in the brine, stem end up. Let the corn soak for at least 4 hours or as long as 8 in the refrigerator. If the corn won’t fit in the refrigerator, keep it cold with bags of ice.
Step 2: Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to as hot as possible.
Step 3: When ready to cook, place the soaked corn on the hot grate and grill until the husks are charred and blackened, 5 to 8 minutes per side (20 to 32 minutes in all).
Step 4: Wearing clean gloves or using a stiff bristled brush, strip the charred husks off the corn. Roll each ear of corn in the melted butter, season with salt, black pepper, and cayenne, if using, and serve at once.
One novel and extremely effective way to grill corn in the husk is directly on the embers. When the coals glow orange, rake them into an even layer and arrange the ears of corn on top. This method gives you fool-proof charring and a super smoky flavor. It will take 2 top 3 minutes per side (8 to 12 minutes in all).