Grilled Mexican Street Corn is one of the ultimate summer side dishes! This homemade version is just as good as the elote corn you’ll find from the vendors in Mexico. When served at parties and cookouts it will be the first thing to go!
What is an Elote?
Elotes, also known as grilled Elote Mexicano, Mexican street corn, or Mexican grilled corn, is a popular Mexican street food. “Elote” means “corn on the cob” in Spanish, and the recipe consists of corn on the cob that has been grilled and slathered with a mayo or crema sauce, topped with Cotija cheese, and dusted with chili powder.
In Mexico, it is sold to locals and tourists from street carts much like pretzels or hot dogs in New York. Once you try elotes for the first time you’ll be wondering “Where has this been all my life?!”
It’s perfectly juicy and crisp, it has a delicious balance of sweet and spicy heat, the creamy coating with a zip of lime and chili powder perfectly compliments it’s mellow flavor, and the cheese finish makes it amazingly crave-worthy.
This is a side dish you do not want to miss out on! I’d dare say it’s a summer staple and should regularly be added to the dinner rotation.
What’s the Difference Between Esquites and Elote?
You’ll find that esquites feature the same grilled corn and creamy, spicy topping as Mexican grilled corn. However, instead of being served on a stick or eaten directly from the cob, esquites are served in a bowl. As a result, the dish is sometimes referred to as corn salad.
Grilled Mexican Street Corn Ingredients and Substitutes
- Yellow corn: White corn will work here if that’s all you have, but I recommend yellow corn for a prettier color and sweeter taste.
- Mayonnaise: Use good quality mayonnaise such as Hellman’s or Best Foods for the best flavor. Given that we use a fair amount, it really does make a difference!
- Mexican crema: A creamy, lightly tangy condiment. To substitute try sour cream.
- Lime zest and lime juice: I recommend zesting your limes before juicing them to make the process easy.
- Garlic: Whole, fresh cloves work best.
- Seasonings: Chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper add a touch of heat that pairs wonderfully with the mayo coating.
- Cotija cheese: This is a tangy Mexican cheese used in a variety of dishes. If you can’t find it, feta or Parmesan cheese can be substituted.
- Fresh cilantro: I recommend that you chop it very finely for this recipe.
- Hot sauce: This is optional but highly recommended. I like to use a vibrant Mexican hot sauce such as Valentino or Tapatio, but any kind you like best can be substituted.
Tips for Picking Fresh Sweet Corn
- Check the husk: It should be nice and bright green and never dry. You’ll find that the best corn has leaves that are soft, pliable, and almost seem a little wet.
- Notice the condition of silks/tassels: Those thin strings at the top of the corn should be golden or light brown and sticky, not black. And they should look fresh, not wilted or dry.
- Examine the corn: Peel back the husk a bit, the cob should be filled to the top with corn kernels that are full, plump, and golden yellow throughout.
- Watch out for insects: Obviously, if you see a row of corn that’s been nibbled on, let’s avoid that one.
- Smell the corn: The best corn will have a sweet smell and will be firm with just a slight give when squeezed.
How to Make Elotes Grilled Mexican Street Corn
- Preheat the grill: Heat the grill to medium-high heat between 450 and 475 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prepare the coating: In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients for the mayo topping until smooth. Add more salt and pepper as needed to suit your preferences.
- Grill the corn: Place the shucked corn cobs on the grill, leaving space between them. Grill until the corn is charred on all sides, rotating the cobs every 3 minutes or so.
- Coat the grilled corn: Use a basting brush to generously coat each corn cob with the mayonnaise mixture. Sprinkle Cotija cheese and chili powder on top. Finish with chopped cilantro and Mexican hot sauce. Repeat until all the corn has been covered, and enjoy!
- Optionally if you want to go above and beyond to prevent corn from drying out, brush a bit of oil over the corn before placing it on the grill. Or, submerge the cobs in a large bowl of salt water for 10-15 minutes before grilling. This will help keep the kernels juicy and plump.
- Check for doneness. You’ll know your corn is done cooking when it is charred (not burned) on all sides and is tender when poked with a fork or knife.
- Keep the grill closed. Try to keep the grill cover closed as much as possible while your corn is cooking. This will allow for a more consistent temperature and even cooking.
Can I Make Grilled Mexican Street Corn without a Grill?
Yes, if you don’t have a grill or the weather isn’t ideal for grilling, you can roast or boil the corn instead.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Spray the corn cobs with cooking spray, or coat them with oil and butter.
- Wrap them tightly with aluminum foil.
- Cook for 20-25 minutes or until the kernels are tender.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil on the stove.
- Carefully, submerge the corn, and cook for 3-5 minutes or until tender, turning or stirring occasionally.
- Drain the water.
Tips for the Best Grilled Mexican Corn
- Sprinkle the Cotija over the cobs rather than rolling them on top, if you want a lighter coating.
- Add the chili powder to taste. Some people like to use a lot, while others prefer just a few dashes.
- Start with great corn, and use good quality mayo. You really can taste the difference!
I like to enjoy this homemade elotes recipe as a snack, just like I did when I visited Mexico! However, it can also be served as a side dish alongside all your favorite main courses such as:
How to Store
- For best results you should store the corn and coating separately if you plan to serve with a fresh prepared look.
- Reheat the corn then slather the topping over the corn then add cheese and garnishes.
- Another option with prepared leftovers is to cut the mayo and cheese coated kernels from the cobs and toss together in a bowl (like an Esquites corn salad) and store in the fridge.
- Allow the corn to cool completely.
- Wrap it tightly with foil, or transfer it to an airtight container.
- Store the cobs in the fridge for up to 2-3 days.
- The mayo coating can be stored in a separate container for up to 1 week.
- Store the grilled corn in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 10 months.
- Note that the mayonnaise coating does not freeze well because of the dairy, it would likely separate upon thawing.
- Allow the corn cobs to thaw in the fridge overnight, and warm them on the grill before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use a mayo substitute?
If you don’t have mayo on hand or you’re opposed to using it, Mexican crema, sour cream, or Veganaise would be good substitutes. You don’t want to get rid of the creamy mayo component altogether, though. That’s what makes grilled Mexican street corn so good!
Can I use Miracle Whip?
I know many people have a strong preference for using mayonnaise or Miracle Whip in certain dishes like pasta salad. But this Mexican grilled corn with mayo is best with, well, real mayo! Miracle Whip is too sweet and will alter the flavor of this elote corn recipe.
Do I grill the corn with the husks on or off?
I prefer to grill the corn shucked because it makes it easier to tell when it’s done cooking and is ready to slather and enjoy. Plus, the grill marks make it look extra appetizing. However, if you prefer, you can leave the husks on while grilling. I recommend wrapping them with aluminum foil if you do.
More Mexican Side Dishes You’ll Love:
- Mexican Street Corn Salad
- Authentic Mexican Rice
- Fresh Homemade Salsa
- Black Bean and Corn Salad
- Pico de Gallo
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Elotes Grilled Mexican Street Corn
- 7 ears yellow corn, shucked
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup Mexican crema
- 1 tsp lime zest
- 1 1/2 Tbsp lime juice
- 3/4 tsp finely mincced garlic
- 1/2 tsp chili powder, plus more for topping
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 3/4 cup finely crumbled Cotija cheese
- Salt and black pepper
- 3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
- Mexican hot sauce, such as Valentino or Tapatio
- Preheat a grill to medium-high heat (to about 450 to 475 degrees F).
- Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl whisk stir together mayonnaise, Mexican crema, lime zest, lime juice, garlic, chili powder and cayenne pepper. Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Once grill is preheated, place corn on grill, leaving space between them. Let grill until charred on all sides, turning every 3 minutes, about 9 minutes total.
- Working with one cob of corn at a time, using a basting brush, brush all sides generously with the mayonnaise mixture then sprinkle with cotija and chili powder. Finish with cilantro and/or Mexican hot sauce.
- Transfer to a serving platter or baking sheet and repeat with remaining corn.
- Add chili powder to taste. Some people like a lot, while others like just a few dashes.