As an Old who is not on TikTok, the first time I saw corn ribs was on a favorite restaurant’s Instagram page a couple weeks ago, introducing its grilled corn ribs as its “newest drinking snack.” Just days later, another ‘gram entered my feed from a restaurant describing its corn ribs roasted in black garlic butter and topped with cheese as a true “summer banger.” And just yesterday, the team at Momofuku Ssam Bar laid claim to the technique, noting that they first served corn ribs way back in 2017, when they were deep-fried and plated alongside squid ink aioli. (In an October 2017 review, the New York Times’ Pete Wells calls it “one of the most original corn dishes I’ve seen in a long time.”) Austin restaurant Hai Hai Ramen entered the comments to note that they’ve been serving a version, simply called sweet corn, since 2016. Corn ribs — basically, a long strip of corn kernels, with a silver of cob attached to adhere them all together — are suddenly, inexplicably, everywhere. But why??
I’m not asking about the literal why: The answer to that is clear, and obviously, TikTok, the platform that seems to birth a new food trend every other day, from that viral feta pasta of winter 2021 to, just earlier this week, the trend of eating frozen honey (to the detriment of one’s digestive system). Corn ribs first started trending on the platform in February of this year, and its current ubiquity is likely tied to corn’s summer seasonality — many recipes also note they work great on the grill, making them a potential backyard go-to.
I’m asking about them in a more spiritual sense: Why bother? As many recipe testers elsewhere point out — and as can be seen in the original video posted by TikToker Farrah J — the act of cutting an ear of corn down the middle seems uh, hazardous; it doesn’t require knife skills so much as the muscle required to forcibly slam your knife through an ear of corn. When one eats the ribs, the cob is still attached, so you still need to eat away the kernels from the cob as you would a normal ear — no time saved there. Many recipes call for dousing the ribs in sauce or cheese or other toppings, and with the ribs, you don’t even have the nice clean ends of a cob to grab onto, so your hands just seem to get messier this way. And honestly the curved rib shape seems annoying to eat around (a cob is nice and straight! Why “fix” that!).
To be clear here, I absolutely would eat a corn rib if it’s placed in front of me, and I’ll probably enjoy it. I love corn, particularly done elote-style and with a whiff of the grill still lingering; I love the work involved of gnawing at the ear like a vegetarian caveman but also respect if your move is to saw the kernels off in one fell swoop (shoutout to anyone who’s ever had braces). Maybe it’s just that a cooked ear of corn itself needs no improvement. Maybe (probably!) I am overthinking this. But it doesn’t stop the fact that every time a corn rib lands on my Instagram feed, my immediate and visceral reason is: why??