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Elote Tater Tots: Your New Favorite Summer Snack

Let’s talk about elote tater tots, because they’re as good as they sound and they’re the perfect summer indulgence when elote corn salad is just too virtuous to cut it.

And. This is what makes them the hit of my own personal summer: these elote tater tots can be made entirely on the grill!

Yes, even the tater tots themselves. Told you I was going to make it possible to cook everything and anything on the grill instead of in my oven or on the stove!

elote tater tots
Photo: Casey Barber

We first tried this over-the-top appetizer at our local fancy farmhouse saloon, The Barrow House, as summer was just getting underway, and I knew immediately it would be my mission to make this the dish of the season.

Instead of grilled nachos after our weekend paddleboarding adventures or epic backyard weeding sprees, 2019 would be the year of elote tater tots.

My rigorous (sometimes beer-influenced) testing over the past two months has brought me here, to a skillet full of elote tater tots that’s truly more than the sum of its parts.

elote tater tots
Photo: Casey Barber

In lieu of the mayo-based sauce that’s typically slathered on a cob of elote corn, I’m using my most favorite recipe for homemade cheese sauce.

Monterey Jack steps in with that mild-and-creamy thing it does so well, blanketing the tots with a smooth layer of sauce that doesn’t overwhelm everything else that comes on top. Its cheese partner in crime here, Cotija, brings the snappy saltiness as a counterpoint.

Fresh Jersey corn doesn’t need much to make it sing, which is why I cook it the absolutely easiest way possible: in the husk, directly on the grill, no soaking or other prep necessary.

And the rest? Scallions, cilantro, lime, and just a touch of chili pepper all balance out the richness of the tots and cheese with acidity and freshness.

elote tater tots
Photo: Casey Barber

It’s no gut bomb, but a wonderfully calibrated indulgence that is meant for two forks and two beers to go with it.

One note: to make tater tots on the grill, you will need either a grilling basket or—my personal preference—a copper grill mat.

tater tots on the grill
Photo: Casey Barber

This is the same mat I use for grilling tofu, cherry tomatoes, and other delicate ingredients that are prone to sticking, oozing, or falling apart on the grill grates themselves.

If you’re like me and are making grilling a major part of your summer cooking routine, I bet it will become an indispensable part of your life, so it’s a small investment to make.

Especially where tater tots are concerned.

Elote Tater Tots
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elote tater tots

Elote Tater Tots

Yield: 2 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes

Elote tater tots do street corn one better, featuring tots covered in fresh summer corn and homemade cheese sauce. And they're made entirely on the grill!

Ingredients

  • 1 large ear corn, in the husk
  • 16 ounces (half a 32-ounce bag) tater tots
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard powder
  • 1 ounce cream cheese, cubed
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 4 ounces (about 1 cup) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled Cotija cheese
  • 1 large scallion, thinly sliced into rounds
  • leaves from 3-4 sprigs fresh cilantro
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili powder for sprinkling
  • 2 lime wedges

Instructions

Cook the corn and the tater tots:

    1. Preheat a grill to medium heat (about 400 degrees).
    2. Trim any loose husks and silk from the corn and place on the grill.
    3. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally, until the entire husk is brown and dry, with a few charred grill marks.
    4. While the corn cooks, place the tater tots in a grill basket or on a grill mat.
    5. Cook, turning once, until the tots are deeply browned and crispy, about 15-20 minutes.
    6. Transfer the tots to a heatproof serving dish, such as a cast iron skillet, and keep warm until ready to serve.
    7. Remove the corn from the grill until cool enough to handle.
    8. De-husk the corn and slice off the kernels. The easiest way is to hold the corn vertically in a large bowl and use a paring knife to slice down the sides of the cob so the kernels fall into the bowl.

    While the corn and tater tots cook, make the cheese sauce:

    1. Whisk the cornstarch, salt, garlic powder, and ground mustard together in a small bowl.
    2. Add the cream cheese and milk to a small (1-quart) saucepan and place over medium-low heat on the grill's side burner or stovetop.
    3. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly.
    4. Whisk in the spice blend and cook for 1-2 minutes more until thickened.
    5. Turn off the heat and stir in the shredded Monterey Jack in handfuls until completely melted.

Assemble the elote tater tots:

    1. Pour the cheese sauce over the tater tots.
    2. Top the tots with the corn kernels, Cotija cheese, scallions, and cilantro leaves.
    3. Sprinkle lightly with chili powder and squeeze lime wedges over the tots just before serving.

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