Perfect Popcorn

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Making popcorn from scratch can be tricky. Not only do you want as many kernels as possible to pop, but you also want to keep the kernels from burning at the bottom of the pan.

Until my mother showed me her way of cooking popcorn, I usually took the easy way out and used (gasp!) microwave popcorn, which by the way, is not that good for you.

My mother’s method of making popcorn not only pops almost every kernel, it also prevents the kernels from burning. She first learned this technique decades ago from the back of a popcorn box.

Her approach allows the popcorn kernels to come to an even temperature before popping, which results in much fewer un-popped kernels (usually none) and fewer burnt kernels (again, usually none).

Ever since we first posted this how-to in 2005, it has been one of the most popular recipes on the site. Enjoy! (Updated from the archives.)

Perfect Popcorn

  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 2 quarts, a nice amount for two people, or for one hungry one.

Make sure the inside of the pot is completely dry before heating the oil in it, or else the oil will sputter.


  • 3 Tbsp coconut, peanut, or canola oil (high smoke point oil)
  • 1/3 cup of high quality popcorn kernels
  • 1 3-quart covered saucepan
  • 1 Tbsp or more (to taste) of butter (optional)
  • Salt to taste


1 Heat the oil in a 3-quart thick-bottomed saucepan on medium high heat. If you are using coconut oil, allow all of the solid oil to melt.


2 Put 3 or 4 popcorn kernels into the oil.

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3 When the kernels pop, add the rest of the 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels in an even layer. Cover, remove from heat and count 30 seconds. (Count out loud; it's fun to do with kids.)

This method first heats the oil to the right temperature, then waiting 30 seconds brings all of the other kernels to a near-popping temperature so that when they are put back on the heat, they all pop at about the same time.

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4 Return the pan to the heat. The popcorn should begin popping soon, and all at once. Once the popping starts in earnest, gently shake the pan by moving it back and forth over the burner.

Try to keep the lid slightly ajar to let the steam from the popcorn release (the popcorn will be drier and crisper).

Once the popping slows to several seconds between pops, remove the pan from the heat, remove the lid, and dump the popcorn immediately into a wide bowl.

With this technique, nearly all of the kernels pop, and nothing burns.


5 If you are adding butter, you can easily melt it by placing the butter in the now empty, but hot pan. Note that if you let the butter get just a little bit brown, it will add an even more intense, buttery flavor to the butter and to your popcorn. (Here's more info on how to brown butter.) Just drizzle the melted butter over the popcorn and toss to distribute.

6 Salt to taste.

Additional tips: From the comments section

a If you add salt to the oil in the pan before popping, when the popcorn pops, the salt will be well distributed throughout the popcorn.

b Fun toppings for the popcorn - Spanish smoked paprika, nutritional yeast, cayenne powder, chili pepper, curry powder, cumin, grated Parmesan cheese.

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Perfect Popcorn

Showing 4 of 331 Comments

  • ChuckM

    I already knew how to make perfect popcorn (this way) but was killing some time and thought I’d do a search on the latest and greatest. I discovered this technique sometime back in the 70’s when my high school baseball team was selling popcorn as a fund-raiser. Whatever that product was mentioned this “rest phase” of popping and I’ve used it ever since.
    Actually, the variation I’ve used differs slightly in the following ways:

    Heat the oil (I use peanut for it’s high smoke point) , butter and salt all at once over medium flame (electric works too). This results in totally non-oily popcorn yet still buttery and salty.

    Add the popcorn and wait until the first pop then immediately remove from heat for one minute. If popping over electric, turn it to high now.

    After one minute turn the flame to high and replace the pot and get ready…

    Once it restarts popping, it’s so vigorous that little shaking is needed. But you’ll want to be mindful that popped corn can lift unpopped off the heating surface of the pot, so some mild shaking toward the end is good to do. You’ll know when it’s tapered off to the last couple kernels and to quickly get it into a big bowl. It’s good to get it off the heat a bit early as the last few kernels will probably pop without it.

    Thanks for keeping the blog post alive Elise!

  • Natalie

    Just tried it with coconut oil. It came out perfect! I wanted to test it out myself before making it for my family. It was so easy, even the first time cooking it on the stove!

  • Yao Tsahey

    Seriously am enjoying some popcorn now. Thanks Simply Recipes.

  • Rebecca

    so great! this was my first time making popcorn on the stove and it turned out PERFECT!! Thank you for the great recipe and tips!! So much better than airpopped or microwaved!!

  • Roger Gietzen

    I used olive oil and a “normal bottomed” saucepan. After the corn started popping vigorously, I turned down the heat (gas stove) to low. The recipe came out perfectly! Thanks.

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