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.


  • 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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More ideas in the comments. Thank you and keep 'em coming!

Perfect Popcorn

Showing 4 of 320 Comments

  • Kathy

    Wow! I’ve been making stovetop popcorn for many years and this is the best way ever! So glad I googled “best homemade popcorn” tonight. I had no burned or unpopped kernels at all for the first time. I added a little butter, truffle sea salt and tiny pinch of parmesan cheese just for fun. So good – thanks!

  • Kelly

    Thank you I usually do microwave popcorn but my mother in law does only this kind and it’s my favorite. The only thing I did differently was add a touch of pepper like she does. The last time I went to make my son and nephews popcorn, it was a disaster so thank you for this-it came out perfect!!

  • Gabby

    Hi, when I make my popcorn it is quite a terrifying experience as as soon as the oil gets hot (not hot enough to pop the kernals), oil starts to jump out of the pot. I have to immediately put all my kernals in at this point and then wait for them to all pop to avoid getting myself burnt. I use canola oil. Is there a way to stop this from happening?

  • Henne Hall

    So much easier and cost effective–do yourselves a favor–order truffle (white ) salt from Amazon and sprinkle that over your popcorn–perhaps a little grated parm. cheese–WHOA !! The BEST !!!

  • KG

    Thank you very much! I am going to have non-barbequed popcorn! I love you!

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