Perfect Popcorn

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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

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

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

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2 Put 3 or 4 popcorn kernels into the oil and cover the pan.

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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.

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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 294 Comments

  • JF

    I had a 10 year old bag of popcorn in my cabinet, and tried this recipe thinking it probably wouldn’t pop, To my surprise the popcorn was great and there were only 2 unpopped kernels.

  • Luis Castillo

    Worked like a charm!!!

  • Abel

    It’s unbelievable, there really wasn’t one burnt one and not one unpopped one either. Thanks for sharing this tip.

  • jane hineline

    We’ve always used this method. I got called out to Boy Scout Camp one summer to teach the boys how to make popcorn this way. One thing is we use Seasoned Salt to season with rather than just plain salt and a touch of garlic salt as well. If you can get your hands on brown paper bags from the grocery store they make good holders to accommodate the width of the popcorn pan. Always use a heavy pan to make this in as well. A good one is a pressure cooker pan if you can find a lit to fit or a cast iron (skillet like) stock pot.

  • Janet Max

    I tried a twist that helps more steam escape – use a splatter screen (the kind of thing you put over a pan with bacon or whatever frying) in stead of a lid. You have to hold it down, which is not a big deal for such a short time. I’m glad I stumbled on this again – I’m downsizing right now, and it looks like my dedicated popcorn popper is something I can shed!

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