How to Make Perfect Popcorn

Learn everything there is to know about America's favorite movie-theater snack—plus, five topping ideas.

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Golden Rules:

STORE kernels in an airtight container in a cool, dark place — not in the fridge, where they'll dry out. Kernels need moisture to pop.
COVER the pan loosely during popping; if the lid is tight, the steam inside will moisten the popcorn, and wet popcorn is no fun.
SALT the corn after it's popped; if you salt the kernels or oil beforehand, the popcorn won't turn out light and fluffy.

Try it: Perfect Stove-Popped Corn

Counting Calories?
1 cup air-popped corn = 31
1 cup oil-popped corn = 55
1 cup oil-popped corn with 2 teaspoons melted butter = 122
1/2 bag "light butter" microwave popcorn = 180
small movie-theater popcorn without butter = 400
small movie-theater popcorn with butter = 600
large movie-theater popcorn without butter = 1,160
large movie-theater popcorn with butter = 1,640

How to Make:

Theater-Style Butter Popcorn 
Movie theaters use butter-flavored oil, which has a lower water content than butter so it makes popcorn less soggy. Real clarified butter has the same effect. To make it, melt 2 sticks butter in a glass measuring cup in the microwave. Let sit for a few minutes; the butter will separate into 3 layers. Skim off the top layer of foam, then slowly pour the clarified butter into a heatproof container; discard the bottom layer of milk solids. Use 3 tablespoons hot clarified butter for 10 cups popcorn; refrigerate the rest (it's great for sauteing).

Caramel Corn
Boil 1/2 cup honey, 1 tablespoon molasses, 1/2 stick unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Toss with 10 cups popcorn. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees F until crisp, 10 to 15 minutes, checking often. Cool completely.

Homemade Microwave Popcorn
Place 1/4 cup unpopped kernels in a brown paper lunch bag. Tightly fold the top over a few times; microwave on high for about 2 minutes, or until the popping slows (the timing depends on your microwave).

TOP THIS! Mix up one of these spice combos to give your popcorn a twist:
Italian: dried oregano, dried basil, grated Parmesan cheese
British: sea salt, vinegar powder
Tex-Mex: chili powder, dark brown sugar
Asian: wasabi powder, sugar, sea salt
Indian: ground cumin, curry powder, fine salt