How to Make Popcorn On the Stove

Plus the secret to making it taste like movie theater popcorn.

February 28, 2023
Popcorn

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Popcorn

Photo by: Kinga Krzeminska/Getty Images

Kinga Krzeminska/Getty Images

By Alice K. Thompson for Food Network Kitchen

Alice is a contributing writer and editor at Food Network.

What can make you a movie-night or game-night hero in just 10 minutes? Knowing how to pop up a big, aromatic bowl of homemade popcorn. It’s super-easy and almost unbelievably inexpensive, with the added benefit of being customizable to just about any taste or dietary restriction. Here’s everything you need to know.

What Oil to Use for Popcorn

If you have a favorite cooking oil, go for it: as long as it’s a high-heat oil it should be fine. Some popular popping oils are neutral ones like canola oil, corn oil, safflower oil, avocado oil and vegetable (soybean) oil. Good oils that will add a distinctive flavor include olive oil (use pure olive oil, not extra-virgin) and refined coconut oil.

How to Make Popcorn on the Stove

It takes about 10 minutes from start to finish to make a big batch of irresistible popcorn, no special equipment required. This recipe makes 3 quarts (12 cups); if you want to double the recipe, use 1/3 cup oil and 1 cup popcorn in a 6- to 8-quart pot and you'll have 6 quarts (24 cups).

Step 1: Heat the Oil

Pour 3 tablespoons oil into a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot with a lid. Place over medium-high heat and heat until it is very hot and shimmers.

Step 2: Add Test Kernels, then the Remaining Kernels

Add 3 kernels to the pot and put on the lid. After you hear them pop, add 1/2 cup kernels in a single layer, put on the lid, and remove the pot from the heat for 30 seconds.

Step 3: Cook the Kernels, Shaking Every So Often

Return the pot to medium heat and place the lid just slightly ajar so steam can escape. Once the popping starts, carefully grasp the sides of the pan with potholders and give the pan a gentle shake about every minute; this helps prevent burning. Continue until you hear less than one pop per second.

Step 4: Top the Popcorn with Seasonings and Butter If You'd Like

Immediately pour the popped corn into a large bowl, sprinkle with salt and toss. If you like, drizzle with a tablespoon or two of melted butter and toss again.

Paper striped bucket with popcorn, close-up

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Paper striped bucket with popcorn, close-up

Photo by: Blanchi Costela/Getty Images

Blanchi Costela/Getty Images

4 Reasons Stove-Popped Popcorn Is the Best

  1. It’s the very cheapest: Commercial bags of microwave popcorn cost three or more times as much, and popcorn purchased at movie theaters can be as much as ten times as expensive.
  2. You can make it just about anytime, anywhere: That's because all you need is regular kitchen pots and pans. Make it at a friend’s house, at a vacation rental or even over a campfire with a little jiggering.
  3. Customization is endless: You can customize the popcorn to your taste, adding as much or as little salt as you want. If you’ve got a crowd, everyone can season their own popcorn, adding butter, salt and other seasonings, or just enjoying it plain.
  4. It's chemical-free: You can avoid the additives, chemicals and dyes found in most microwave bags of popcorn and movie theater popcorn. You can use your favorite oil, your preferred salt and any other seasonings (like pure butter) you like.

How to Store Popcorn Kernels

Store unpopped kernels in a tightly sealed jar or bag in a cabinet or pantry or other cool, dry place. The kernels should keep well for 6 months or longer, but they may pop less consistently the longer they’re stored. Don’t refrigerate or freeze the kernels.

How to Make Theater-Style Butter Popcorn

Many movie theaters pop their corn in either refined coconut oil or canola oil, so you might start by popping your kernels in one of these.

For finishing the corn, movie theaters use butter-flavored oil, which has a lower water content than butter so it makes popcorn less soggy. Real clarified butter has a similar effect. To make it, melt a stick of unsalted butter in a glass measuring cup in the microwave. Let it 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. Salt your fresh-popped corn with fine salt, then sprinkle with about 3 tablespoons hot clarified butter for 12 cups popcorn; refrigerate the rest of the clarified butter for another use (it's great for sautéing).

Seasonings for Popcorn

Sprinkle any of these over fresh-popped corn, taste and add additional salt if you wish:

  • Chili powder
  • Granulated garlic
  • Lemon pepper
  • Smoked paprika
  • Everything bagel spice
  • Chili-lime seasoning (such as Tajin)
  • Cheddar cheese powder
  • Cinnamon sugar
  • Ranch seasoning mix
  • Parmesan cheese and black pepper
  • Hot cocoa mix
  • Coconut flakes (sweetened or toasted)
  • Nutritional yeast

Popcorn Recipes

08 Feb 2005, Fairfield, New Jersey, USA --- Caramel Popcorn --- Image by © Envision/Corbis

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08 Feb 2005, Fairfield, New Jersey, USA --- Caramel Popcorn --- Image by © Envision/Corbis

©Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

This makes a classic version of the crunchy, sticky treat with pantry basics like honey and molasses.

2039_FoodNet_BaconPop_00011.tif

With brown sugar–glazed bacon bits, this would be awesome anytime, but especially when watching Footloose or Hollow Man.

A combination of white chocolate, bittersweet chocolate and crunchy bits of peppermint candies make this irresistible. It’s an excellent holiday treat that’s tasty enough for all seasons.

KK_11_0831_FN_sh1_342.tif

Photo by: Kang Kim

Kang Kim

Popcorn balls are a kid favorite, but these flavorful treats will appeal to all ages.

SaltyChiliGarlic_Pile_648.tif

Photo by: Ryan Dausch

Ryan Dausch

This easy recipe mixes popcorn with cereal squares, pretzels, almonds and spices for a nosh that’s packed with flavor and crunch.

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