I love stovetop popcorn. When I was a teenager (I sound so old), I worked at our local movie theater as my after school job (wow, real old). It was great! Friends, free movies, free Icees. Bonus: It was where I met my now husband. Although I don’t remember meeting him (which is probably for the best because I was a real shirt at that age). The best part of working there was bringing home the garbage bags full of popcorn. Literal, 10 gallon bags of movie theater popcorn. Snacks for days!
The only thing I didn’t like was the movie theater “butter” topping. After seeing it in its room temperature state it completely ruined the topping for me. So now, when I go to the theater, I get popcorn without butter.
What you will learn:
- Equipment you need
- The origins of popcorn
- Types of oils that are good for high heat
- How to make sure your oil is hot enough
- What kind of popcorn kernels to use
- How to serve
- How to reheat
- Possible hazards
What You Need to Make Popcorn
After I quit working at the theater and had to make my own popcorn, I realized how easy it was. You don’t need to have fancy toppings or oils or poppers to make great tasting popcorn at home. All you need for my Stovetop Popcorn is a large quart stockpot (mine is 8qt), vegetable oil, and yellow popcorn kernels. Oh, and butter. But just a little. Or a lot depending on how you like it.
Maize was originally cultivated 8,000-10,000 years ago in southern Mexico. It was cultivated from a wild grass called teosinte. Teosinte had a hard external shell that was too hard to eat or grind into flour. For several thousand years, all corn was popping corn until Mesoamericans were able to cultivate varieties of corn that could be used for flour. After the Spanish invaded, popcorn started to spread around the world.
It wasn’t until the early 19th century that popcorn made its way into New England in the United States and quickly became a family favorite. By 1848, the snack was popular enough to be included in the first edition of the Dictionary of Americanisms by John Russell Bartlett.
Science of Popcorn
Early maize was perfect for making popcorn. The hard shell traps water and starch. When heated, the external shell creates a pressure cooker (I think we can all relate to that these days), the water inside the kernel starts to boil and becomes superheated. The super heated water turns the starch into a liquid. The trapped liquid tries to expand, creating pressure on the hard shell until it can no longer hold and the liquid starch explodes out. The liquid starch then cools and solidifies almost instantly creating the fluffy white popcorn we love to eat.
What Type of Popcorn Should I Use?
I stick to yellow kernels. Or I pick up a bag of mixed kernels from my local farmers market. The flavor of yellow or mixed kernels is just so much better than white popcorn. No matter the color of the seed, it will pop white. So no need to worry if you will end up with purple popcorn, you won’t!
What Type of Oil Should I Use for My Stovetop Popcorn?
You want to use an oil that is good for high heat or has a high smoke point (quiet, hippies!). The best oils with high smoke points1:
- Canola, 400 degrees
- Cottonseed, 420
- Sunflower, 440
- Corn, 450
- Peanut, 450
- Olive pomace, 460
- Soy, 460
- Extra-light olive, 468
- Safflower, 510
Using an oil that does not have a high smoke point will start to burn before your oil is ready and will leave you with terrible tasting popcorn.
How to Tell if Your Oil is Hot Enough
I learned this trick from watching Kevin Belton’s New Orleans Cooking Show on PBS:
- Pour your oil into your pot along with 3 popcorn kernels, cover, and turn the heat to medium-high.
- When the 3 kernels have all popped, your oil is ready! Discard the three popped kernels and pour the popcorn into the pot and get popping! (Don’t forget to replace the lid! Unless you enjoy ducking and covering in your kitchen. Popcorn can fly up to 3 feet into the air!)
Perfectly popped popcorn everytime!
How to Serve Stovetop Popcorn
Once the popcorn is done popping you will need a vessel to hold it all. Since this makes a lot of popcorn, our family uses a brown paper grocery bag as our bowl. Cut it just above where the folded bottom edge of the bag rests on the side of the bag. If you don’t want to use the paper bag method, you will need to have at least an 8 quart bowl to hold all of the popcorn.
Most of the time I stick with just plain old butter and salt (always butter first then salt to give the salt something to stick to). But this would be great with:
- Grated parmesan and garlic powder
- Grated parmesan and rosemary
- Cheddar cheese powder
- Butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon
- Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Sesame seeds, Poppy Seeds
- Honey and chipotle pepper powder
The possibilities are endless!
How to Reheat Stovetop Popcorn
If you used the paper bag method listed above, roll the top down to create a bit of cover and put into a low oven for 30-40 minutes. This will re-crisp the popcorn and make it taste almost like new. Quick Note: keep the paper bag away from the heating element in your oven. We’ve… uh… look, we’ve burned a paper bag or two that way… Otherwise, pour popcorn onto a sheet tray and cover loosely with aluminum foil and heat in a low oven for 20-40 minutes.
Warning for Pet Owners and Those with Small Children
Popcorn kernels are a choking hazard for pets and children alike. So if you want to share with dogs or toddlers, make sure you cut (or bite) off the husk of the popcorn kernel so they are left with only the soft starchy bit. And make surer you pick up any stray kernels that might fall to the floor. I don’t know about your furry kids but ours are scavengers and will eat anything and everything that falls on the floor.
- ¼ cup vegetable oil or other oil with a high smoke point
- 1 cup popcorn kernels
- 4 tablespoons butter more or less depending on taste
- Table salt to taste
- Add oil and 3 kernels of popcorn to an 8 quart stockpot. Cover and set the burner to medium-high heat. Once all three of the kernels have popped, remove the popped kernels from the stockpot and pour in the remaining popcorn kernels. Cover and shake the pot side to side to distribute the kernels along the bottom of the pan. Cook until all kernels have popped, shaking the pot side to side occasionally to redistribute the kernels and make sure they cook evenly. You will know the popcorn is done when the popping slows to a pop every 3 seconds. Remove the pan from the burner and open the lid away from you. Carefully pour the popcorn into your bag or bowl. Watch out for any last pops.
- Return the stockpot to the burner that you originally cooked the popcorn on and add the butter. Let the butter melt and then pour about ¼ of it over the popcorn. Sprinkle the popcorn with salt and give your bag or bowl a toss. Add ¼ more butter and sprinkle the popcorn with additional salt and give your bag or bowl a toss. Taste for salt. Repeat this process until the butter is gone and you have added enough salt for your taste. Enjoy immediately!
Reader Supported Recipes
Help keep this site ad free.
If you have enjoyed this recipe (and who wouldn’t, it’s delicious) and would like to help me buy a bag of flour
(or bottle of whiskey), consider becoming a patron. Patrons get early access to all recipes and get
behind the scene content. (Mostly pictures of my adorable cats being adorable.)
There are three options available starting at just $1/month.