This is a tried and true method for making homemade popcorn on the stove! All you need is a heavy-bottomed pan, popcorn kernels, and a little oil and in less than 5 minutes you’ll have a big bowl of homemade movie-theater-style popcorn to dig into!
Calling all popcorn lovers, this is the post for you!
This is the post that is going to teach you how to make the perfect stovetop popcorn. The method that’s foolproof, the one that will give you big, beautiful popcorn kernels each and every time, with no wasted kernels left in the pan. Can you imagine anything better than that?!
If you have been around Fork in the Kitchen for any time at all, then you know I LOVE popcorn. I especially love popcorn with red wine, but that’s a story for a different time because today we are focused on one thing and one thing only: making the perfect popcorn from scratch.
I’m sharing with you my unwavering love (bordering on obsession?) for popcorn because it’s the most important place to start. I have made homemade popcorn weekly – if not several times a week – for… well, honestly… for years. I can’t even tell you how long it has been because it’s simply part of my regular routine.
All this being said: I’ve got the method DOWN and I cannot wait to share it with you. Your movie nights will be next level. Your after-dinner snack just got elevated. And your kids? Yeah, your kids are going to love seeing how popcorn pops and enjoying this deliciously salty snack once it’s done. So, let’s get to popping!
Why Make Homemade Popcorn?
For starters, the freshness cannot be beaten. Making popcorn at home can also be healthier, as you can control each aspect of the process, like how much butter and salt you’re using. Not to mention that there aren’t going to be any weird ingredients located in that flat, folded microwave popcorn bag. No shame, there’s a time and place for everything, but when you need a wholesome snack and you can opt for the homemade way, it’s definitely the way to go.
Popcorn is technically a whole grain, too, which means there are quite a few excellent nutrients in there (again, mind you the butter you might pour on top…).
Making homemade popcorn is an easy, simple way to treat yourself whenever the popcorn craving strikes (which if you’re like me, is often).
Ingredients for Homemade Popcorn
Two simple ingredients will give you crisp, crunchy, hot-off-the-oven popcorn. Of course, if you want to add butter, salt, or any additional toppings, that’s extra. The two basic ingredients are the starting point: oil and popcorn kernels.
There are a few things to note about these two simple ingredients. Hint: you can basically use what you have on hand.
The Best Oil for Stovetop Popcorn
The most important thing to note when choosing an oil to pop your popcorn is one that is able to withstand high-heat. I’ve tried them all, and while most any kind of cooking oil will do, there’s one that stands out above the rest: coconut oil.
To give you the most movie-theater-like popcorn, use coconut oil to cook the popcorn kernels.
I was surprised too. We popped a big batch of popcorn one-night using refined coconut oil and literally, the first words out of my mouth were “this is exactly like movie theater popcorn!”.
When choosing coconut oil, you will see refined and unrefined. Refined coconut oil has been processed more, and will not have a coconut flavor to it. Unrefined coconut oil is less processed and will have a slightly tropical coconut flavor to it. I personally don’t mind the unrefined coconut oil and can hardly tell there’s a slight sweetness to the popcorn once it’s popped.
I find the refined coconut oil to have the best results for the most movie-theater-like batch of popcorn. If you don’t like coconut whatsoever, you can choose unrefined or try one of the other oil options.
Other Cooking Oil Options
- Grapeseed Oil – a high smoke point and relatively neutral, flavorless oil
- Olive Oil – has a slightly lower smoke point and you may need to reduce the temperature of your burner if using olive oil
- Vegetable or Canola Oil – a neutral high-smoke-point oil that many have on hand. The option I often use, too.
- Avocado Oil – a great high-smoke-point oil to use and it is also has a very neutral flavor
- Refined Coconut Oil – for those of you who didn’t read the paragraphs above, this will give you the most “movie-theater-like” popcorn flavor
- Ghee – Clarified butter has a high smoke point, and cooking your kernels in it gives them a head start on the rich, buttery flavor; read on for the reasons why you might want to coat your kernels in ghee instead of butter, too.
What’s the Difference Between Yellow and White Popcorn Kernels?
You’re strolling down the aisle looking for popcorn kernels when all of a sudden you see more options that you’d ever imagined. Most likely, you’ll see white and yellow popcorn kernels. Some might be organic, others not. You might even seen an heirloom mix, or blue kernels.
Since white and yellow kernels are likely going to be what you’re left staring face-to-face with in the grocery store aisle, let’s dive in deeper to the differences between the two.
I always had an inkling that white popcorn kernels resulted in a smaller, more delicate batch of popcorn, and once I did a little more research, I found that in fact, it was true. According to Peggy Woodward in her Taste of Home article, white popcorn kernels are in fact smaller, more delicate kernels than their yellow counterparts. Yellow kernels tend to pop larger, and are sturdier. As in its name, yellow kernels are also slightly tinted yellow, giving them a ‘buttery’ appeal.
If movie-theater style popcorn is what you’re after, I recommend using yellow popcorn kernels for their sturdiness. They’ll hold up a little better to your toppings, too, with their large, fluffy shape.
At the end of the day, when you have a popcorn craving, you can choose either type of kernel and be totally set with a bowl of perfectly popped popcorn.
How to Make the Perfect Stovetop Popcorn
Prepare yourself for how easy it is to make a show-stopping batch of light, fluffy popcorn right on your very own stovetop. In a few simple steps, you’ll be movie-ready in no time.
First, use a heavy-bottom Dutch oven or large stockpot. You want a pot that is going to be able to withstand the heat, oil, and provide enough room for the kernels to pop around. Can you use a smaller pan? Yes, I have in a pinch (like when I’m making half of the recipe and I’m just in a NEED POPCORN NOW mood). That being said, stick with the larger pan for the best results when possible. You can use a thinner stockpot as opposed to a cast-enameled dutch oven if it’s easier for you to swish around.
Heat the pan over high heat with the oil and three popcorn kernels. Why add just a couple of popcorn kernels? They’re our tester kernels and will indicate to us when the oil is hot enough to add the rest. Once the tester kernels pop, it means the oil is hot enough and once the rest of the kernels are added, they will all pop almost immediately once added to the hot oil.
Without knowing if the oil is hot enough, our kernels would pop intermittently and this would result in unpopped kernels and burnt pieces, which no one wants either of.
Once the tester kernels have popped, immediately add in the rest of the kernels, cover, and remove the pan from the heat, shaking it gently side to side for 20 seconds. Once the 20 seconds have passed, immediately return the covered pan to the heat and in no time the kernels will be a-poppin’!
Pro tip: pre-measure the popcorn kernels before adding the tester kernels. You don’t want to waste time once the oil is hot and ready!
The kernels will bounce around in a flurry. Allow them to pop undisturbed for at least the first 30 seconds to a minute. Once the pan is about halfway to three-quarters of the way full of popped kernels, crack the lid open to allow steam to escape. Allowing the steam to escape will prevent the kernels from becoming soggy, and keep them nice and crisp.
As the popping slows, you can gently shake the pan side to side to allow any unpopped kernels to make their way to the bottom (don’t shake it up and down; side to side only!). Once the popping has drastically slowed and/or stopped, immediately transfer the popped kernels to a serving bowl.
If you want to be mega diligent about adding butter and/or toppings, you can easily do so in layers as you’re transferring the popcorn.
Tips for Adding Toppings
Naturally, the most classic popcorn topping of all is butter and salt. Of course, I have a few tips for you on this front, too, before we explore how to expand your homemade popcorn repertoire.
I recommend using high-quality butter for the most flavor. Irish Butter or European Style butter are my favorites.
Butter is naturally made of milk fats and water, and some will argue that the water in the butter steams up and actually gives you soggy popcorn kernels (oh no!!). I personally don’t mind using pure butter on popcorn and haven’t ever had “soggy kernels”. But if you’re worried, there’s another option…
Ghee, or clarified butter. To make ghee, butter is simmered down so that the water has all been removed. It is separated into liquid fats and milk solids, which then the milk solids are removed.
Ghee adds a rich, buttery, slightly nutty flavor to your popcorn. With its high smoke point, you can also use it to pop the kernels.
This means that ghee has less lactose than regular butter and may be better suited for dairy-sensitive folks. Since the water is removed from ghee, pouring it on your popcorn gives you a rich, indulgent buttery flavor without the risk of soggy kernels. It’s another excellent option. Because it’s pretty rich, you may want to consider using less of it than you would regular butter, however.
P.S. It’s ghee that’s being poured, here!
For popcorn, you want to use fine salt to ensure it is incorporated throughout the popcorn, and in each and every buttery, salty bite. Large salt flakes will leave you with bursts of salt here and there, not throughout.
You can buy special ‘popcorn salt’ which is extra fine, however, I find that using my everyday fine sea salt is perfect. Be sure to salt the popcorn while it’s still hot, so the salt adheres to the kernels. Give it a good shake and a toss to evenly coat.
I can’t leave us in the salt section without my extra two cents on salt: please, please buy yourself good sea salt, not iodized or table salt. Sea salt is going to give you the most flavor and is much less processed, so more natural minerals remain in it. Use it in all your cooking and baking. It will bring out the most flavor and you will be wowed! Just try it side by side if you don’t believe me.
Ok, enough on that. We can always chat salt more, but right now we have popcorn to eat…
What Other Popcorn Varieties can I Make?
Now that you’ve perfected making stovetop popcorn, the options are limitless as to what you can do with it! Over the next few weeks, we are going to dive into so many homemade popcorn recipes in this series. A mixture of sweet, savory, and cheesy recipes are coming your way. Have an idea you can’t wait to see? Send me a message!
Here are our other popcorn flavors to try once you’ve aced stovetop popcorn:
How to Reheat Leftover Popcorn
I don’t fully understand what “leftover popcorn” is either, but here we are. If you’ve somehow made more than your stomach can handle, don’t throw it away!
And no, you won’t be stuck with a bowl full of stale popcorn, either. We’re going to reheat and it’s going to magically become crisp and delicious again!
To reheat leftover popcorn, first, preheat your oven to 250°F. Spread the leftover popcorn on a large baking sheet in an even-ish layer. Place the baking sheet in the oven for approximately 5-8 minutes or so. You’ll want to use your handy taste buds to help you decide at this point, as the amount of popcorn on the tray and how it was prepared will affect the cooking time. I also like to give it a good stir halfway between the bake so it’s evenly crisp, but this isn’t necessary.
If you already buttered the popcorn the first time you made it, you likely won’t need to add any this time, but you do you! I will never be one to say don’t add butter. 😉 And voila! Your leftover popcorn emerges warm, crisp, and ready to enjoy a second time around!
Homemade Stovetop Popcorn
- 3 TBSP refined coconut oil or oil of choice, see notes
- 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
- 4 TBSP unsalted high-quality butter melted
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt approximate; add to taste
- In a large (8-12 quart) heavy-bottomed stockpot or dutch oven, add the oil and three popcorn kernels, heating over high heat. Cover the pan. These are the "test kernels" and once they pop, it signals that the oil is officially hot enough to pop all the kernels at the same time. Meanwhile, measure out the remaining 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels and begin preparing your butter by melting it either in a microwave-safe bowl or on the stovetop.
- Once the three test kernels have popped, immediately add the 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels to the pan. Cover and remove from heat, gently swirling from side to side for 20 seconds. Return the pan to the heat, and the popcorn kernels will almost immediately beginning popping.
- Once the kernels are about halfway done popping, slightly crack the lid to allow excess steam to escape. Do this when the stockpot is approximately halfway full with popcorn, or about 30 seconds to 1 minute after they've popped – this does not have to be exact.
- If needed, you can gently shake the pan side to side to allow any remaining kernels to make it to the bottom of the pan to pop. Once the popping has slowed or just stopped, immediately pour the popcorn into your serving bowl.
- Evenly pour the butter across the popcorn, tossing to coat. Sprinkle in the salt, stopping to taste test and adjust the salt levels as needed (the best part!). Pro-tip, you can layer in the butter by adding half of the popcorn to your bowl, drizzling butter across, then add the remaining popcorn and butter.
- Grapeseed Oil
- Olive Oil
- Vegetable or Canola Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Coconut Oil