How to Make the Tastiest Popcorn in the Scariest Amounts Possible
One of two bowls of tasty popcorn!
Why Go to the Trouble of Stovetop Popcorn
One of the first things I learned to cook when I was a kid was stovetop popcorn. My dad refused to waste money on fancy popcorn like Jiffy-Pop although it looked like so much fun on TV. We begged to try however, had it once, and that was enough; we wanted real popcorn again!
Nowadays, microwave popcorn is fast and easy. It's not cheap, however, and scary things are said to happen to the people who breathe in those grease fumes at the factories. No thanks!
Popcorn ranks right up there with meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy as a comfort food, but it’s a good munch any time of year! This is the long version of how to get the tastiest batch of popcorn in the scariest amount you can imagine!
We loved to munch on a bowl of popcorn crunched up together on the couch while my mom read us stories. I don’t know if we fought more to sit the closest to her or to the popcorn bowl!
I was probably seven or eight when one of my uncles died and my parents were gone several evenings to the funeral matters. My older cousin Jim came to stay with us and I had to take the popcorn pan away from him and make the popcorn myself! I've just been perfecting my technique since then!
Top Secret Hint You Won't Learn Anywhere Else
Here is my top-secret hint that I have never heard anyone mention before: make sure the pan is super, super clean! The smoother and more slippery the inside bottom of the pan, the better the popping. You’re thinking your pans are clean already, and likely they are, but check anyway. I mean the clean you get from steel-wool pads and soap! This means if you want a double batch of popcorn, you need to wash the pan in between batches. Depending on which type of oil you use, there is often a sticky residue of oil left in the pan. That stickiness will retard the next batch of popping, so you may as well scrub it.
Better yet, with some practice and the right size pan, you can make enough popcorn from my method so you don’t need to make a double batch. A heavy bottomed pan is essential and a newer one works better than an older one if the older one has become pitted with age. We still use some fifty year old pots and pans at my mom’s house, so I’m real sure on this one!
Two handled pan is awkward, but glass lid is fun!
Popcorn Makes Memories
When we were kids hanging out with our cousins, every once in a while my Dad or one of my aunts would make us a bag of popcorn for a treat. We might take that bag to the drive-in theater (I’m dating myself, I know!) or sit on logs by the campfire and munch. When I say bag, I seriously mean bag! It was two paper grocery bags, one inside the other, and filled more than halfway to the top. That greasy paper bag made the rounds of the campfire until it was empty. We even pried up the loose flaps on the bottom to retrieve any stray kernels. Then the bag went onto the fire with a nice surge of blue flame.
Back to the kitchen and your nice, clean, shiny, deep pan with a nicely fitting lid. A poorly fitted lid will trap the steam and drip it onto the stove, making a big mess. A pan with one handle is better than one with two. You won’t need hot pads and you’ll be a lot more coordinated with the pouring of popping corn. Yes, I pour while it’s still popping! That’s why you need a deep pan.
During the summers, a bunch of my male cousins lived in a bunkhouse called The Boys’ Cabin. No one else was allowed in there, but you can imagine how disgusting a place it was with no rules and no cleaning. I heard the story of the time they made popcorn in a pan with no lid! Screaming hot popcorn kernels went flying everywhere and there was no way to get close enough to put the lid on. Everyone had to hide or run out the door. And the only popcorn left to eat had to be picked up off the sleeping bags or the floor. It was a disastrous experiment that no one should repeat!
Making the Popcorn
• Ok, get out the bag of popcorn, open it to have ready. The yellow popcorn usually pops the biggest and the black and red popcorn pops the smallest. The choices in most grocery stores are very slim; you’ll probably have to hunt for real popcorn! Orville Reddenbacher does pop into very fluffy kernels, but you might get better flavor from a different brand. Experiment!
• Choose a cooking oil. Corn oil, of course, goes well with popcorn, but olive oil works fine as well. I don’t care for the flavor of canola oil with popcorn and the flavor of peanut oil is just weird with popcorn; you have to be desperate to use that. If you get a butter-flavored oil, such as the Orville Reddenbacher one, you will like the smell while the corn is popping, but none of it will stick with your snack. And have you read the ingredient list? No thanks!
- When I’m feeling healthy, I choose—gasp—coconut oil! Yes, I know the bad press coconut oil has gotten, but there is another school of thought that believe coconut oil is actually healthy. It’s definitely expensive and you’ll have to go to a store with a big natural or organic foods section to find it. It’s one of the few oils that is solid at room temperature, so it comes in a short jar, not a bottle. If you use it, be sure to put the coconut oil on the bottom of the pan; don’t just scrape it onto the sides. And give it an extra few seconds to melt.
• Butter. Yes, because this is TASTY popcorn. I like real butter on my popcorn and you will too. Go out for a walk afterward to ease the guilt. I’ve tried air popped corn, but it’s almost as bad as rice cakes for tastelessness and dry texture. Three options for melting the butter:
- Quick and easy and clean: put it in a clear glass measuring cup and microwave it in increments of 20 seconds. It depends on how cold it is to start with.
Fewer dishes method: wait til the popcorn is done popping and then melt the butter in the still hot pan. A bit tricky, because it is very easy to scorch the butter this way and your popcorn is cooling whilst you are melting!
- Most traditional and healthy way: Use a tiny pan to gently melt the butter. Put it on low or medium low and watch it carefully. The timing is harder to orchestrate, so I generally nuke it.
Salt is good
* Salt. Why bother living if you can’t have salt? Well, in fact, you wouldn’t live very well if you didn’t have any salt, but that’s a different story. I went to a movie theater in England where they offered the choice of salted or sugared popcorn, but I am a traditionalist about it. I LOVE a natural sea salt, either white or gray, on the popcorn. It just has a wonderful flavor, if you get the stuff that is really sea salt and comes in little packages and big crystals. Sea salt has all the minerals that salt is supposed to have and so much delicious flavor! I generally grind pinches of salt between the palms of my hands onto the popcorn but that might not be the texture you like.
On the Stove
Gas stove? Electric? Who cares—whatever you have is what you’ll use. I put the pan on the burner and turn the heat medium high so the pan gets warm. DON’T GO ANYWHERE! You could scorch the pan and be really sorry. Next, add oil to the pan, enough so that it will coat the bottom of the pan when you tip it to spread the oil. Not too deep, or your popcorn will be heavy with grease. Insufficient oil and the popcorn will scorch and you won’t like the smell in your kitchen. And you’ll really hate washing that pan!Now, the pan and the oil are hot, so add the popcorn. Add it by the handful, or pour some in a measuring cup first. If you pour right from the bag, you will either pour too much or spill it. The popcorn will begin bubbling and traveling about as soon as it hits the hot oil, so do this quickly. Most people do a single layer, but I usually do about a double layer, and will go for a triple layer IF the pan is deep enough. This is how I get the scariest amount of popcorn! Tilt and twist the pan to make sure every kernel gets coated with oil and add a bit more oil if necessary. Then, quick, put the lid on that pan and get two good-sized bowls ready!
As soon as the first few kernels pop, turn the heat down a bit to between medium and medium-high. You will be able to tell how much has popped by the decreasingly hollow sounds inside the pan. Start shaking the pan vigorously when you feel the pan is about half full of popped kernels. Just before the popped kernels level reaches the lid, give the pan a good shake to jar the unpopped kernels to the bottom and remove the lid so you can pour ¼ to 1/3 of the popcorn into a nearby bowl. With the pan that full, there won’t be any exploding kernels. Then put the lid back on, hit the button on the microwave for the butter and wait for the pan to fill back up again. Keep shaking as necessary. You want to jar all those loose kernels downward!
Remove the lid and shake the top layer of popcorn into the bowl again. Replace the lid and turn the heat down if you’re using an electric stove. Once the rhythm of popping has slowed to one pop every three to four seconds, turn the heat off, shake the pan and pour the rest of the popcorn into the bowls, as appropriate.
Pour the melted butter in concentric circles over the top of the popcorn, and then add the salt on top of that. Using a butter knife, stir up the popcorn to distribute the butter. Then shake the bowl to dislodge any loose kernels down to the bottom. My dad and my uncle used to argued about the best way to mix the popcorn, so now I just do what they both said!
Now you should have a scary amount of really tasty popcorn. Seriously, if you did popped the corn right, you'd better have two bowls available because the popcorn will be flowing all over the countertop otherwise!
Sit down, share with your friends and family and ENJOY.
I’ve made popcorn this way hundreds of times and generally only have very few unpopped kernels—less than half a dozen from store brand popping corn.
If you have any leftovers, you can store them in plastic storage bags or lidded bowls and take for a lunchtime snack the next day. I just made a batch of popcorn, but writing this has made me hungry for it all over again!