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Best popcorn?

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I'm considering popping some popcorn the old fashioned way and was wondering what folks' favorite brands are. I'm just going to do it in a pot with a lid on the stovetop, so something really easily poppable is essential.

Other questions: does popcorn need to be stored in a cool, dark dry place so it doesn't absorb moisture? I assume so.

The most important question is whether it's worth the trouble. Does microwave popcorn taste just as good and cost less these days?

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  1. I was on the phone a few years ago with my cousin while she was popping and consuming a bag of microwave popcorn. Since we were gabbing rather a lot, her bag of popcorn got cold before she could finish it. Her comments went from, "My popcorn's done...smells good!" to "You know,this stuff gets awful chewy halfway through" to "Have you ever noticed the slimy stuff that coats your mouth when you eat this junk?" By the end of the conversation we had both decided...life is too short to eat something this bad, even if it is cheap & easy.
    I've been popping corn in a pan of oil ever since. Store brand popcorn, peanut or corn oil, shake the pan like crazy, and then pour on (real) melted butter. And of course, salt, parmesan, whatever you fancy.
    The real stuff is soooooo good. And I had almost forgotten how good it really was.
    Save the microwave crap for work, if you must.
    And you know, judging by some of the recent news articles, breathing the 'butter flavor' concentrate is worse for you than nerve gas...I know, its in MUCH lower levels in the product, but STILL!!!

    1 Reply
    1. re: tonifi

      we have an electric hot air popcorn popper from the 70's. Haven't really noticed a difference in the popcorn (we buy what's on sale and consume it rarely).

      The point of my reply is that you might consider a hot air electric popper vs a stove top pan.

    2. I am all about convenience but microwave popcorn just isn't as good as stove popped.
      I use Orville Redenbacher's popcorn and pop it in canola oil. I start it in a cold pan over high heat and the lid a teeny bit askew (enough so the steam can escape, but not the popcorn.) I shake it regularly until the pops slow to occasional
      I microwave the butter and drizzle it over before adding salt and other seasonings so they stick properly. YUM

      Link: http://bunrab.com/

        1. re: Karl S.

          sad to say, i was thouroughly disappointed with BJ.

          The popped kernals were way too small for my liking and i don't believe the texture made up for that.

          Maybe I'm a victim of the 70s but I've reverted back to using Orville. Nothing spectacular but more to my liking than BJ.

          I used to use White Cat but have not seen their mason jars around in quite some time.

          fwiw, i too use a 20 yr old. stovetop Whirly Pop.

          1. re: bk

            Oh, I LOVE the smaller kernels, which have a lovely texture and flavor. People always eat up the BJ bowl over the OR bowl when I offer both.

        2. I use Orville's. Not sure if it is the best. But I can say that microwave popcorn is awful. The smell alone is enough to make me avoid wating it. For the stove top, we use a "Whirly-pop" pan. It is great- cooks the popcorn in no time, with little oil. I add a bit of oil and salt to the pan. No need to warn up this type of pan. just add the popcorn, and you are set. the whirly pop has a crank handle which tosses the kernals as they cook. it is actually just a mini version of the popcorn machines in a pub, or the kiosk stand type machines at ball games, amusement parks, etc. Bought it for a gift for someone, and they liked is so much, had to get one for myself.

          2 Replies
          1. re: macca

            I have an airpopper from the early 1990s (you can still buy them new, but they last a long time) and we more or less have nightly popcorn. I use whatever popcorn I can get - store brand, Jiffy, the one with the Quaker wagon on the label, Orville - and I can't tell much of a difference except that I prefer white popcorn over yellow popcorn.

            I will, on occasion, go the pan route. I think the oil gives the popcorn a flavor depth you don't get with air popped corn. I also like the way the oil makes the popcorn a little more chewy.

            Melter butter, no margarine. Kosher salt. Sometimes a little brewer's yeast if the whole bowl is for me. Mmmmmm.

            I detest microwave popcorn. It's smell makes me ill. I can't even walk down that aisle in the grocery store. It's worse than the detergent aisle.

            As an aside: My sister-in-law was at our house and just starving. She's a junk food mamma and after going through our "bare" cupboards, I said, "Do you want me to make you some popcorn?" She said yes and proceeded to watch me in absolute fascination. I made a huge bowl of air popped for us to share and she ate the entire thing herself: "I never knew popcorn could taste SO good!" I bought her a airpopper for Christmas. It was only about $18 off of Amazon.

            1. re: macca

              Newman's Own No Butter No Salt Microwave Popcorn doesn't have that microwave popcorn smell. It's just plain popcorn, packaged conveniently in a bag for the microwave. Same goes for Garden of Eating (yes, I know) popcorn. You can do the same thing with plain popcorn and a paper bag. It's helpful for the office.

            2. i haven't found any major differences in brands, but freshness is important. a popcorn kernel has a small amount of moisture in it, which is what causes it to pop as it heats and expands. as it ages, this moisture evaporates, and the popcorn doesn't pop up as well. i wouldn't buy more than you think you can use in a few months time. the best popcorn i've made has been with one of the handcrank gadgets, closely followed by the good old pan on a stovetop method. i have found that hot air poppers make horrendously dry popcorn, and, due to the dryness of the popped corn, butter doesn't seem to distribute well (it's completely absorbed by the first pieces it touches). i usually wind up using 2-3 times the butter i normally would to get a decent distribution, which negates the benfit of air popping.

              1. j
                JK Grence *the Cosmic Jester)

                I use Orville Redenbacher, it tends to be the freshest, biggest popping corn available. The popper is important, too- the Whirley Pop brand (previously known as the Theater II) is by far the best. Start out by melting 1/4 cup of butter (don't you DARE use margarine!) either in the microwave or on the stove, and set aside until ready to use. Put about 1/4 c. of the oil of your choosing (coconut oil is AWESOME) in the pan, and let it heat until it starts to smoke. Add 1/2 c. (4 ounces) of popcorn, and start turning the crank. When the handle stops moving (and the lid pops open), take it off the heat and pour half the popcorn into a 6-quart serving bowl. Drizzle on half of the melted butter- the best way to do this is to spin the bowl (a lazy Susan might help) and slowly pour the butter in a straight line while the bowl is spinning. Then, sprinkle on popcorn salt and/or the seasonings of your choice. If the seasonings already have salt (such as my favorite, Penzeys Sandwich Sprinkle), do NOT add more salt until after you've tasted it. Toss to mix, pour in the rest of the popcorn, and repeat the buttering and seasoning with the remaining butter.

                3 Replies
                1. re: JK Grence *the Cosmic Jester)

                  Coconut oil is awesome. The unhydrogenated (sp) stuff is one of the healthiest oils out there too. You can find it at a health food store.

                  1. re: Becca Porter

                    Hydrogenated or not, I believe coconut oil is extremely high in saturated fat and should be avoided unless your arteries are as wide as the Lincoln Tunnel. Please correct if I am wrong about the liquid variety.

                2. As the risk of sounding like a shill, I love my West Bend Stir Crazy popper, which is one of those old fashioned bowl poppers. But this one has the added feature of a rotating arm which agitates the kernals so that almost all of them pop. Appeals to my thrifty nature. You use a little oil (I use EVOO) which imparts that nice movie theater flavor.

                  I got the popper because microwave popcorn uses that solid brick of hydrogenated fat, which will kill you. The Paul Newman brand, I noticed, doesn't use it but when you look on the ingredient list, it has palm oil, which isn't that much better. Instead, I slather my healthy-popped corn with real flavor-imparting butter and grated cheese.

                  That said, to answer your question, I don't find too much difference in fancy gourmet popping corn. So I just the get cheap kind, which is bulk popcorn at Sahadi's (NYC) for 60 cents a pound. I think the flavor is more affected by popping method and the add-ins, so I focus on creative ideas for that.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: Pupster

                    Pupster- Sounds like the Whirly pop- I love it- only use a tsp or so of oil. All kernals pop.

                    1. re: macca

                      Never seen a WhirlyPop, but the StirCrazy is not stove-top. See picture below.

                      Got it for 19.99 on a Friday Sale.

                      Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/...

                      1. re: Pupster

                        I see what you mean. The Whirly Pop is a stove top- I think I paid $25.00 for mine. Link below

                        Link: http://www.popcornpopper.com/24000.html

                        1. re: macca

                          Hmmm. Seen those before. Do you have to stand there and stir by hand? Do you have a problem with burning?

                          1. re: Pupster
                            JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester)

                            Yes, you do have to stir it by hand, but it certainly doesn't take very long, a minute or two tops. As long as you take the pan off the heat as soon as you can't stir anymore, you won't scorch your popcorn.

                            1. re: Pupster

                              Have to turn the crank. I add about 1 tsp oil, salt and the popcorn. No need to preheat. It cooks the popcorn really quickly. Done in a minute or so. All of the kernals cook, and no burning. I love it. When I first bought it as a gift, I really didn;t belive it could cook so quickly, but it's great. And we love popcorn in my house!

                              1. re: macca

                                Though I'm happy with what I've got, it's good to know there are options out there. Thanks for the feedback.

                                1. re: Pupster

                                  No problem- and I hate to admit it, but I am a sucker for kitchen gadgets.

                                  1. re: macca

                                    Yeah, in the middle of our conversation yesterday, I had to get up and make me some popcorn in my Stir Crazy. Melted some Irish butter and got out the good wedges of parm and grana padano. Five minutes later I was munching on delicious popcorn and I had to turn off my computer due to my butter-soaked fingers.

                                    1. re: Pupster

                                      That sounds heavenly.

                                      1. re: Pupster

                                        You're killing me!! i am sitting in the office, forgot my lunch, finishing my ice coffee and starving. My boss has microwave popcorn, but i think I would rather starve to death. I actually get a sick feeling when I smell it cooking. My dad was the same way. Counting the minutes to lunch.

                                        1. re: Pupster

                                          The flavor of butter-soaked fingers can linger for hours. You can still taste the butter much later.

                        2. "The most important question is whether it's worth the trouble. Does microwave popcorn taste just as good and cost less these days?"

                          Not in my opinion. I can't tell you how many boxes of microwave popcorn I've thrown out after trying one bag (most of which also got tossed). I don't understand why people eat microwave popcorn. It tastes disgusting and can't be good for you with that frankenfat they use. Try the pan on the stove method. It's easy, everything goes in one pan, and you'll really taste the difference. I just use the best looking grocery store popcorn.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: Kimm

                            Can you tell me how to do the pan on the stove method? I've been dying for some popcorn, but like you said, the microwave popcorn is pretty nasty, and I don't have a popcorn popper. Thank you!

                            1. re: Samantha

                              put some oil in a sauce pan and heat. add a kernel or two, when they pop, add popcorn, cover with a lid and agitate, until the popping sound gets sparse. Melt your butter in the microwave or in foil on the stovetop. I also do the half the popcorn, half the butter, repeat method.

                              I have dedicated one saucepan for popcorn, because I like some of them burnt and sometimes go too far.

                              Most brands okay; the worst I've tried was the organic popcorn at Real Foods, so many didn't pop.

                              1. re: semmel

                                Thanks-I'll be attempting this tonight!

                                1. re: semmel

                                  Don't need a whole lot of oil. I use 3 kernels for testers; when they all 3 pop, it's hot enough. Add your corn, next step is crucial. IMMEDIATELY shake the livin' ab-dabs out of your pan, while covered of course. This ensures that all the kernels are well coated with oil, which guarantees greatest number successfully popped. When done remove lid immediately, as trapped steam will make the kernels tough. What you top it with is up to you; I like the taste of the popcorn itself, but have been known to sprinkle on a salt, pepper, & sugar mix. My guilty secret? I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. With a splash of olive oil.

                                  1. re: Shep

                                    2 more bits of advice:

                                    Don't leave the lid on completely while the corn pops. Better to let the steam escape and a few pieces of popcorn, too. Allows for the most tender popcorn.

                                    Hard to wash the pot with the superheated oil on it. Use some dishwasher detergent, very hot water and let stand for a 10-15 minutes. Much easier.

                                    1. re: desert rat

                                      Another possibility. Get a large cast iron sauce pan and use it exclusively for your popcorn pan. Just wipe it out. Never wash it. Use good oil.

                                      It takes more strength to shake it. But the popcorn comes out great.

                                      1. re: shoo-bee-doo

                                        Great idea. Bet you could use the same pan as a Dutch Oven. I'm thinking baked potatoes, at least.

                            2. I always feel a bit unclean after eating microwave popcorn. There is one that I like okay--the Orville Redenbacher Natural White (no fake butter)--but it's not as good as stovetop popcorn.

                              I really miss my parents' ancient electric oil popper. Better than air-popped, but no stove or crank.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Sallie
                                1 wiener hound

                                Does anyone know a brand of microwave popcorn that is light ( not 97% Fat Free) natural no butter anywhere? Five or six years ago you could get it at Sam's Wholesale and it was Act II brand but I have not seen it anywhere. A year ago I became a Costco shopper so do not have Sam's card anymore. Sams did not have it for several years before I swapped to Costco.

                                1. re: 1 wiener hound

                                  I'm not sure what you mean by light, but Garden of Eating's Organic Microwave Popcorn's entire ingredient list is: Organic popcorn, Organic salt.

                                  1. re: curiousbaker

                                    Bearitos makes a "no salt no oil" microwave popcorn. I'm not sure if it's 100% oil-free, but I've bought it from Whole Food before. I still see it these days, it's in the same aisle as the soy chips, tortilla chips, etc.

                                    Link: http://www.littlebearfoods.com/produc...

                                    1. re: oli

                                      Or if you want to make your own and save some dough, here is a recipe:

                                      Heat a ceramic container with lid in microwave for 3 minutes with a quarter teaspoon of water in it. If you want salt, you can add it with the water.

                                      Carefully take the thing out with oven mitts - it will be hot. Dump in kernels and cook for whatever your micro takes - usually 3 to 4 minutes.

                                      Watch carefully. If you cook too long, you can set it on fire.

                                      The water is to make the container nice and hot and to get the kernels started with a little moisture.

                                      This popcorn is dry and crunchy as hell, but fat-free. A bunch of butter will cure both those problems.

                              2. After burning a few pans I decided to check the label to see how much oil and popcorn to use. It said three tablespoons oil to a half cup popcorn. I used to use Orville Redenbacher but I got a huge jug of some fancy red kind at Surfas in L.A. and it's awesome. Now I just wait until a few kernels pop in the canola oil, add the half cup popcorn and in less than two minutes with minimal shaking, the entire pan is done perfectly with not one burnt kernel.
                                No special pans, no special oils, and faster than a microwave, I would bet.
                                I then melt butter in the still hot pan and then sometimes mix in a little worchestershire sauce. After pouring the butter on the popcorn, I sprinkle one or more of the following items: grated parmesan, popcorn salt, fleur de sel, lemon pepper, garlic salt. People are invariably amazed by how good it tastes.
                                I hate the way microwave popcorn makes the house smell.

                                1. I've been looking into alternatives to Orville Redenbacher, a ConAgra brand, ie, pure agribusiness monoculture. Is White Cat the best? Or Black Jewel? Are there any good organic options for real, non-microwave popcorn?

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Maxwell

                                    It is getting harder to find the "bulk" branded popcorn as there is this convenience craze of microwave popcorn.

                                    Strange but true, that some of the best popcorn comes in large 15-50 pound bags!. There is another Indiana brand of popcorn called Pop Weaver. Unfortunately it is sold bulk as a concession items through wholesalers. Some of them do not sell items to the public but that varies to where you live at. Their best hybrid is called Weaver Gold. I got my last bag 2 weeks ago and split it up between some friends and family. A few is already crying for more! :-)

                                    1. re: Maxwell

                                      I got the popcorn sampler here and my favorite is the Fiery Garnet. Great flavor, good size kernels. It's addictive! I keep meaning to taste test against supermarket popcorn but haven't gotten around to it.


                                    2. Orville Redenbacher is the best.
                                      With coccnut oil it is great!

                                      1. In high school I worked at a drive in theater concession stand and what I experienced there turned me off of popcorn for many years. (You don't want to ask!) Much later I lived in Valparaiso, Indiana, home base for Orville R., and reactivated my popcorn gene. I'll look forward to trying a few of the above suggestions on the long winter nights ahead.

                                        1. Maxwell, depends what you like about popcorn. Black Jewel tends to be a smaller, tougher kernel. Orville, has sold out, I know, but my sister lives in Valparaiso and it is still the same corn they are growing. The whole family is watching to see if the quality dips on the Orville--it is our sad experience that most products are no longer good once the conglomerates get their hands on them. We especially miss going to the farm and buying our 5 pound jars--yes our family is nuts for popcorn.
                                          I was looking for carmel corn one time and one of the websites gave a good rundown on the types of popcorn and why some are suited to different purposes. I think it was a company in Colorado.

                                          1. How does Newman's (for stove top) compare to Black Jewel and other smaller brands? I've only used Orville and the organic bulk type from the co-op.

                                            1. Our 16 year old is the popcorn king!

                                              Out of the bag he goes for Smartfoods White Cheddar hands down but he owns a movie theater fashioned popcorn machine (which resides in our family room) and is in charge of kernels, butter & maintance (he promised, we bought it).

                                              The only corn he'll pop remains Newman's Own in peanut oil.

                                              If he adds butter, spices, caramel it's after,fresh out of the popper.

                                              Darn good stuff too.

                                              1. I eat popcorn every day, I heat up the pan, put canola oil mixed with EXTRA virgin olive oil and add salt to the oil and sometimes a little red pepper for a little spice, maybe black pepper sometimes. Also, Sams club has yellow popcorn seasoning you can add to the hot oil and afterwards on top. Also, what is really healthy is to put a sprinkle of extra virgin olive oil on top of popcorn in the bowl and sprinkle with salt. This beats the heck out of butter toppings and more healthier too..

                                                1. I've been using Pop Secret Jumbo cooked in clarified butter (use the butter recipe from the Cooking for Engineers blog). All measurements eyeballed in a pan on the stove with a vented lid ::whispering:: cover the bottom of your pan in one layer of kernels with all of them coated in clarified butter. I put all of the ingredients in at once 8P. As long as you smell what's going on in the pot, you won't ruin the whole batch if you control the temp, trust your nose, and shake it up. I season with Flavacol, and everyone asks me if I'm a wizard sent from popcorn heaven.