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How do you make old-fashioned popcorn in a covered pan or pot?

I used to make it all the time when I was a kid and then air poppers and microwave poppers came out. I'd love to make popcorn the old fashioned way in a covered pot but I can't seem to remember the proportions. Does anyone have any tips? Thanks

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  1. I remember putting some oil in the pot...putting some popcorn in...covering it, heating it, and letting it pop! Honestly, clueless about measurements in those days! I would think, just guessing, enough oil to cover the bottom of the pot and a bit more...stirring the popcorn to coat...getting it hot enough and it will pop. Some may burn..and most won't as the covered pot will also produce a certain amount of steam! I look forward to responses!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jesdamala

      I agree with your recipe. I've never measured the oil:kernel ratio, I'd just make sure it was enough to cover the bottom of the pan.. Just eye it., I don't think they really ever used measuring cups in the olden days anyway.

      1. re: beccabones

        Ditto, just don't add too much popcorn. It goes a long way. I used to do like 1/2 and just enough oil to coat the bottom is all. Still make it that way when my friends come over for a movie. The rest of the time. I have those small snack bags for just me.

    2. WHIRLEY POP Stovetop popper makes the best popcorn. 100 times better than microwave in the same amount of time.

      1. 2T oil to 1/4 cup or popcorn for an old (oil) style popcorn maker.

        1. We always make ours in a wok. My husband puts in enough oil to cover the bottom, then turns the burner on high, puts in three kernels, and puts the lid on the wok. When he hears all three kernels pop, he pours in enough popcorn to come about a half inch above the oil (At least that's what it looks like to me. I'll ask him when I have the chance.), then covers it again and starts shaking the wok back and forth on the burner (a maneuver that will be remembered by those whose popcorn memories predate air poppers and microwaves). When he doesn't hear any more popping, he takes it off the burner. A few more will pop when the wok is uncovered. He makes an entire wok full of popcorn this way.

          (Digression: As far as pre-'70's convenience popcorn goes, I guess you can still buy Jiffy Pop--haven't thought about it in a long time--it was good except when it caught on fire, which happened fairly often!)

          Nine minutes later:

          I asked my scientific spouse, and instead of estimating, he insisted on going and getting out the wok, the popcorn, and the oil. He measured the usual amount of popcorn, which turned out to be 3/4 cup, and the usual amount of oil, which was 3 tablespoons, So maybe a ratio of 1 T. oil to 1/4 c. popcorn is appropriate, except as he cautioned, "It's a wokload, not a panload."

          Now I need to go wash the wok, in appreciation. Hope this helps!

          12 Replies
          1. re: zorra

            Lol, I had a trying day today and your scientific exploits have put a smile on my face. Thanks to you and your husband, I shall try popping corn in my wok.

            1. re: zorra

              I've been cooking popcorn in a wok for decades. Using a regular pot with a lid will trap moisture which is absorbed by the popped kernals, making them tougher.

              The secret is an el cheapo Asian made wok you can get for next to nothing at a restaurant supply place and not the fancy schmancy pseudo-woks you get by Calphalon and other makers of cookware.

              The el cheapo's have lids that don't seal, thereby letting the steam escape which results in crispy popcorn.

              And yes, real butter. Is that even in question?

              I prefer not to eat microwave popcorn.

              1. re: bkhuna

                Unfortunately not all of us have woks. My pot and cover always seemed to work fine. Never noticed any tough kernels.

                But butter of course for me. But now a days, I eat micro all the time. I usually eat popcorn at work which in on a boat. So snack size in a micro. They have come a long ways and not too bad. Still love fresh popped but it has been a while. Just for me ... I wouldn't bother getting another pan dirty. But understand the tradition.

                1. re: kchurchill5

                  "Not too bad" translates to not too good. I can clean the pan in less than a minute. We always give the lid a crack to release the steam as others have suggested, a wok is not necessary. I just don't trust all the "stuff" added to microwave popcorn. C'mon kchurchill5, give fresh one more try, sounds like you could pull it off on a boat although space is surely at a premium. It's just so much better.

                  1. re: James Cristinian

                    No burner, no cabinets, just an ultra small micro and a very tiny small electric grill on top when necessary, lol. Not much room even for jiffy pop :) But agree, probably much better. Popcorn is my afternoon snack usually so don't have many comfort of home.

                    1. re: kchurchill5

                      Ah, jiffy pop. I don't think there was any way of making that without burning it. That must explain my love for burned popcorn and the old maids. There is nothing finer than melted butter over burned popcorn, but the non burned is good as well. The trick is to pour most of the popcorn off before it burns, and then cook the rest to desired burntness. It also requires a pot dedicated to burned popcorn.

                2. re: bkhuna

                  I like microwave popcorn. I buy standard popcorn, put it in a paper bag, use enough oil to just cover each kernal, and heat it in the microwave on the 'popcorn' setting (sounds like 30%). Perfectly fluffy using very little oil - it gets dressed in a lot of different ways after that. I've also used a plain dish and plate to to the same thing. This way I have the convenience, the amount I want, and the lower cost without all the nasty stuff they put in pre-packed microwave popcorn.

                  1. re: alwayscooking

                    Thats a good idea, thx. On a boat we are so crunched for space but I could take that. Nice thought. I usually just use a little salt, very little not much else for me. Although I like lots of topping, I try to go simple most times.

                    1. re: kchurchill5

                      You really don't even need oil to do the paper-bag-in-microwave...just apply butter & salt afterwards or whatever you're putting on it. I do mine in the microwave...just 1/3 cup of kernels...microwave for 2 1/2 minutes...it's ready...lately I've been making it a little healthier with Bragg Liquid aminos and nutritional yeast...but butter and salt works too!

                      1. re: Val

                        Thx, salt a little ... butter, ABSOLUTELY, forgot to mention that above. I have some horrible powdered powdered butter but it's a boat, so I'm lucky to have anything I can get out there. Lunch is usually cold tuna and a sub or salad, anything we make ahead in the cooler. So the micro is our friend out there, especially at night surveys, we try to bring stuff we can heat on the boat. We grilled grouper on this tiny grill up top and I made mashed potatoes and asparagus and a warm balsamic dressing for some bagged salad. Amazing what you can do in a micro. It won't be on my catering menu, but not too shabby for micro cooking :)

                        Popcorn is our craving in the afternoon, or at least mine

                        1. re: kchurchill5

                          Popcorn is my favorite salty snack, hands down. Even above cheetos or potato chips...oh, dear!

                          1. re: Val

                            Oh cheetos ... Yummy. Doesn't work well on a boat and trying to type and record data and fish. The fish don't like orange goo on the shrimp for bait :)

                            PC with butter and parm and salt, 3x decadent!!

                            Probably not on weight watchers huh? Still love it now and then.

              2. I do this all the time. Turn the heat on high. Put enough oil to cover the botton of the pot thinly. Add three popcorn kernels. Put the cover on the pot. When the first kernel pops add enough more popcorn to cover the bottom of the pot in a single layer. Turn the heat down to medium, cover the pot with a small crack at the top so steam can escape, and shake the pot periodically.

                When the pops become less frequent than one per 15 seconds or so it's done.



                1 Reply
                1. re: Euonymous

                  My parents used to make popcorn in a covered pot all the time. I don't recall proportions of oil to corn. If I recall correctly they used a pressure cooker, but without the pressure weight (steam escapes from the vent). The other key thing was to shake the pan continually while corn was popping. The shaking is a substitute for the stirring paddle that you see in old fashioned poppers.


                2. Thanks for the great tip! The next time I pop corn, I'll remember to use the wok and a metal colander for the lid. I like the idea of letting steam escape as the corn pops.

                  1. Grapeseed oil is particularly great for this purpose. And I prefer Black Jewell popcorn.

                    1. I use mostly veg. oil, but then drizzle a little red pepper infused oil into the pot. I like it spicy, but you could use any flavor that appeals to you - as much or as little as you like.

                      1. Don't suppose it's possible to use this method without the oil? I used to pop corn in the microwave (the old "put kernels in paper bag, close, nuke" method) but my new apartment doesn't have one...

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: piccola

                          I realize that piccola asked this in 2006, but since the thread has been revived: you can use very little oil; not sure if it can be omitted completely. I use a deep 3-qt pot with an 8" diameter. It is nonstick but it's old and no longer lives up to that promise. I put in just enough oil to barely coat the bottom, then add the kernels but do not stir. I assume the purpose of the oil is to prevent the bottom of the kernels from scorchingand am not so much concerned with coating the whole kernel. I add about 1/3 cup kernels. They don't burn and there are maybe 6-8 duds, which I once heard defined as "poopcorn". ;-)

                          1. re: piccola

                            Yes you can pop corm with no oil - it's the way I've popped corn since the 70's after our air popper melted. You have to be careful to not burn the popcorn as the pan does not transfer heat to the kernels as efficiently as oil.

                            To me stovetop popcorn has a better texture than mico popcorn. Of course it could just be my imagination.

                            And yes, I too am jumping into a long dormant thread, but what the heck.

                          2. I highly recommend the WHIRLEY POP. After you work with it a little you can make popcorn with very little oil, a lot of oil, or a mix of oil and butter.

                            I have been using 1 Tbs butter, 1 Tbs EVOO and 2/3 cup popcorn.

                            It makes a whole lot of popcorn and has a rich buttery taste with about 1 tsp fat per portion.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Fleur

                              Thanks for the recommendation. Your feedback is very helpful, I've seen it before but no one I know had experience with it. I especially like the idea of butter and EVOO.

                            2. I have a huge bowl of perfect popcorn in front of me now.. lol Originally It took me a few goes to master but now I have it down pact and with many requests when people come over lol (which can be hard work if you have a heavy pot!) I use either olive oil or pure virgin coconut oil which gives it a yummy, slightly creamy taste. Use about 3T on the bottom of the pan and let sit on med- high heat for about a min. Then cover the base with kernels, put the lid on and start shaking the pot every 10 seconds or so. I found that when I didnt shake as much, there would always be burnt ones and they wouldnt pop to the fullest size. Keep doing this till they starting popping and turn the heat off when you can start to count the single pops. Dont take the lid off till you hear only a couple. Pour into a bowl and add a good sprinkling of sea salt. :)

                              1. I've been converted to theater style popcorn, my wife loves it. Gott'a have the large bucket and the free refill on the way out of the movies when we go. We have one of those pots with the crank that spins the cornels around while popping. There pretty cheap at Target if you get just the pot. They sell one with extra junk you don't need for a lot more. We find the best results come from the all-in-one pre-measured oil and popcorn bags that are made to feed the commercial popcorn machines. We buy them at a Cisco's store and I think maybe Sam’s Club might sell them also. The only problem is that the package contains way too much for a stove top pot. What we do is use half the flavored oil and half the corn. There is a seasoning mixed in with the corn that needs to be halved as well. This is a pain but well worth it. We run the corn through a sieve to separate the seasonings from the corn and use half at a time. The first time we made it I didn't notice the seasoning so all the seasoning went in the first half or batch. Tastes just like the movie theater. The second batch / half tasted differently like it was missing something. After a close inspection of another bag I saw the seasoning in with the corn. I imagine you could make this in a regular pot as well (never tried). The idea came to use the commercial stuff after we had received the crank style pot for Xmas gift. Anyone who loves theater popcorn should try this, it is great. I should say that in researching the theater style popcorn, one of the keys was said to be using coconut oil which I could never find locally. Once we found this we never looked back.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: TimCarroll

                                  If you are still looking for coconut oil, you should be able to find it in a local health food store.

                                  1. re: Val

                                    Thank you but we never looked back. A funny thing you mentioning the health food store. At the time I was looking for it, my research told me it was one of the most unhealthy things, I think as far as fat or cholesterol wise you could use. Go figure?

                                    1. re: TimCarroll

                                      I've heard so many controversial things about coconut oil it isn't funny!
                                      A co-worker is taking a health/nutrition class at her church by a man (who is NOT an m.d.) but who is a chef and fitness freak...he TOTALLY advocates coconut oil (she brought some to work and mixed it with lime juice for a salad dressing)...Dr. Weil on the other hand who IS an m.d. does not and you can find conflicting opinions about it on the 'net by others too.

                                      1. re: Val

                                        People are confused when it comes to coconut oil and its been given a bad rap as there are some pretty crappy substitutes out there, but its actually one of the healthiest oils to use in cooking, provided your using virgin coconut oil. I actually order mine off the net as the last time i bought it in a store, it was so far from the real thing- it wouldn't even melt! ugh... If you can get your hands on the real stuff, its great for your immune system and boosts the metabolism etc plus the taste awesome in cooking. Popcorn is among my favorites to use it with, as well as in pancakes and muffins!

                                        1. re: Beebee11

                                          Thanks, Beebee...interesting to get another perspective...I'm pretty sure that my co-worker was talking about virgin coconut oil. I try not to use any oils for cooking but sometimes, you just have to! Heating up the oil is when there are all kinds of chemical changes happening, some not healthy. Her nutrition instructor was talking about medium-chains and lots of chemical-related jargon--I just don't know enough about it to really assess.

                                          1. re: Val

                                            Yeh i still dont get all the chemical equations either! :) But apparently the virgin coconut oil is not destroyed by heat nor does it become hydrogenated like other oils, so its great to use in cooking. Im always looking for info on natural health and am picky with my oils too! But i do swear by organic virgin olive/ coconut oils and am not shy when it comes to using them lol.. infact going to pop some corn now!

                                            1. re: Beebee11

                                              The health controversy with coconut oil, comes from the fact that most coconut oil in this country (and the palm too) was hydrogenated at the point that people started becoming trans fat aware. Hydrogenated coconut is bad. The natural kind is not unhealthy (though caloric) in the same way.

                                              1. re: Stuffed Monkey

                                                Coconut and palm oil developed a bad reputation before the current focus on hydrogenated fats. They are, naturally, more saturated than oils like soy and corn. Manufacturers, especially in Europe, have used them in baked goods, for the same reason that solid fats like Crisco and butter have been used. A lot of the bad press seems to have come from the competitions, the marketers of the temperate oils (soy etc).

                                                With the current focus on transfats as the bad boy, these naturally saturated fats have received some rehabilitation, though I still take the claims that 'organic, natural' palm (or coconut) fat is healthy with a big grain of salt.

                                2. I'm a popcorn fanatic, so I've been perfecting my technique in this area. :-) I don't measure the oil--just throw it in there, and swirl it around until it entirely covers the bottom of the pan. (I use canola or avocado oil.) Then I sprinkle in half a cup of popcorn, distributing it evenly across the pan. I turn the heat to medium and crack the lid on the pot.
                                  I noticed that a few pieces of the popcorn were coming out a little brown. So I started this technique that seems to prevent that: About halfway through popping--if you can imagine the popping as a bellcurve, try to time it past the peak of the bellcurve, but still near the top--slip the lid back on and, with a couple potholders, pick up the pot off the stove and shake it vigorously. Put the pot back on the stove, crack the lid again, and finish popping. Of course, you got to time it just right with taking it off the stove--soon enough to prevent burning but not too soon that you have a lot of unpopped kernels. This just takes practice.
                                  To "fix" the popcorn, we use 2 T. of melted butter. Sometimes my husband will mix in a little oil with the butter. We pour the butter over the popcorn, then gently mix with a spatula. Next, we add 2 T. of brewer's or nutritional yeast--lately we've used a brand called Bluebonnet. (If you go this route, be careful which kind you buy. Some brewer's yeasts are bitter. We bought one from GNC that was that way.) Then add about 1/2 to 1 tsp. salt. Perfect!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Sunny Days

                                    The shaking and moving are actually very important steps in making popcorn in a kettle pot. The gadgets that rotate the corn are just moving the kernals around differently. Are you old enough to remember the popcorn in the aluminum foil pan that blew up into a large foil ball (Jiffy Pop)? You were told to shake it constantly. Burning is avoided more efficiently this way.

                                    A large pot with handles and a lid is key. Preferably light enough that the cook can shake it around easily. We used to use a light weight stainless steel pot (something like Revere ware, something like a four quart Dutch oven), unmeasured oil just the way you said (we used vegetable oil) and about a half cup of kernals. The shaking was constant, and the lid had to be lifted a little to let the steam out several times during the process. We NEVER let it sit on the burner for more than a few seconds at a time. That was in invitation to disaster.

                                  2. The basics for stovetop popcorn are:
                                    1/2 cup popcorn (very fresh is important)
                                    3 tbsp oil
                                    Clarified butter
                                    Popcorn salt
                                    Put in a large pot over medium high heat and cover the pan. When you hear the first kernels begin to pop crack the lid slightly to vent being careful of the steam. Slide the pan back and forth, left and right on the burner to ensure even heating of all kernels. When the popping slows down remove from heat and pour popcorn into a large bowl. Finish by drizzling with melted, clarified butter and sprinkling with powdered popcorn salt (Morton's and Diamond Crystal both make this) to taste.

                                    To get the movie theater flavor you would use coconut oil (red coconut oil is popular) and Flavacol (powdered, butter-flavored salt with yellow coloring) added to the oil and unpopped kernels at the beginning and then proceed as above. You might use less butter and salt at the end due to the Flavocol.

                                    1. I too have been popping corn regularly since I was a child, and have been perfecting my technique for the last thirty years. I got a great tip from one of Alton Brown’s shows – heat everything at once.

                                      Here is my method – Put enough oil in the pan to cover the bottom of the pot, not quite one kernel deep. Dump in your raw corn and heat. I swish everything around so all the kernels get coated in oil. Shake the pot often. Once it starts popping, shake every few seconds. Usually blows the lid of the pot, so keep a couple bowls handy. If the popcorn is fresh, cooking it this way will leave very few “old maids” behind.

                                      I like to use corn oil if I have it, otherwise, typically use vergetable oil.A few kernels my burn if I’m not quick on the shake, but I’ve acquired a taste for them. My current seasoning of choice is smoked hickory salt, man that’s good!

                                      1. Here's my approach:

                                        Heavy bottomed pot (Avoid hot spots), at least eight quarts. Pressure cooking pots work especially well.

                                        EVOO to coat bottom of pot. Don't preheat; you'll burn the popcorn.

                                        A splatter guard instead of a lid - moisture goes right out! *Much* crisper product. You'll want long oven gloves to keep the guard on while avoiding steam burns and splattering oil.

                                        Add the popcorn. I use a lot (two-three layers) but have to move the pot initially to coat the kernels. Cover with guard. Have a bowl at the ready - I use a clean paper grocery bag.

                                        Turn heat to high. until the first kernels pop, then cut back heat just a little; say, to medium high. Your mileage may vary.

                                        Keep the pot moving at moderate speed, distributing the oil through the kernels as the oil heats. As the popping gets faster, well, so do you! Get butter melting - this one of the times I use the good cultured stuff.

                                        If the pot fills then carefully dump some of the popped corn into the awaiting bowl or bag.

                                        When popping slows turn off the heat. Dump the popped corn into the bowl/bag. Add melted butter and shake vigorously. This is why I like the paper bag - I can shake a bunch. The bag gets butter stained, but who cares? Add salt to taste, shaking to distribute. Pour into bowls. Eat.

                                        This may take a little practice, so invite me over me over and I'll help...

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Richard 16

                                          I also use a splatter screen, but put a paper towel underneath it, loosely (there's enough gaps to let steam out). It cuts greasiness down to the perfect medium.

                                          Also, you need to use Diamond Crystal table salt - its what "popcorn salt" is to people who use Morton's...

                                        2. I got this one tip for getting all the kernels to pop from somewhere online a while a go. Now I modified it and use the same technique for an even stove top coffee roasting (minus the use of oil):
                                          1)Heat a good sturdy cast iron or stainless steel pan/pot on medium high until about to smoke. To determine the temperature you can put in a couple of kernels so that you know when they pop that it's the right temp.
                                          2) pour in coil and the rest of the popcorn kernels swiftly. (better to have it measured out so you can do it quickly.
                                          3)put the lid on, shake to evenly distribute oil, and take it off the fire for 30 seconds with lid on.
                                          4)put it back on fire and constantly shake the pan, keeping the lid slightly open to let steam escape,but careful not too large a crack for flying popcorns.
                                          5)popcorn will pop together evenly. so listen for the decreasing sounds of hard kernel hitting the pan.
                                          It will become silent. Turn off heat. Open lid to let the steam escape.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: HLing

                                            would advise forgetting all your complicated cockamaymee recipes, and get yourself the WHIRLEY-POP.

                                            It makes the best Popcorn ever, on your stovetop, with as much or as little oil as you like, in less time it takes to microwave.

                                            Our latest favorite is 1 TBS EVOO, 1 TBS Butter 1/3 cup Orville Redenbacker Popcorn. When it is finished popping, whirl in 1/4-1/2 tsp Truffle Oil.

                                            1. re: Fleur

                                              Yes, use the Orville popcorn, NEVER generic. I don't know why there is a difference, but there is--generic is definitely inferior.

                                              1. re: Fleur

                                                I have a tiny kitchen, so I doubt I'd ever get the WHIRLEY-POP since it seems to be good for only one thing (maybe one can boil pasta in it?).

                                                Fresh lard (not the blocks from the supermarket) makes a tasty popping medium.

                                                1. re: F Schubert

                                                  Because of mentions on CH, about 1-2 years ago I bought a Whirley-Pop even tho I read reviews that they were making them with plastic gears that would melt and break. I bought one, anyway -- liked the popcorn. Well, it happened to me and I contacted the company. They were SO NICE, sent me new gears and I figured out how to replace. Well, I pop corn about once every 2-3 months. The new gear wore out after about 3 uses. (I do not use high heat, just regular.)

                                                  I decided to give up and I threw it all into the garbage -- in the future will just use a regular pot and lid. They should be ashamed making a product like this.

                                                  1. re: walker

                                                    I have a whirley pop- and it is ancient. Still works like a charm. The gears on mine are not plastic, maybe that is the problem. We use it all the time- bring it on vacation with us every summer, and make buckets of popcorn every night for 20+!

                                            2. I also love to do popcorn over the fire in the fire place or camp fire. I don’t use any oil and the corn turns out smoked and fluffy. Really delicious!

                                              1. Alton Brown recommends using a foil covered metal mixing bowl and using tongs as a handle. I haven't tried it, but it seems a good idea especially if you don't have a wok.

                                                1. we used to make all the time. Enough oil to cover the bottom of your pot. Then add enough popcorn to cover the bottom of pot. cover and stay with it shakeing the pot every so often. Then when you hear the first kernal pop you should hold the pan above the burner and shake often setting it down every so often to re heat to make the kernals pop again. when done pour the popcorn in a brown paper bag and pour on top how ever much butter you like and close that bag up and shake it reall good to cover ther kerneals with butter and your ready.

                                                  1. I use an old pressure cooker that has had the seal blown out.

                                                    A tablespoon of oil, (try bacon fat or duck fat sometime!), and then a layer of corn on the bottom.

                                                    The pressure cooker is the old kind that has a valve on the top that a heavy cap sat on, and that allows the steam to escape.

                                                    I keep that old pan just for popcorn; (Alton's uni-tasker rule be damned!).

                                                    1. A tablespoon of oil with 1/4 cup of popcorn. Heat oil to just before smoking point, add corn, cover shake and get ready with salt and flavoring. Your oil cannot be too warm or overheated.

                                                      1. I can't seem to figure this out though we don't have a good heavy bottomed pot big enough for popcorn and so it's always a random very thin pot which we rarely use for anything else. Is this the problem? It seems the kernels burn before they pop. Or do we need more oil?

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                          You do need a thick bottom pot or your corn will scorch. You can also use an electric fry pan if you have one.

                                                        2. I have a cast-iron pot designed for frying tempura. It has an enameled steel lid. For the past 35 years I have used it only for making popcorn. It is certainly seasoned for the task, and the heat retention of the cast iron ensures that very few kernels are left unpopped.

                                                          1. Used cast iron oven 8.5 in W x 5 in H with measured 2 Tbsp unrefined coconut oil and a ½-cup of Bob's Red Mill non-GMO popcorn. Heat source, 1800W Magneflux induction cook top, set to 450°.
                                                            Heated up oil with 3 kernels, took 1 min 45 sec for all to pop. Added a ½-cup of kernels to oven; placed kitchen towel over open oven (catches steam) then put the lid on over the towel.
                                                            Out of half a cup of kernels, only 2.5 oz actually popped (weighed un-popped kernels.) Ultimately, the temperature was right there, popping was occurring, still the end result lacked the luster of a full popping session. I dislike wasting foodstuffs.
                                                            Same cast iron oven makes delicious roasts, chili and scores of desserts.
                                                            Seems something relatively simple like popping corn should not be difficult to accomplish.