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Popping your own popcorn

  • m

So while I do like popcorn poppers, I most often pop my own corn. People's ooking methods can vary, as do their results.

What are your favorite ways of making popcorn without the microwave and without the popper? What type of pan/pot/container do you use? What it made out of? What type of oil? Blazing high heat or more medium? Whose kernels? To shake thy container not shake thy container? When to remove from the heat? So on and so forth.

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  1. Years ago, my father used to have a metal basket-type of contraption which was at the end of a long stick. He would shake it over the flame of our gas range. Compared to the air poppers that I have used since then and the microwavable popcorn bags that I more or less use nowadays, that method was probably the best.

    There was one drawback though. I don't think Dad's basket wasn't made of stainless steel. Had any of us rubbed a Brillo pad on it, rust and burned metal would have come off like dirt. It was a miracle that little or none of it ever got on the popcorn.

    1. Not sure if this is responsive or not but I think a hot air popper is the best way to go. Easiest to use and the most healthy - until you add the melted butter and salt, of course! If you insist on using a pot, I prefer stainless with a heavy bottom - preferably one with an aluminum or copper insert - to avoid hot spots. A little peanut oil over medium high heat, add a couple kernals, and when they pop add the rest and keep shaking until the popping is almost done. Don't wait until the popping is completely done or you will burn what has already popped.

      1. I use a popcorn pan with crank on the handle, which stirs the popcorn.
        I use a very small amount of oil, just about a teaspoon for several tablespoons of kernels.
        I like to add chili powder to the oil and the kernels, before I start popping. And last week I discovered a new favorite popcorn recipe--I use a little bit of oil, a pat of butter, and a healthy amount of Frank's Red Hot, all added before popping. It's like Buffalo Popcorn. So good.

        2 Replies
        1. re: manraysky

          You add butter and Frank's BEFORE popping? It doesn't burn?

          I love Frank's/Louisiana Hot Sauce on my popcorn.

          1. re: mamamia

            Yes, before popping, and no, it doesn't burn! It will burn if the heat is too high, though, so I just have to watch it.

            I've been adding butter before popping for years. I like the way it tastes better that way.

        2. I use my wok. When I hear the popping start, I shake the pan from time to time.

          I like to use whatever "fat" I have on hand... duck fat or goose fat usually! Yum...

          I get my popcorn from Krinke's Market in Reeseville, WI.

          I like their Baby Rice Popcorn.

          They have a stand at the Madison Farmer's Market and a friend ships it to me in Chicago
          (when I can't get up there myself...it's a great market btw!



          1. My smallest heavy bottomed stainless saucepan is 1qt, just the right size for me. I put in 1 T oil, whatever I have, it's safflower right now, and 3 kernels of corn and heat covered on medium. When they pop I dump in 1/4 c popcorn, cover, and shake gently til it stops popping, about two minutes. Then I immediately dump it into a bowl so it doesn't sog from the suprising amount of condensation inside the lid.

            Hardly any old maids, even with really ancient popcorn that's been sitting in the pantry since forever.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Louise

              I use one of my heavy bottomed saucepans, heat it over medium high heat, for a few minutes, pour in some oil (not olive) throw in a few kernels until they pop, then cover the bottom of the pan with popcorn kernels. I immediately cover the saucepan with a spatter screen, so that the condensation isn't held in the pot, turn the heat down to about 1/4 (you know, less half and more than minimum) and shake it once in awhile. The saucepan I use has a smooth bottom. Pouring it off into a bowl immediately the last few kernels are popping, and with the heat off, there's enough residual heat in the pot to melt a little butter or marg.

              Without the butter or any salt, popcorn made this way strings better than any other method, for garlands on the Christmas tree. I used to keep a bowl and the thread and needles and cranberries for when the kids came home from school, or were watching tv, in those weeks leading up to Christmas.


              1. re: violabratsche

                I use a 5 qt. heavy bottom pot, cover bottom with olive oil, turn to med. high, and add all my kernels at once. Once I hear the first pop, i cut the heat, count to 60, then turn the heat back up to med. high. I usually season with salt and pepper, sometimes, parmesean.

              2. re: Louise

                Louise, I use a similiar method, however I just discovered that once the oil was hot enough I can switch out my pan lid for a mesh grease splatter screen and this keeps the popcorn contained but allows the steam to escape and thus prevents that dreaded soggy popcorn. It's great.

              3. Olive oil
                Regular large pot with lid
                three kernels go in alone and when they pop, the rest goes in
                medium high at first and then turn it down as it starts to pop
                shaking constantly - only stopping to slightly lift the lid and let out the steam
                kosher salt

                1. olive oil, grapeseed oil, or organic virgin coconut oil

                  5 qt calphalon anodized pot over medium high heat

                  currently this popcorn

                  I preheat the pot, then pour in the oil, then wait a minute or so and then add all the popcorn, set the lid on so steam can escape, take the lid off when enough corn has popped to keep it from popping out of the pan. When done popping dump in bowl, wipe out pot with a paper towel, return pot to stove and melt butter in pot, salt corn while butter is melting, pour melted butter on corn, enjoy.

                  This is the way I have made popcorn since I was 13.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Enorah

                    I second the coconut oil...it makes great popcorn....I also use it on corn on the cob when I grill it.

                  2. I found a source on-line for the same popcorn packets that movie theaters use. Premeasured popcorn seed, butter flavored oil mix and salt all in seperate compartments. To pop I just cut open the packet, dump everything in to a 6 quart saucepan over medium high heat, put on the top and shake gently until popping begins. Then the heat goes down to meduim and the pan is shaken a bit more strongly until popping slows. The heat is then turned off and the top is left on for another 30 or so seconds while the last kernals pop. It makes the whole house smells just like a movie theater!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: LabRat

                      so this tastes just like the stuff at the movies? would you be able to share the site you purchased this from?

                      1. re: auberginegal

                        I can't remember exactly where I bought mine (you have to buy a case at a time so it has been a while), but www.mypopcornmachine.com has the same packets I bought.

                    2. I use my wok, with a flat sauce pan cover that fits into it.

                      I use grapeseed oil, which is by far the best oil for this purpose (don't use canola oil unless you know that anyone eating the popcorn cannot detect the fishy off-taste that comes from canola being used over high heat - I find canola to be inferior to safflower and grapeseed oils for higher heat). Peanut oil has a flavor many people don't like or associate with Chinese food (despite its supposed neutrality).

                      I use Black Jewell or Crown Jewel popcorns.

                      1. WHIRLEY-POP.

                        Perfect popcorn every time in the same time as microwave.

                        Sometimes I use as little as one tsp oil for 2/3 cup popcorn ( Orville Redenbacker).

                        Sometimes I use one tsp EVOO and one Tbs butter. It never burns, and there are no unpopped or burned kernels.

                        I have made it with almost every seasoning available from cinnamon and chile to Italian Herb and curry.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Fleur

                          I like jiffypop with bacon grease. I use a stock pot that works for me.

                          1. re: Fleur

                            Yes for the Whirley Pop! I discovered it on this board and bought one for myself. Perfect popcorn in what seems like 2 min. Once the first kernal pops the rest follow at once!

                            1. re: King of Northern Blvd

                              It IS 2 minutes - I put my butter in the microwave on defrost for 2 minutes, add the popcorn to the pan, turn on the heat and they are both done at the same time.

                          2. I use an old cheap pot, put 2 tbls. vegetable oil and dump enough Orville's kernels to cover the bottom. Cover the pot with aluminum foil, seal tightly, punch a few holes with a chopstick, high heat till the corn starts popping, reduce heat, shake occasionally and turn off when popping slows down.Wait... until all the popping stops and slather with melted butter and a shake of salt. Sometimes I add a few pinches of sugar to make kettle corn. After buttering, we sometimes add furikake (nori-sesame seeds and salt) for "Hurricane Popcorn." Hawaiian style.

                            1. I use my cast iron skillet (Griswold #10 w/ lid) and coconut oil for popping on my electric stove. I salt & butter the inside of the big silver serving bowl and toss in the freshly popped corn as it comes out of the skillet. then I "fluff" it (just like tossing a salad) to butter it. That way I dont end up with a few mushy pieces and others that have no butter. I typically use sea salt & homemade butter as well. Its a family movie night favorite.

                              1. I use one of those popcorn pans w/the stirrer in the lid....know what I mean? I use evoo and high heat. Unsalted butter and kosher salt. Sometimes a bit of spanish smoked paprika melted into the butter if I'm feeling fancy. Once in a while after a hard day at work I have a giant batch of this all to myself for dinner. Dutch babies also work well for that sort of dinner.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: JaneRI

                                  Dutch babies? I'm almost afraid to ask....

                                  1. re: Bat Guano

                                    Big oven-puffed pancake. Very easy, just milk, eggs & flour (less flour than regular pancakes). You melt a few tbs of butter in the bottom of a cast iron skillet, pour the batter into the hot skillet and bake....comes out big and puffed, deflates when you remove it. A sprinkle of powdered sugar, a drizzle of fresh lemon juice, a glass of cheap champagne and you have a perfect dinner for when you feel like treating yourself, but don't have the energy for a real meal.

                                    1. re: JaneRI

                                      Sounds kinda like Yorkshire pudding without the meat drippings. Scary name, though.

                                      1. re: Bat Guano

                                        I guess I don't think of it as close to yorkshire pud (although in reality I guess it is) because it's sweet, not savory. It's a type of oven-baked pancake.

                                      2. re: JaneRI

                                        It's excellent with apples sauteed in butter.

                                  2. Alright!! Homemade popcorn is my all time favorite snack!
                                    I use a stainless steel pot about 2 1/2 quarts (this is the perfect size for 2-4 people) We always use this pot for popcorn b/c over time the bottom does blacken with mistake burnings and normal wear and tear.
                                    Canola oil--this seems to be the lightest and best tasting out of the healthy oil (tried vegetable oil one night and started to feel nauseous,not sure what the reason was, but we went back to canola and everythings good, olive oil's a bit too heavy)
                                    I've tried all kinds of corn from the cheapo in the non reclosable plastic bag to Orville in the plastic jar. I haven't had a bad experience with any per se but my favorite corn is from Cost Plus. They sell a "yard of popcorn" with three different types of corn, can't remember what the names of them are but there's a blue black colored corn, and two more on the yellow side. The blue black colored corn, although when popped is smaller in size, is VERY tasty!
                                    Cooking is harder to describe b/c i never measure anymore having done it for so long. i would suggest following the ratio on the bag at first. but basically i cover the bottom of the pot with about an 1/4 inch of oil, enough to mostly cover the corn you are going to pop. put it on medium-high heat -we have a gas stove. then add one or two kernels of corn. cover. when those pop, the oil is ready--add in desired amount of corn.
                                    I find it works best when the corn you add is almost all but not completely covered by the oil. (hope this makes sense)
                                    put the cover on slightly cockeyed (turned away from you), so as to emit some steam but tightly enough so no kernels shoot out. (if the cover is put on tightly with no steam escaping the popped corn comes out rubbery and stale-like) Do shake--especially when the popping begins so the unpopped kernels fall to the bottom of the popped ones.
                                    When the popping gets really slow I dump it into a big bowl and just add sea salt! I know i'm in the minority but with the oil, i don't feel any added butter is necessary. (Now with air popped corn--that's another story) Also although i enjoy the taste of butter i don't like how it makes some popped kernels wet and dissolved.
                                    A friend of mine makes popcorn the way i just described but at the end she adds melted butter and parmesan cheese. This is tasty but a little on the decadent side for an everyday snack.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Hapafish

                                      If you like the black popcorn seeds the best, you should seek out Black Jewell popcorn. Williams Sonoma always has it in-store for (now) an outrageous $8, but it's still worth it to me. My local gourmet grocery store carried it for a long time for just $2.99, but they've been out of stock for months.

                                    2. I MAKE MY OWN KETTLE CORN!!!

                                      Take a large wok with a cover and pour in a layer of vegetable oil (not deep enough that it submerges a kernel). Drop in a couple kernels while it's heated. After they pop, pour in a layer or so full of kernels, then a sprinkling of salt and 2-4 tablespoons of sugar.

                                      Now pop it! I usually shake the wok. Careful not to burn it, but make sure the sugar gets a tiny bit burned that it's a little carmelized and gives the popped kernels a nice coloring. This is what you pay for at farmer's markets and county fairs.


                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Normal Garciaparra

                                        You can make great Kettle Corn in the WHIRLEY-POP.

                                        Just put everything in at once, oil, butter, salt, sugar and corn. Turn up the flame and turn that handle until the popping stops.Less than two minutes....perfect popcorn every single time.

                                        Once you use the WHIRLEY-POP, you will never make popcorn any other way.

                                        1. re: Fleur

                                          I tend to share Alton Brown's disdain for single-use items, but the last time we were in the Williams-Sonoma outlet store in Wenham, MA, Allstonian and I bought a Whirley-Pop for $7.99, with the assumption that we'd use it once or twice and then sell it at a garage sale for the same price. Turns out that we use the thing just all the time, and it really does take just about exactly as long as microwave popcorn. I wouldn't have guessed, but I do recommend it.

                                          1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                            A Whirly-Pop can also be used to roast your own coffee.

                                          2. re: Fleur

                                            what are your ingredient proportions for kettle corn, Fleur?

                                            i've only used my whirly pop to make plain (perfect) popcorn.

                                        2. Interesting subject. I have never owned or operated either a microwave or a popcorn popper. Don't make popcorn so often anymore now that child has grown, but we always had fun shakin' it up in our huge heavy-bottomed, well-lidded soup pot (cf. Violabratsche below) in safflower oil.

                                          1. find a great link here for that very topic http://www.simplyrecipes.com You'll find it. It was posted a couple of days ago.

                                            1. Has anyone tried Alton Brown's technique--metal mixing bowl, covered with foil (holes punched in for steam venting), shake when popping starts? I've wanted to try it but haven't yet.

                                              8 Replies
                                              1. re: coney with everything

                                                Why go to all that trouble with a Rube Goldberg-like contraption when you can make perfect popcorn in a WHIRLEY-POP that will last forever and cost you less than $15 ?

                                                1. re: Fleur

                                                  Exactly! I love AB and all, but often I find his non-conventional techniques require 20 household items I don't have. I thought this was a prime example of doing a bit TOO much, if ain't broke dont' fix it.

                                                  1. re: Fleur

                                                    not everyone has a whirly-pop (or wants one) - pretty much everyone has a metal bowl and tinfoil - not sure how that's rube goldberg-like.

                                                    1. re: krissywats

                                                      I guess it's not THAT rube goldberg-like since there's no mice traps involved or anything, I just felt a regular pot would work better. I would worry about the metal bowl being damaged or discolored. So, have you tried the metal mixing bowl technique? How did it work? I'd love to hear from someone that's tried it, definitely mixed reviews on the Food Network website.

                                                      1. re: roasted138

                                                        Yep - halved the recipe and used a smaller bowl and veggie oil instead of peanut (next time I'll try my fav olive oil) and I had not one single unpopped kernel. The popcorn itself was so tender and crunchy - none of that toughness you can get from the steam not escaping. I'll make it like this from now on instead of messing up a pan and a bowl.

                                                    2. re: Fleur

                                                      I guess we're just different. We had a whirley pop and just didn't like it. It easily got a bit bent and was difficult to close tightly, the crank was some times a little tough to turn (not hard, just couldn't get in a rhythm, like it was getting stuck), and it was a pain to take a part and clean. We're back to the good old large skillet with lid of my childhood. The single use whirley pop has gone to goodwill.

                                                      1. re: debbiel

                                                        I don't eat microwave popcorn. Just don't like the taste.

                                                        I use a wok. A few tablespoons of canola oil are added and when hot, about a quarter cup of kernels. I use the wok lid because it doesn't seal very well. You absolutely want the steam to escape.

                                                        A wok works so well because of the large internal volume and slopping sides cause the popped kernals to shoot up and the unpopped kernals so slide right back down to the bottom. Just a few shakes and you get a great batch with few or no unpopped kernels.

                                                        Salt, melted butter = Nirvana.

                                                      2. re: Fleur

                                                        Do you own stock in whatever company manufactures whirley-pop?

                                                    3. I use an old heavy 3-quart alumnium sauce pan with a loose-fitting lid, canola oil, and high heat with about 1/2-cup of standard grocery-store yellow popcorn. I get the empty pot nice and hot, add the oil, then the corn, then the pot lid. I shake it occasionally, but basically let it go until the lid starts to rise off the pot, and I don't hear any more pops. Pour it into a large bowl, toss it with very fine sea salt, and go to town! It's also fantastic made with bacon fat, but you need to use slightly lower heat to keep it from burning and prepare for visitors: The smell of popcorn and bacon fat draws crowds.

                                                      1. Fun topic! After over 30 years of popping on the stove, I think I've found all the major "do's & don'ts".
                                                        1) Use old popcorn. Cheap, store-brand stuff is fine (the fat yellow kernels from Meijer are my fave because they consistently yield huge, airy, crispy pieces), but no matter what brand you buy, you have to check the "Use By" date -- sometimes hard to read, but it's printed there on the bag, usually near an end. I've tried more expensive types & brands, and have found the common satisfaction denominator for me is just simply freshness. Buy a bag with a date no less than 8 months out.
                                                        2) DON'T store your popcorn in the fridge or freezer. IKeep it in an airtight plastic or glass container in a dry pantry or shelf, away from light.
                                                        3) DON'T use a thin-bottom pan, whether you use gas or electric. My mom taught me as a pre-teen how to make popcorn on her electric cooktop, and some years later when I moved out on my own, she gave me that trusty old Revere Ware copper-bottom lidded steel pan to take to my new place. All was great for maybe 15 more years, even as I moved from electric to gas, but then one night the kernels just wouldn't pop right, and mostly burned. Successive attempts ended the same. I tried different popcorn, different oil, less heat, more heat, more shaking, less shaking, everything. Finally I bought a new, heavy pan (Calphalon KitchenEssentials 12" glass-lidded, oven-safe deep pan, practically Dutch-oven size, about $30 @ Target). Ah-hah!! Back to perfect popcorn!! That old Revere pan had just worn down and gotten too thin on the bottom.
                                                        4) DON'T use more oil than you need. One, or at most 2 T is enough for a 4-person batch. The kernels don't need to be submerged, and need only to sit in a tiny bit of oil.
                                                        5) DON'T leave the heat on (if gas) or leave the pan on the coil (electric) after the popping has slowed to less than 1-2 pops/second.

                                                        1) Heat the oil first, for several minutes, at med-high heat. (My favorite popcorn oil is Orville Redenbacher's Buttery Flavor Popping Oil,, but Crisco Vegetable or Canola is good too. Olive oil imparts an odd taste unless you'll be topping with parmesan or similar.) I used to place a couple kernels in the pan so I knew the right time to add the rest, but now can just tell by how the oil ripples when it's ready.
                                                        2) DO go ahead and pour a litle more kernels than are needed to just cover the bottom on the pan, if desired (and if your pan is deep enough to handle the popped volume). If you have a deep pan and a lot of mouths to feed, you can add an extra half-layer.
                                                        3) DO feel free to leave the pan alone, and not shake it. I was taught to shake, but have since learned it doesn't make one bit of difference -- the unpopped kernels will fall by themselves to the bottom of the pan, so shaking isn't necessary.
                                                        4) DO use a glass-lidded pan (make sure the glass lid is made for high heat) so you can watch the progress without needing to lift the lid.
                                                        5) DO leave the lid SLIGHTLY canted to allow steam to escape -- but not so canted that hot-oil-covered kernels can shoot out of the pan to hit you or your kids or pets during the popping process.
                                                        6) DO empty the popcorn into a bowl as SOON as the popping has stopped, so it doesn't get soggy.

                                                        Buttering/topping and salting is up to personal taste, so I won't touch those aspects! :-)

                                                        Now, can anyone answer my question? WHY is it so important to use a heavy-bottom pan?

                                                        1. Big tall pot, vegetable oil, and kernals. Add the salt and butter when you are done, to taste. That is how people made popcorn in their kitchens without the gadgets for years once the fireplace/hearth morphed into a range.

                                                          There was a brief resurgence in this method a couple of years ago. "Kettle" corn poppers were offered for sale at most department stores, and these were simple aluminum pots with a crank that allegedly allowed you to keep the kernals moving at the bottom of the pot. Let's fact it -- you can do that with a long spatula or by shaking the pot, so this wasn't necessary. Still, I bought one, and found myself laughing about how I had been taken. At $39, this was really just a cheap aluminum pot with a venting lid and a crank, which were both unnecessary. If you use a deep enough pot, like a smaller stock pot, no lid is necessary because the kernals won't fly out.

                                                          1. Organic corn. In duck fat. Over medium-high heat. Old pitted aluminum saucepan I use only for the purpose. Usually cover with a splatter shield. Shake occasionally until popping starts. Shake frequently as it pops. Remove from heat 5 seconds after frequent popping stops. Sea-salted in the bowl. No melted butter or other garnish unless I'm serving it with Champagne or other bubbly, in which case grated Parmesan, a drizzle of white truffle oil and, sometimes, a grind or two of white pepper.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: carswell

                                                              Jeebus Christmas! I'm coming to your house for popcorn and champagne :)

                                                              I really like the idea of a splatter shield, basically the same functionality as the foil with holes that AB uses, but without wasting a piece of foil. I'm trying that--thanks for the idea!

                                                            2. We have been making popcorn in a steel wok for years, like Delk does (below) and it works very well for us too. Think about the form of a wok - it is very wide with gently sloping sides that taper down to a fairly small contact patch with the hot burner. We shake the wok back and forth while the popping goes on, and the unpopped kernels just naturally migrate down to the heat patch while the popped kernels fan out above to keep them from burning. Very easy. We start with about three kernels in a small pool of cold oil in the bottom of the wok, high heat, and a cover of a large spatter screen with a couple of paper towels laid on it. When the first kernels have popped we know the oil is the right temperature, and we add the rest of the corn. After the popping gets going, we take off the paper towels, which absorbed the spattering oil in the first few seconds, to let the steam escape and the popped corn is nice and tender. Buttering is easy in the wok too. Dump the popped corn in the bowl, melt the butter in the wok, pour it over the corn, then return the corn to the wok and toss it to even out the butter. Sort of makes you feel like a real cook. Oh, and we like Whole Foods' bulk popcorn. We've never been disappointed with the quality.

                                                              1. Heretofore, I've been a MW and air-pop kind of guy. But last night, I used a heavy tinned copper saucepan for the first time--wow, a huge improvement!

                                                                Three seems to be the magic number: 3T canola in a 3Q x 3mm saucepan and 1/3C of kernels.

                                                                The really strange things were that the whole batch popped *extremely* fast, there were zero old maids, and nothing burned.