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Stovetop popcorn with lower heat, no agitation?

I've been making stovetop popcorn for a years with acceptable but unexciting results. And it's kind of a lot of work. After recently burning a batch, I realized that the medium-high heat recommended in many recipes is enough to singe kernels before they pop. So I've started turning down the heat and walking away. To make a batch of very tender popcorn with very few old maids, I just:

* pour a thin layer of oil in the pan
* turn the heat to low-medium (will slowly bring the pan to ~300 degrees)
* add a single layer of popcorn kernels, tilting to distribute evenly
* cover loosely (I prefer a small-holed colander) and walk away

** No shaking, no agitation! **

It takes over five minutes for results, but the popcorn I get is tenderer, more consistent, and deeper-flavored than what I've obtained with other techniques. Harold McGee says that popcorn pops best around 380 degrees F, but I've found stellar results at significantly cooler temperatures: the kernels seem to pop in the range from 275 to 300, as the oil slowly heats.

I can't find any descriptions of a similar technique online. Has anybody tried this kind of thing? Or do folks have other preferred stovetop popcorn techniques?

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  1. I always pop corn in the microwave in a paper bag. it is always perfect, tender, fully popped.

    1 Reply
    1. re: magiesmom

      How much corn, what size bags, wattage of oven, how long? Inquiring minds wat to know.

    2. No, I have never tried this method. I used to make it in the pan on the stove but the noise from the agitation (metal on metal) made me agitated, too. I picked up an air popper (no oil needed!) for $2.50 at a thrift shop and I love it! If it breaks, I will certainly try this method.

      How did you know what the temp of the pan was? Did you use a kitchen thermometer and put it in the oil or on the surface of the pan? Now that I've written that out, I realized that would be one and the same thing seeing as how you use a thin layer of oil! Still, I am curious.

      4 Replies
      1. re: MinkeyMonkey

        I've popped without oil (paper bag in microwave or a forced air popper), and also with some oil on the stovetop. Do you notice that the kernels popped without oil are sort of dryer? I find that my stovetop kernels don't feel greasy, but the oil sort of soaks throughout the kernels evenly, and each bite is a bit more "moist" than the air-popper variety.

        Do you find air-popped kernels dry? Do you add anything afterwards?

        1. re: Chipp

          This might sound odd but, yes, I find them dry and I like them dry! I don't really like stuff on popcorn except at the RedVic when I lived in SF. Yum, real butter and nutritional yeast never tasted so good!

          At home, I've tried sprinkling nutritional yeast on but only once because, obviously, it didn't stick. I like stuff plain and boring most of the time.

          Do you use olive oil or some other kind? I used to use olive but it didn't do well at such a high heat and stuck to the pan.

          1. re: MinkeyMonkey

            I did use olive oil - medium high heat and constant agitation. I didn't really have problems with it sticking to the pan, but then again, I couldn't tell you specifically how much oil or kernels I used. Next time I'm going to try this on low heat, however, and see how it stacks up!

      2. For me, using very high heat and agitation is the best way. I actually love having just a few scorched pieces of popcorn. I don't want tender. I want crunchy. And I don't have a microwave, so I can't attempt the paper bag trick.

        1. i use a small amount of oil and add 3 kernels, once they pop, the oil is suffieciently hot. i add the rest and only shake the pan a few times. never a problem. once they start to slow down i turn off the heat.

          if the popcorn is old, they burn. otherwise, perfect method.

          1. I use a fairly heavy aluminum bottomed stainless steel pan or dutch oven. I put in a little over a tablespoon canola oil, cover the bottom with popcorn kernels, cover the pan, set the heat at a little hotter than medium, and walk away. I listen to it pop until it stops, shake the pan, take it off the heat, wait a few seconds, and take the cover off. Add salt and a little melted butter and enjoy. Most of the time it's perfect. If I wait to heat the pan and then heat the oil and then add the popcorn it usually comes out a little soggy and not crisp.