How To Make Popcorn in the Microwave

Cooking Lessons from The Kitchn

Microwave popcorn has changed my snacking habits forever. No, I'm not talking about the plastic-wrapped packages of microwave popcorn from the store — although I will thank them for the inspiration. I'm talking about a more DIY version using a scoop of kernels and a plain brown paper lunch bag. It's so easy and fast that it has now become the only way I make popcorn.

A Paper Bag Is All You Need

Any paper bag will do, but I like to use brown paper lunch bags. These are just the right size to hold one serving of popcorn (about 1/4 cup of kernels). If you want to make enough popcorn for a few people to share, you can pop more kernels at once using a large paper grocery bag.

Check over your bag before using it and make sure that it doesn't have any staples or other metal bits. Also examine the bag for holes or tears, especially along the seams — kernels will jump out when they start popping! You can usually reuse a paper bag several times before it starts tearing or the bottom seams fall apart.

No Oil Needed

One of my favorite things about making popcorn this way is that it doesn't require any oil to actually pop the corn — just the mighty power of the microwave. The rays from the microwave penetrate the kernels and turn the moisture trapped inside the popcorn kernel into steam, eventually causing them to burst — no oil necessary.

Since becoming a brown-bag popcorn addict, I've seen some recipes that recommend tossing the kernels with a half teaspoon of oil before popping to guard against scorching. After trying it both ways over the years, I don't feel that the oil makes a significant difference in how the popcorn pops, although it does add some flavor. Even so, I find the pre-pop oiling to be a messy affair, especially if I want to re-use the paper bag, and tossing the popcorn with melted butter or oil after popping seasons the popcorn just as well.

Listen for the Pops to Slow

The biggest factor in preventing the popcorn from scorching is paying attention. Just like with commercial microwave popcorn, listen for the popping to slow to about 2 seconds between pops, then stop the microwave. Waiting longer can result in scorched or burnt popcorn.

The total popping time will vary from microwave to microwave, but is generally between two and four minutes. Once you've made a batch or two in your microwave, you can generally rely on that time for future batches.

Fancy Up Your Popcorn

If you like your popcorn au naturale, you can eat it straight from the bag. If, however, you feel that buttered popcorn is one of life's great pleasures, then pour it out into a bowl and top it as you wish. I also like tossing popcorn with melted coconut oil or olive oil along with a generous sprinkle of salt.

How To Make Popcorn in the Microwave

Makes about 5 cups of popcorn

What You Need

Ingredients
1/4 cup popcorn kernels
Melted butter, coconut oil, or other oil for topping
Salt, for topping

Equipment
Brown paper lunch bag (5 x 3 x 11 inches), or any similar-sized brown paper bag
Large bowl, for serving

Instructions

  1. Measure the popcorn kernels into the bag.
  2. Fold over the top: Give the top of the bag two or three folds and firmly crease the seam so that it stays closed.
  3. Microwave for 2 to 4 minutes on high: Listen closely — when the time between pops slows to about 2 seconds, your popcorn is ready. Depending on your microwave, popping can finish in as little as 2 minutes or take as long as 4 minutes. Do not wait for all the kernels to pop; your popcorn will burn. It's normal for there to be unpopped kernels in the bag.
  4. Pour the popcorn into a bowl: Top with melted butter or oil and sprinkle with salt. Eat right away.

Recipe Notes

  • Larger batches of popcorn: You can pop larger amounts of popcorn in a paper grocery bag or other large paper bag.
  • Save the bag! You can reuse the same bag until it rips or the bottom comes apart.

(Image credits: Christine Han)

Per serving, based on 2 servings. (% daily value)
Calories
56
Fat
0.6 g (1%)
Carbs
11.1 g (3.7%)
Fiber
1.9 g (7.6%)
Sugars
0.1 g
Protein
1.6 g (3.3%)
Sodium
1.1 mg (0%)