5 Ways to Make a Better Batch of Popcorn

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

If you, like me, have a popcorn habit, you know that there’s really no bad time to dig in. Be it the mid-afternoon stomach rumble or post-dinner movie marathon, popcorn is always a satisfying interlude.

A bag of the pre-popped stuff can be mildly gratifying, but in order to get the full effect you really do have to pop it yourself. And when you do, remember these five simple tips so you always pop up the best pot.

1. Start with 3 kernels in the pot.

When making popcorn on the stovetop, it can be tricky to figure out exactly when the oil is hot enough to toss all the kernels in. Luckily, there’s a quick and easy way to know: When you pour the oil into the pot to heat it, toss in three kernels as well. When one or more of the kernels pops, the oil is at temperature, and you can pour in the remaining kernels.

2. Leave the lid ajar for the lightest, fluffiest popcorn.

While most recipes for stovetop popcorn call for covering the pot’s lid the entire time the kernels are popping, to achieve the lightest, fluffiest popcorn, it’s better if you actually leave the lid slightly ajar. Doing so helps water vapor escape, which otherwise could be absorbed by the popcorn, leaving it tough and chewy.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

3. Make microwave popcorn in a brown paper bag.

Beyond the stovetop method, the other tried-and-true way to make popcorn is usually to unwrap one of those plastic-wrapped packages from the grocery store and toss it in the microwave. But you can actually make a much tastier microwave popcorn by DIY-ing it. All you need is a handful of kernels and a plain brown paper lunch bag.

4. Always remember the trick for separating the unpopped kernels from the popcorn.

It’s never pleasant to throw a handful of popcorn in your mouth only to almost break a tooth on an unpopped kernel hiding in the mix. Luckily, there’s a quick way to separate out the unpopped guys from the popped. Simply pour all the popcorn you made into a large bowl and give that bowl a few shakes — the kernels will fall to the bottom and you can scoop the good stuff from the top of the bowl into a separate snacking vessel.

This added step is totally worth it because it allows you to perfect the hand-to-bowl-to-mouth action without looking away from that movie. Of course, there are people who actually enjoy noshing on the kernels; if that’s you, proceed with your popcorn, kernels and all.

5. Don’t be afraid to go beyond butter and salt.

Tossing popcorn with nothing but a little salt or a drizzle of melted butter (or both) is classic, but the snack takes so well to being jazzed up that you shouldn’t hesitate to have a little fun. There are countless ways to flavor popcorn — whether you’re tossing it with a spice blend like curry powder or za’atar, sweetening it with a healthy drizzle of dark chocolate or peanut butter, or even cooking it in bacon fat. Go a little wild this time around.