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Alton Brown’s Trick for Perfect Stovetop Popcorn

published Feb 6, 2020
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Stovetop-popped popcorn is my favorite. It doesn’t require any special equipment or ingredients, you can make it anywhere, and it results in super-fluffy popcorn within minutes. Typically all you need is a simple pot with a lid. Unless you’re Alton Brown, of course.

Alton has a super-smart popcorn trick that results in even fluffier popcorn. What does he do? He pops the kernels directly in a bowl. Here’s why it’s a game-changing move, and how to do it yourself.

Why a Big Steel Bowl is the “Perfect Popcorn Popper”

Good Eats fans may remember the classic Pop Culture episode in which Alton makes herby popcorn and his take on Cracker Jacks, called Slacker Jacks. What you might have forgotten is that Alton didn’t pop his popcorn in an air popper or a pan, but rather in a simple, standard metal bowl — a 6-quart heavy gauge stainless steel if you want to get Alton-specific.

According to Alton, the reason this method works so well is that the shape of the bowl helps the popcorn pop better without burning. The “oil and unpopped kernels pool at the bottom where the heat is the greatest,” he explains. And the “popped kernels rise up the side away from the heat,” which prevents the popcorn from burning. This is one reason other people recommend using a wok to pop popcorn.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

How to Pop Popcorn Like Alton Brown

For this method, you’ll want to have a sturdy, stainless steel six-quart bowl, as well as a pair of tongs (or two) to grab it, and some heavy-duty aluminum foil to cover the bowl.

Put a few tablespoons of oil and half a cup of kernels and salt into a the mixing bowl and cover it with the heavy-duty foil. Then use a sharp knife to make a few steam vents in the foil. Place the bowl over medium heat and then use the tongs to hold and shake the bowl back and forth for 3 to 5 minutes.

You’ll want to let the bowl thoroughly cool off — or transfer the contents to another bowl — before serving!

See the Recipe: Darn Near Perfect Popcorn from Alton Brown