I Worked at a Movie Theater, and This Is the Best Method for Making Cinema-Quality Popcorn at Home

updated May 8, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
popcorn in pot
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

You’d think that after working at a movie theater for a few years in high school, I’d be completely sick of popcorn. While making dozens of batches a day and the constant smell of it in your hair after a long shift can definitely do that to a person, it’s been years since that jobs and popcorn is still my go-to snack — and I simply refuse to go to my bi-weekly movie without snagging a bag. When I’m not at my local theater, I’ve resorted to using microwavable bags at home. (Out of convenience, not preference.) I’ve always thought that at-home attempts just wouldn’t compare. But, as a popcorn enthusiast — and, dare I say, expert — I set out to get as close to movie theater popcorn as possible with senior commerce editor Alicia, who’s also done her fair share of shifts behind theater concession stands. Without further ado, here’s everything two former theater employees learned about making irresistible movie theater popcorn at home.

First and foremost, you have to have the right popcorn popper on hand. Obviously, the huge machine that you see at the theater is out of the question, unless you have room (and the funds) for one of these guys. We ruled that out before we even started, but luckily, there are a number of solid at-home popcorn machines out there, and we gave them all a try. Needless to say, some performed way better than others: Up first was an air popper, which we had a pretty interesting (a.k.a. frustrating) time with. We loaded it with the kernels (Wisconsin White Birch from the Popcorn Lovers Gift Set from Williams Sonoma) and eyeballed the amount of Flavacol Popcorn Season Salt. Flavacol is the exact seasoning we used during our theater days, so it’s essential. Air poppers reduce added oil, but oil is 100-percent needed to get as close to movie theater popcorn as possible, so that alone was a major flaw. (So was the fact that the salt exploded and went everywhere once it got going.)

The microwave was also a no go, as we expected, and we had to nix our stove gadget because our office’s electric stovetop wasn’t compatible with it. After all of the trial and error, Alicia and I were losing hope, but our saving grace came in the form of the Dash Smartstore Stirring Popcorn Maker. In retrospect, it makes sense that this one would produce the best results, given that, like the machines in theaters, it rotates.

Credit: Morgan Pryor

This Dash gadget makes 12 cups of popcorn with the press of a button. The small lid on top doubles as a measuring cup, so we poured enough kernels to make a full batch. First, we poured about a spoonful of canola oil onto the surface, followed by the kernels, and topped it off with a spoonful of Flavacol. (Pro tip: Less is more with Flavacol — speaking from experience, too much can make it unbearably salty, and if you don’t put enough on the first go, you can sprinkle some on top later.)

We flipped the switch, and after a few minutes of stirring and heating up, we had a batch that, in our expert opinions, tasted like the real thing. Even better, once it’s done, you can flip the bowl over and use it for serving, minimizing cleanup!

Credit: Morgan Pryor

Of course, we didn’t forget about the butter. We thought that butter-flavored coconut oil might work out, but it didn’t taste exactly right to us. I will admit: Thousands of five-star reviews say otherwise, so it might be worth a shot. However, we opted for melting a stick of butter and drizzling it on top, and it did the job.

I took this baby home from the office and have used it nearly 10 times at this point, with same ingredients and ratios. Our test run was no fluke: It churns out movie theater popcorn every single time. I haven’t bought microwave popcorn in weeks, and I’m not sure I’ll ever go back now that I know I can get this close to bona fide theater popcorn. To recap: All you need is a spoonful of Flavacol and canola (or vegetable) oil, the right ratio of kernels, and the spinning DASH popper. Thank us later!

Buy: DASH Smartstore Stirring Popcorn Maker, $39.95