Movie Theater Butter Popcorn

updated Jan 25, 2024
Movie Theater Butter Popcorn Recipe

Even better than what you get at the movies.

Makes3 quarts

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Credit: Lauren Volo

Hot, buttery, salty, crunchy — movie theater popcorn is as much a part of the cinema experience as the movie itself. The aroma beckons moviegoers toward concession stands, but the buckets filled with stale, greasy kernels and fake butter flavoring all too often disappoint.

The fantasy of movie popcorn deserves better, and this recipe gives it its due. Here’s how to make the buttery movie theater-style popcorn at home.

How Movie Theaters Make Butter Popcorn

The popcorn at the movies isn’t made with butter at all. The kernels are often cooked in oil and an all-in-one popcorn seasoning, Flavacol, made of salt, artificial colors, and flavorings.

Ingredients in Butter Popcorn

  • Popcorn kernels: Measure 1/2 cup kernels, and add 3 tester kernels to the oil to test it’s hot enough for popping.
  • Coconut oil: Some movie theaters use coconut oil for their popcorn, so this recipe does too.
  • Clarified butter or ghee: Clarified butter or ghee gives the popcorn a clean, rich, buttery flavor.
  • Salt: Finely ground salt sticks to the kernels best. Use popcorn salt or grind kosher salt into a powder.
(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

The Best Popcorn Kernels for Butter Popcorn

Movie theaters use “butterfly” or “snowflake” kernels that pop into large, irregular snowflake shapes. White and yellow popcorn are standard, but heirloom varieties of popcorn come in just about every color of the rainbow. No matter the hull’s color, the starch is always yellow or white.

Yellow kernel snowflake popcorn most closely replicates the fluffy popcorn from the movie concession stand. Luckily snowflake-style popcorn is the kernel most commonly used in grocery store brands, including Orville Redenbacher and Bob’s Red Mill.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

The Secret to Butter Popcorn That Is Not Soggy

Clarified butter or ghee, a type of clarified butter, is the best bet for coating your kernels. Regular butter contains water and milk solids, which lead to a soggy snack. The water and milk solids are removed from clarified butter and ghee.

Pour half of the butter, toss, and then pour the remaining half so that you get more even coverage and a snack that is not soggy.

What is Popcorn Salt (and How to Make Your Own)

Popcorn salt is a finely textured salt that adheres to buttered kernels more easily than a coarse salt, like kosher salt. You can buy a container of popcorn salt rather inexpensively, but it is just as easy to make your own.

To make popcorn salt, grind 1/4 cup of kosher salt in a mortar and pestle, small food processor, or clean coffee grinder until it is very fine.

Season the popcorn while it is still hot. The steam from the freshly popped kernels and the warm clarified butter will help the salt stick.

Movie Theater Butter Popcorn Recipe

Even better than what you get at the movies.

Makes 3 quarts

Nutritional Info


  • 1/4 cup

    (4 tablespoons) clarified butter or ghee, melted

  • 2 tablespoons

    coconut oil

  • 1/2 cup

    (3 1/2 ounces) popcorn kernels, divided

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    finely ground kosher salt, table salt, or popcorn salt


  • 7- to 9-quart stockpot with lid

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Small bowl

  • Tea towel


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  1. Melt clarified butter or ghee. Melt 1/4 cup clarified butter or ghee in a small saucepan over medium heat. (Alternatively, add the clarified butter or ghee to a small, microwave-safe bowl and microwave until melted.)

  2. Heat the coconut oil. Melt 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a 7- to 9-quart stockpot over medium-high heat.

  3. Add tester kernels. Add 3 popcorn kernels and wait for them to pop. These kernels will let you know when the oil is hot enough to add the remaining kernels.

  4. Add the popcorn and pop. When the tester kernels pop, add the remaining 1/2 cup popcorn kernels. They should cover the bottom of the pot in a single layer. Swirl the pot to coat the kernels in the oil.

  5. Continue to pop and shake the pan. Cover, reduce the heat to medium, and shake the pot gently while the kernels pop. After about 3 minutes, when the popping slows significantly (1 to 2 seconds between pops), remove the pot from the heat. Continue to shake the pot for another 30 seconds or until the popping stops completely.

  6. Flavor with butter and salt. Pour half of the butter or ghee over the popcorn, cover, and shake the pot to coat. Pour the remaining butter or ghee over the popcorn and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon finely ground kosher salt, table salt, or popcorn salt. Cover again and shake. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

Storage: This popcorn is best served immediately while the kernels are still warm and before the real butter aroma dissipates. It can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day; just keep in mind that the kernels will get stale and soften the longer they sit.