Recipes and Tips for Real Popcorn
August 20, 2005 9:51 AM   Subscribe

How do you make popcorn? Specifically old fashioned, non microwave stove top popcorn. I really want great salty buttered popcorn that doesn't come from a bag.
posted by hollygoheavy to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
The whirly-pop poppers work great. Especially with the eevil bad for you self-contained pouches. Alternatively, just follow the directions with regular popcorn and oil.

Or just put oil in a big pot with a lid. Heat it. Dump popcorn in, shaking it on the burner around until it starts popping. When it's done, remove from heat.

Alternative: hot-air popper, then add butter. Sometimes I mix a little hot sauce with the butter.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:00 AM on August 20, 2005

The key is to shake the pot side to side vigorously and continuously until you hear no more kernels popping. It will burn otherwise.
posted by wsg at 10:06 AM on August 20, 2005

Popcorn is pretty flexible, but here's a general guideline:

You'll need a large pot. Think 'soup pot' or 'dutch oven' types of pots. 6-8 quarts ought to do.

Use about 2 tablespoons of oil - something neutrally flavoured, a la Canola, and with a reasonably high smoke point. Add the oil to the pot over medium heat. Throw a couple few kernals of corn in the pot and cover it. When those kernals of corn have popped, your oil is heated enough to start.

Add the rest of your popcorn - about 1/2 cup. Cover the pot and shake it to coat the popcorn with oil. Continue to cook, covered, and shake the pot occasionally (I shake it near constantly, but every 20-30 seconds is probably sufficient). Keep this up until the popping basically stops.

Cover with butter and salt to taste. Don't use margarine, and especially don't use 'light' margarine, the water content will melt your popcorn. Keep in mind that most of what people prefer about the taste of buttered popcorn is actually the flavour of the salt, the butter just helps it stick, so no need to go overboard with the grease, 3 tablespoons is probably plenty for this much popcorn. Popcorn is the one place where good salt - fleur de sel, kosher, etc - is a bad idea. Use ordinary, free flowing table salt to get the best distribution of it.

If you throw a tablespoon of sugar in at the oil stage, you'll have to be much more mindful of the temperature, but the end result will be a kind of kettle corn that's also excellently scrumptious. Alternatively, just add a couple tablespoons of fine granulated sugar at the same time you add the butter and salt.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:06 AM on August 20, 2005 [3 favorites]

Try Chipotle powder on the popcorn. Yum!

The layer of oil in the bottom of the pan should cover the pan edge-to-edge, and should be less than 1/2way up the kernels. Too little oil, and the kernels won't be heated evenly/will leak their steam instead of exploding; too much oil and you end up with icky oil-drenched kernels.

Use a flavourless, high-temperature oil. Olive oil tastes odd, and some specialty oils will scorch and smoke long before the kernels pop.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:10 AM on August 20, 2005

Dump a few teaspoons of oil in a pot. [Any sort of oil will work - it doesn't affect the flavor much.] Put in four or five kernels of popcorn, and turn the burner up to medium. Don't forget to keep a lid on the pot while things are popping! Wait until you've heard all the kernels pop, and then dump in the rest of the kernels. I usually put in enough to cover the bottom of the pot and a little more besides. You'll have to play around a bit, depending on the size of your pot, and how much popcorn you want. Gently shake the pot from time to time, so that you don't end up with a layer of burned popcorn on the bottom. Melt some butter as the popcorn pops, and when the popping has slowed down significantly, take the pot off the burner and add melted butter and salt to taste.
posted by ubersturm at 10:10 AM on August 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

I just read about this in Cooks Illustrated, which led me to this microwave recipe
posted by fourstar at 10:15 AM on August 20, 2005

I second fourstar's recommendation. You can make *great* popcorn in a microwave if you avoid the gross pre-packaged stuff that is loaded up with palm or coconut oil and 37 times too much salt. It's one of the handful of things that microwaves are really good at.

If you do go the dutch oven route, I was always taught not to use a Le Creuset or other enameled pot for popcorn. You'll know it's enameled if it's light-colored on the inside. The sudden temperature and moisture changes caused by popping kernels could also pop the enamel--a little dime sized piece will just come off, ruining the pot.
posted by bcwinters at 10:42 AM on August 20, 2005

Keep in mind that you add the butter, salt, etc after you pop the popcorn. You just dump it in. So it really dosn't matter how you actualy pop it.

We had a air poper that worked great when I was a kid, and before that I think mom popped it in a big pot. It's very straight forward.

Just remember to keep shaking the pot so that you don't burn the kernals on the bottom.
posted by delmoi at 10:48 AM on August 20, 2005

I use safflower oil, because it resists burning. Instead of a pot or pan, I use my big old wok (it has a lid, of course).
As far as seasoning goes, it's kind of an adventure.
I add some chile powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and whatever else suits my fancy from the spice rack (sometimes, some cajun spice I have sitting around).
I tend to avoid butter because when I eat popcorn, I eat a lot of it. All that butter makes me feel greasy and sick so I've had to develop some sort of alternative flavoring.
posted by Jon-o at 11:18 AM on August 20, 2005

Family style, oil-in-a-big-pot method: After the first pot is done popping, dump it into a brown paper grocery bag, lightly drizzle with melted butter, salt, shake, repeat. Add as many pots of popcorn to the bag as you need, buttering and salting as you go.
posted by Buzz at 11:24 AM on August 20, 2005

"Keep in mind that you add the butter, salt, etc after you pop the popcorn"

Once you get good at it (iow, find the lowest optimal temperature), you can put the butter in just as the kernals start popping for more evenly distributed flavoring.

If you have a pot with a glass lid, you can watch!
posted by mischief at 11:30 AM on August 20, 2005

I put a few kernals in the heating oil, when they have popped then I add the rest of the kernals.
When the popping is over, I dump the popcorn into a separate dish, and then add the butter. Then the salt, mccormicks, etc. The butter allows it to stick to the popcorn better. Then I put the popcorn back into the then warm (as compared to hot) pot, grab a coke, and enjoy a very simple quasi-idiotic retro trip back to a different time than what we live in.
posted by buzzman at 12:08 PM on August 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

Use a high heat oil, I use canola oil. Layer the bottom of the pot and then add your kernels. I put the temperature on medium high heat (a little more towards the high). The pot I use has holes in it for draining and I never burn the popcorn because of this, I believe.

Great alternative toppings include Herbamare and Nutritional Yeast. I melt butter or add Bragg's Liquid Aminos on it as well.
posted by mic stand at 12:11 PM on August 20, 2005

Use a large heavy duty pan--something that retains but does not easily transfer the heat--somethink like "Calphalon" is ideal--while at room temperature completely cover the bottom of the pan with popcorn--now add oil until it barely covers the popcorn--use 3/4 canola/safflower and /4 olive oil. Cover and put on high heat shaking occassionally (more frequently if the pan is not high quality)-if the popcorn should begin to push the lid pour off some of the popped corn and continue cooking--use popcorn salt to taste--Enjoy the munching--added bonus is that these oils are heart healthy
posted by rmhsinc at 12:18 PM on August 20, 2005

Courtesy of Karen DeMasco (pastry chef of Craft), via Fine Cooking, the perfect proportions for a 4 qt pot or whirly pop are 3 tablespoons oil (I use grapeseed) to 1/2 cup of unpopped kernels.

Heat the oil first with the pot covered, with one kernel in the bottom of the pot. When that one pops, dump the rest in all at once, and stir or shake covered until they stop popping frequently. If the oil smokes, the heat's too high.

I've used this method a number of times, and it's always given me fantastic results.
posted by Caviar at 1:09 PM on August 20, 2005

Oh, and another thing. The finer the salt, the better it will stick, even to relatively dry popcorn. I grind up regular kosher salt with a mortar and pestle.
posted by Caviar at 1:26 PM on August 20, 2005

I like nutritional yeast on my popcorn. When my vegetarian body is lacking any of the numerous vitamins it offers, I get an intense craving for popcorn with nutritional yeast.
posted by Eamon at 1:36 PM on August 20, 2005

Is nutritional yeast different from baking yeast?
posted by Caviar at 1:40 PM on August 20, 2005

Use a pot with a heavy bottom and lid. Put in enough oil to put a 1/16" to 1/8" layer and get it smoking hot. For a 8" around, 5" high pot, I use 1/3 cup of popcorn. Put on the lid and shake back and forth over very high heat until the popping stops (or slows). Dump it out so it doesn't burn, you can quickly melt the butter in the pot and pour it over. If you have problems with unpopped kernels (technical term is "old maids") put your stock of kernels in a jar and add a teaspoon of water. It's the boiling of water inside the kernels that makes them pop and they can get too dry.
Growing your own popcorn is a lot of fun, I've grown it from store bought popping corn. You can also pop the kernels right on the cob in a microwave.
posted by 445supermag at 1:47 PM on August 20, 2005

nutritional yeast is a terribly named but quite tasty seasoning - tastes kinda like buttery powder. It reminds me of the story of how "chinese gooseberries" suddenly began to sell very well when someone decided to start calling them "kiwis". If it had a more appealing sounding name, I bet lotsa people would use nutritional yeast as a seasoning.

I don't know how it's scientifically related to regular yeast.
posted by mdn at 1:51 PM on August 20, 2005

Y'know, I find I don't have to do the test-kernels routine. Just start it all on high heat. It gets hot enough fast enough that the kernels don't dryout, and all is good.

One advantage to melting the butter in the pot is that if you're quick, you can hold the pan tilted to pour, and just touch the stick of butter to the bottom. It'll melt and foam, but not be in contact so long as to burn. The foamy butter covers better, with less butter used.

Putting in enough oil to actually cover the unpopped kernels is way too much oil.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:54 PM on August 20, 2005

I find that if the pot is very tightly covered, the steam released by the kernels can make the popcorn more chewy, not as tender. If that happens, set the lid very slightly ajar, or lift the lid a few times to let the steam out.
posted by wryly at 2:09 PM on August 20, 2005

While the dutch oven route looks fun, in reality, it's not. It's too easy to burn the corn, there's way more old maids, and the amount of shaking you need to do to prevent burning gets real old when you're dealing with several pounds of cast iron. Try it on the stove a few times, then run out and get the West Bend Stir Crazy. I like to use peanut oil or bacon grease, and black popcorn.

Nutritional yeast also goes by the name brewer's yeast, and is delicious with buttered popcorn.
posted by mimi at 4:26 PM on August 20, 2005

I always add salt to the hot oil before adding the popcorn kernels; it seems to help the salt stick to the popcorn better. I use regular sea salt, not popcorn salt (why is the latter all yellow, anyway? Artificial butter flavor?).

Tip for adding butter: melt your butter. Put your popped corn in a large paper bag, then drizzle the butter lightly over the top (try to distribute it well to avoid making the kernels soggy). Then close the bag, leaving as much air in the bag as you can, holding the bag top closed with your hand. Shake vigorously! Turn upside down! And lo, you've got yourself some nicely-buttered popcorn. You can add some salt at this step, too - the butter will make the salt stick.

I've never tried a butter sprayer, but imagine it could be quite effective.

And be sure you start with _fresh_ popcorn kernels -- it makes a big difference. (Fresh butter's good, too)
posted by amtho at 4:33 PM on August 20, 2005

Oh, and I tend to make it in small batches, in a plain old pot, so I have to be careful not to add so much popcorn that it touches the lid when it's all popped -- that lid gets moist on the inside.
posted by amtho at 4:35 PM on August 20, 2005

I hate Texas; reason today because I can only make REAL popcorn a few months out of the year without heating up my home.
Oh, for relevancy; keeping the lid too tight does not allow the steam to escape, and makes for tough popcorn.
posted by buzzman at 5:36 PM on August 20, 2005

I make mine in a (teflon coated) wok with a glass lid. I even took it to work and used a single electric burner to make some for all my students. Yummy.
posted by nimsey lou at 7:53 PM on August 20, 2005

Ha -- get ready for the BIG SECRET. I swear, had this been general knowledge, people would not have gotten hooked on those stinky microwave popcorn packets.

Take regular kernels and throw them in a paper lunch bag. Fold over the top a couple of times. Put THAT in the microwave and throw it on for a few minutes (at most). It will pop (with consistency like an air popper, because it's not been popped in an oil) and the bag will not burn.

Voila! Add butter and salt.
posted by dreamsign at 8:19 PM on August 20, 2005

For something exotic, try the heirloom popcorn at Wisconsin Gold -- they have Midnight Blue, Ruby Red and Torquoise in addition to the standard yellow. (I've had the Ruby Red and it was nothing special, but I'm no connoisseur.)

I copied this off the interweb somewhere last year:

Turkish scientists' perfect stovetop popcorn recipe:
1.1 g of salt and 4.2 g butter for each 25 g of popcoorn. To give the corn a little extra boost, add a dash (about 0.3 g) of sodium bicarbonate.
posted by Rash at 9:06 PM on August 20, 2005

Definitely melt your butter first. Then you can pour it over the popped corn and stir around.

Delicious gourmet popcorn may be had by scattering crumbled dry herbs (say some thyme and oregano) through your hot popcorn and drizzling some olive oil through.

I prefer an ordinary saucepan with a lid. Then it's easy to lift it off the stovetop and shake it while holding the lid on, to ensure that unpopped kernels get to the bottom.

dreamsign, I am trying that at the first opportunity.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:17 AM on August 21, 2005

See here for more AskMe tips on microwave popcorn.

(and why did I never think of melting the butter right in the popcorn pan before?)
posted by footnote at 2:12 PM on August 21, 2005

These guys make some great shake-on seasonings. The white cheddar is especially tasty.
posted by Lame_username at 5:38 PM on August 21, 2005

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