Making the best, fluffiest popcorn at home
November 5, 2015 11:40 AM   Subscribe

I am seeking the absolute most top-notch way to make popcorn at home. Ideally, it would be air-popped, though I could use a little oil if needed. Looking for recommendations on both cooking method/devices, popcorn types, and any other accoutrements.

I know about popping popcorn in a paper bag - it's unreliable, in my opinion, and I seem to end up with either half-burnt popcorn, or fifty unpopped kernels.

I would prefer no additional calories spent on oils, but can use a little if it is necessary to the cooking method.

I would really love BIG, FLUFFY, AWESOME pieces of popcorn, and I actually am not in love with the 'mushroom' type popcorn. It's fine, but I prefer the non-rounded shapes. This here is just lovely. I would love popcorn that is flavorful/very cornlike in taste, if that's a thing.

I'm looking to make only a serving or two at a time, if that makes any difference. Eating ten cups of popcorn is not going to save me any calories!

I'm probably going to either eat it plain, or sprayed with a little olive oil spray and sprinkled with sea salt, unless anyone has any awesome, low-calorie flavoring suggestions.

Help me stop buying big bags of Skinny Pop and this stuff, which I consider the best I've found on the market so far- giant kernels, great, light-handed seasoning, fluffy as all heck.
posted by rachaelfaith to Food & Drink (39 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Well, you know about jumbo popping corn to start, right?
posted by anderjen at 11:44 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi, my name is Talia, and I am a popcorn addict.

I will not go near microwave popcorn. I have a Westbend StirCrazy on my counter at all times and will eat a full bowl by myself. It will produce the fluffy, fully exploded kernals you desire. I don't know how well it would work with minimal oil though.

As an alternative, I saw this thing in a As-Seen-On-TV section, maybe at Target. It's relatively cheap and may be worth a try.
posted by Talia Devane at 11:52 AM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

We use the recipe here, and just a bit of coconut oil to stove pop our popcorn, and it's the most amazing, fluffy, fully popped kernels in the world. Takes no time, tastes amazing.
posted by tatiana131 at 11:54 AM on November 5, 2015 [17 favorites]

Going off of just your first sentence, "I am seeking the absolute most top-notch way to make popcorn at home", and maybe more for the benefit of other readers (sorry), there are 3-4 components that never fail for me:

Whirley-Pop (generally allows you to use less oil than other stovetop methods)
Coconut oil
Decent kernels
Flavacol, applied sparingly (0 calories!)
posted by supercres at 11:54 AM on November 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

I use quite a lot of oil in my popcorn, but I can use much less when I want to. A lot of the oil actually ends up just on the inside of the pan - the popcorn is very lightly coated - I think I can go as low as a teaspoon, of which I would estimate half ends up on the popcorn.

I heat the oil (peanut) and three kernels of popcorn in a small, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat (4 of 9 on my gas burner), and when those three kernels have popped I add the rest (usually 1/4 cup, which is basically two servings - 1-2 liters popped). I cover the pan with something with lots of holes to let the steam out (in my case a steamer basket insert, but aluminum foil with lots of holes punched in it also works).

I consider letting the steam out to be probably the most important thing. Steamed popcorn is chewy, not fluffy. I used to use a Whirly-Pop but I now prefer a heavy-bottomed pan.
posted by mskyle at 11:55 AM on November 5, 2015

Flavorwise, I've found that the heirloom popcorn varieties that you can buy from bulk bins in health food stores are much, much better tasting than any mass market kernels I can buy in a jar off the shelf. You can just buy a cup or so and see if you like it.
posted by megancita at 12:01 PM on November 5, 2015

I am also super into popcorn and highly recommend this microwave safe popping bowl.

you can pop with ZERO oil and the results are very similar to stove top popcorn... this is not that air popped styrofoam texture nonsense. You can also use oil, we have switched to a wee bit of coconut oil.

Also, check out some varieties of popcorn... I like Black Jewel but there are many to choose from
posted by bobdow at 12:02 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

We use a Whirley-Pop. Nothing but maybe half a teaspoon of oil, just enough to make the salt stick, and a shit-ton of fine salt per half-cup of kernels. I could eat the whole bowl myself, but usually I split it with my wife. Big, fluffy-ass popcorn and almost no old maids. Even with supermarket-brand corn it's pretty corny since you're not introducing any flavor other than a little salt to enhance it.

(We also used to have an off-brand Whirley-Pop-type popper that I got on clearance at Target; it was fine, but the real deal is much, much better.)
posted by uncleozzy at 12:02 PM on November 5, 2015

We take popcorn seriously in our house and use a whirley-pop. I usually use 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil (the plain old stuff, NOT EVOO, and no it doesn't burn) and some Premier Flavacol.

As far as the kernels go, two of your things are kind of in opposition to each other. The big commercial brands are great for BIG AND FLUFFY, but are lacking in the flavor department. There are a bunch of heirlooms out there -- ISTR Fireworks Popcorn has samplers -- with much more intense flavors but they tend to produce smaller popped kernels.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:09 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

You want a Whirly Pop and a fresh jar of Orville Redenbacher.

That's basically it.

A teaspoon or so of oil is all you need.
posted by bondcliff at 12:09 PM on November 5, 2015

1. Whirley-Pop
2. yoderpopcorn
3. nomnomnommmmmmmmmmmmmm

can't seem to link from this machine, sorry
posted by spinturtle at 12:20 PM on November 5, 2015

Whirley-Pop seems to be coming up a lot! No problem on the oppositional kernel types, I can certainly invest in a few bags of different types and see what I like best, once I have a quality popper. Flavacol seems to be key, as well. Awesome. Can't wait to have a faceful of popcorn.
posted by rachaelfaith at 12:26 PM on November 5, 2015

Currently I use a wok, as demonstrated by wok cooking author Grace Young. (Note that her instruction to line the lid with foil isn't actually necessary for the method, it just simplifies cleaning up afterwards.)
posted by dnash at 12:29 PM on November 5, 2015

My experience with stove-top popping is that you can get away with using way less oil than recipes indicate. I pop in a well-seasoned heavy-duty calphalon pot and use probably 2 tsp oil at the most when popping. I do it the old fashioned stove-top way with the shaking and the whatnot and usually get very well-popped popcorn. One factor to consider, though, is the age and moisture content of the kernels. A dry, old kernel is not going to pop well, no matter what method you choose.

I recommend smoked salt and nutritional yeast as toppings.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:33 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

On preview, seems like you might be a Whirley Pop convert, but I already typed up the below so here's my recommendation too:

Popcorn is my favorite snack of all time. Doesn't matter the method of cooking, I'll eat it all. Hell, I'm having a popcorn bar at my wedding this coming October. Every Christmas my somewhat large extended family does a white elephant gift exchange, but with good gifts. Hands down the best gift I've ever received out of that exchange has been a Whirley Pop. I've had it for over a decade and it has survived college and a 3,000 mile move. It's probably one of my prized possessions. So I'll second/third/etc. the other suggestions for the Whirley Pop. Just a dash of oil to pop and then I prefer to add spray butter, seasoned salt, black pepper, and garlic salt at the end (seriously, give that combo a whirl, it's delicious).
posted by friendlyjuan at 12:33 PM on November 5, 2015

We do our popcorn with a Stir Crazy and oil and butter, but I have really come to recommend Tony Chachere's seasoning as a topping. The Louisiana side of my husband's family turned us on to this stuff and it's spicy and delicious on anything that needs a bit of zip, but I love it on popcorn.
posted by immlass at 12:39 PM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I should add I gave Whirley Pops out as groomsmen's gifts at my wedding. I believe in it that much. I am on my third one at home, not because it's not well-made but because we use it all the damn time and we wear it out.

I don't know if it's going to make the corn fluffier than the other methods often practiced by horrible* people, such as microwave and air popping, but it will be just as quick, nice and hot, well-popped (almost all the kernels) and delicious with even a small bit of oil.

*I'm sure not everyone who eats microwaved or air popped popcorn is completely horrible
posted by bondcliff at 12:40 PM on November 5, 2015

It seems like method is covered, which means that I get to talk about my favorite thing, which is POPCORN TOPPINGS.

Butter-flavored cooking spray and basically any seasoning, right? Try using jerk seasoning or your favorite dry rub. Seasoned salt is delicious, and I'll fight you for a bowl of popcorn with hot sauce (Crystal brand) and garlic powder. I also like furikake, and my kid really likes cinnamon and sugar, which in our house usually means splenda. Basically all your favorite spice mixes will probably be *amazing* on popcorn.
posted by MeghanC at 12:52 PM on November 5, 2015

I had a Whirley Pop but now have a Stir Crazy.
I like the Stir Crazy, but it's close.
I think I have used as little as 1 teaspoon oil, but somehow I think the popcorn is more tender with more oil.

If you have a local farmers market any local popcorn is "fresh" right now, recently dried. Try that.
posted by littlewater at 1:07 PM on November 5, 2015

And if you don't know, only some varieties of corn are good for popping. The corn you eat on ears in summer and the industrial corn in giant fields is not good for popping so don't bother to try to dry anything at home unless you start a garden of corn specifically of popcorn varieties.
posted by littlewater at 1:09 PM on November 5, 2015

For Air Popping, the poplite style works well.
posted by zinon at 1:10 PM on November 5, 2015

Nutritional yeast
Garlic powder
Dried dill

That is all.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:13 PM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Close! It's nutritional yeast, garlic powder, celery salt.
posted by redfoxtail at 1:16 PM on November 5, 2015

I think I've already said that it's nutritional yeast and smoked salt. Get it right ;)
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:23 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Powdered vinegar is pretty good on popcorn, but you need to put a lot on it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:36 PM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have tried everything and the recipe tatiana131 refer to is unbeatable.
posted by Ferrari328 at 1:46 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I grew up making popcorn on the stove with butter. I've had a pretty strict diet since 1993 that limits my ability to consume refined fats or oils of any stripe.

I've used, almost exclusively since then, a microwave-safe bowl with loose fitting lid and kernels. No oil. Not a drop. If you're getting inconsistent results this way, you either (1) have a spotty, old microwave or (2) are using dried out kernels. More often than not, (1) doesn't even matter. (2), though, can make or break popcorn made by any method.

I live where it's very dry, so I tend to store my kernels in the fridge using a humidity-permeable container. Translation: they live in one of those cardboard Quaker oats containers. When it gets really dry, I pour them into a glass with a few drops of water in the bottom, then pop them back in the fridge. A day later, they've absorbed plenty of water to pop and fluff up nicely again so I transfer them back to the cardboard container.

That's it. Popcorn comes out incredibly puffy and fluffy, and there's enough steam to get toppings to stick. I love love love basic: salt, pepper, nutritional yeast. Shake, serve, enjoy.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:52 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I use the same method as tatiana131, but with Canola oil. Can't speak to the calorie content, but the popcorn is outstanding. Microwave popcorn has been dead to me for years.
posted by cnc at 2:13 PM on November 5, 2015

Nutritional yeast
Garlic powder
Dried dill

That is all.

No no no. First it's a liberal dousing of Tabasco while tossing the popcorn. Then, a mixture of grated parmesan (the finely grated kind, not from a box grater), nutritional yeast, and shichimi/togarashi!
posted by mudpuppie at 2:24 PM on November 5, 2015

I use the glass microwave thingie that Talia linked to and it's great! I use popcorn salt, a fresh jar of jumbo popcorn and put a small pat of butter on the top (to help the salt stick) and I get corny, fully popped goodness in less than 3 minutes.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:25 PM on November 5, 2015

Some years ago, someone on the green recommended making sure that your popcorn wasn't too dry, and suggested adding something like a teaspoon of water to the dry popcorn jar a bit before popping. This improves results for us too.

But yeah, whirlypop, coconut oil, fine salt ... but also a tonne of melted real butter and a dusting of Hungarian sweet paprika or Spanish pimentón de la Vera.
posted by scruss at 2:28 PM on November 5, 2015

I use the microwaveable bowl recommended upthread, no oil added. I've found if you splash water on the inside of the lid and shake most of it off before cooking, it makes for fluffier popcorn.

Toppings: melted butter and salt, straight up.
Olive oil and salt blend of kosher salt, ground rosemary, roasted garlic powder, and thyme.
Chili powder and a sprinkle of lime juice.
posted by fifthpocket at 3:15 PM on November 5, 2015

I don't like the taste of coconut oil so I just use whatever is labeled "vegetable oil" at the supermarket in a Whirley-Pop. I wouldn't recommend using none but you can definitely get away with a teaspoon.

I'll also second Yoder Popcorn, except the shipping has gotten so expensive it's now no cheaper than buying Orville Redenbacher at retail. The Sunburst variety pops big and tastes the most corny but it's a little more chewy than fluffy. The red is delightfully nutty, reasonably tender, but rather small. My favorite is probably the Ladyfinger variety, which is tender and has a pretty classic popcorn taste, but it is small.
posted by fedward at 3:54 PM on November 5, 2015

Nthing the recommendations for coconut oil. I have found that it makes such a huge difference in terms of light, fluffy popcorn.
posted by lunasol at 7:35 PM on November 5, 2015

I've had good luck with a StirCrazy and avocado oil myself. This thread has been fascinating! I want to make a big batch of popcorn now.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 8:09 PM on November 5, 2015

Chiming in to defend the stir-crazy here. love it. You can even use it to make kettle corn! (dump in 1/2 cup of popcorn, 1/4 cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and yow--what a treat.) I use shortening sometimes, I like the flavor, but I'm gonna try coconut oil after seeing all the mentions here.
posted by lemniskate at 9:12 PM on November 5, 2015

Nthing Whirley Pop and a bit of whatever oil is in your wheelhouse, me it is usually olive oil or ghee. Topping could be a bit of salt, Old Bay, or a condiment that I made out of surplus greens from the summer (arugula, spinach, kale, tatsoi - whatever I had) which I dehydrated & powdered which was initially for smoothies and sneaking into my son's food but I have now decided I like it on everything. Sometimes I make hurricane popcorn [which I learned about via this Metafilter post. Oh I keep my popcorn in the freezer. I don't know that it helps but I seem to have less unpopped kernels. I don't buy anything fancy - always locally grown and non-GMO - which is cheap at the end of the season.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:15 AM on November 6, 2015

Use Bacon grease instead of oil. Doesn't take much, but oh my....heaven!!!
posted by LaBellaStella at 7:10 PM on November 7, 2015

For what it's worth, the Whirley Pop has changed the popcorn game for me. I love it.
posted by rachaelfaith at 5:09 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

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