It’s possible to make incredible popcorn on the stovetop in 3 minutes. About the same amount of time as it takes to microwave. Here are all my popcorn secrets.
The rules of good popcorn
Avoid steam and moisture
- Moisture causes popcorn to become soggy. You want your popcorn crispy, so avoid accidentally steaming it.
- Allow steam to escape the pot using loose fitting lid, a colander, or a piece of foil with holes poked into it.
- Do not top with melted butter, it contains too much water.
Use a pot with low heat retention
- The kernels pop from being submerged in hot oil, only the oil needs to be hot.
- Do not use a cast iron pot or Dutch oven, they take too long to heat up and retain too much heat which can make your popped popcorn burn.
- I like to use a small copper sauce pot, but you can use any thin-walled pot. Ideally it should be roughly the size of the finished volume of popcorn.
Use a flavorful fat
- Pop your kernels in a flavorful fat.
- My favorite fats to use are ghee, olive oil, and toasted sesame oil, often a combination.
- Ghee adds a buttery flavor, and is one of my favorite fats to cook with in general. Unrefined coconut oil is the fat used by most movie theaters. Toasted sesame oil adds a savory flavor but use it sparingly, in combination with other fats.
Salt the fat
- Add salt directly to the unpopped kernels. That way the salt will be incorporated more evenly.
- Your salt should be as fine as possible, you can make popcorn salt by grinding salt in a spice grinder until super fine.
- If you want movie-style popcorn, use Flavacol which is the butter-flavored salt used by movie theaters. It’s artificially flavored, but very nostalgic.
Grind your toppings into a fine powder
- The finer your toppings are, the more easily they will stick to your popcorn.
- Use a cheap electric spice grinder to grind your toppings into a fine powder.
Find your favorite kernel variety
- Personally I always come back to the medium white hulless kernels, but there are many to choose from and experiment with.
- ½ cup popcorn kernels
- ½ cup fat of choice, e.g. ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, or a mix
- ½ tsp finely ground popcorn salt, or Flavacol
- finely ground toppings, see below
- Heat a small thin-walled pot over high heat.
- Add fat and 3 kernels to the pot.
- Wait until 3 kernels pop.
- Add rest of kernels and salt to the pot.
- Stir the kernels into the melted fat, vigorously.
- Place loose fitting lid on top of your pot, or use a colander, or a piece of foil with holes poked in it.
- Wait until all kernels pop.
- Transfer to a bowl.
- Add more oil and toppings.
Extra-virgin olive oil or melted ghee can be great toppings on their own, or paired with powders.
Finely grind your toppings in a spice grinder. The finer the better.
For flavors I usually follow my instincts and raid my pantry to make powdered mixes based on what I am in the mood for. You can find lots of interesting spices and powders online that can be combined in a variety of ways. Make your favorite mixes in a batch and save them.
- Umami mix — seaweed, bonito flakes, dried mushrooms, black peppercorns, white peppercorns, black garlic powder.
- Sichuan mix — sichuan peppercorns, black pepper, cumin, garlic powder, ginger powder, onion powder.
- Spicy cheese mix — white cheddar powder, nutritional yeast, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder, lactic acid powder.
- Za’atar mix — za’atar, garlic powder, onion powder.
- Curry mix — white cheddar powder, curry powder.
- MSG makes most of the topping mixes better. You can omit MSG, but concerns about it are vastly exaggerated.
- A fun way to eat popcorn is with chopsticks.