How to Make Popcorn the Old Fashioned Way

How to Make Popcorn the Old Fashioned Way - Step by Step Tutorial for Popping Popcorn on the Stovetop + Topping Options by Tori Avey

While most of us have grown used to the convenience of microwave bagged popcorn, a couple of years ago I stopped buying it when I learned that most microwave popcorn bags are lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). That’s the toxic chemical and carcinogen that can be found in many nonstick skillets and pans– it’s approved food safe by the government, but the fumes from cooking on a PFOA skillet can kill a parrot standing nearby. This, in addition to the fact that most microwave popcorn brands contain partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and flavorings, and preservatives… well, let’s just say it’s not something I want to feed my family. Luckily, it’s super easy to make popcorn the old fashioned way, on the stovetop! All you need is a pot with a lid, a vegetable-based oil with a high smoke point, and… you guessed it… popcorn kernels.

According to John Russell Bartlett’s 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms, popcorn’s name was derived from “the noise it makes on bursting open.” When it comes to snack cravings, there is no sound more inviting than popcorn popping, especially on movie night.Can you imagine movies without popcorn? Surprisingly, theater owners were not on board with popcorn sales in the beginning. They thought it might create an unnecessary nuisance in addition to requiring expensive changes, like installing vents to rid the building of smoky popcorn odors. Hawkers, seeing the potential in popcorn sales, took matters into their own hands and began selling popcorn and Cracker Jack while walking up and down movie theater aisles. The Depression brought a shift in perspective for theater owners, who began to view popcorn as a small luxury that patrons could afford. Unlike most treats, popcorn sales actually rose during the Depression. Instead of installing indoor concession areas, theaters charged outside venders a dollar a day to sell popcorn from outdoor stands. In 1938 Glen W. Dickson, the owner of several theaters throughout the Midwest, began installing popcorn machines in the lobbies of his theaters. The construction changes were costly, but he recovered his investment quickly and his profits skyrocketed.

In my opinion, the best way to recreate the allure of movie theater popcorn is to pop it yourself, the old fashioned way, on the stovetop. This method lends itself to endless topping options. Trying to stay healthy? Pop it in grapeseed oil with a just a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Feeling indulgent? Go for melted butter, cinnamon sugar and a drizzle of melted chocolate. Below I’ve listed suggested some topping ideas, but by all means be as creative as you like! What’s your favorite way to eat popcorn?

How to Pop and Top Popcorn the Old Fashioned Way

You will need

  • 3-4 tbsp oil (more or less as needed), choose one with a high smoke point like grapeseed, coconut or peanut oil
  • 1/4 cup popcorn kernels (or more if you like)
  • large pot with a lid

Optional Topping Ingredients (choose one or combine toppings)

  • 1/8 cup melted butter
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/8 cup melted chocolate
  • 2 tsp cinnamon sugar mixture
  • 2 tsp nutritional yeast (vegan- sorta kinda cheese flavored topping)
  • Spices like smoked paprika, cumin, chili powder or others to taste
Total Time: 5 Minutes
Servings: 1/4 cup popcorn seeds = 4 cups popcorn
Kosher Key: Pareve or Dairy, depending on topping choice
  • Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. You’ll want to use enough oil to just cover the bottom of the pan, so adjust the amount according to the size of your pot. At this point, if you want to spice up your popcorn, you can also add some spices to the oil-- that way they will evenly coat the kernels as they pop! Other toppings should be reserved for later, including melted butter which can burn due to its low smoke point.
  • You can test your oil by tossing in a few kernels and covering the pot. Once they pop, you’ll know your oil is hot enough to add in the rest.
  • How to Pop and Top Popcorn - Step by Step Tutorial for Popping Popcorn on the Stovetop, Including Topping Options by Tori AveyAdd the rest of the popcorn in an even layer across the bottom of your pot.
  • How to Pop and Top Popcorn - Step by Step Tutorial for Popping Popcorn on the Stovetop, Including Topping Options by Tori AveyRemove the pot from the heat for 20 seconds to allow all of the kernels to come to the same temperature. Once 20 seconds have passed, return the pot to the heat and cover. Once the kernels are really popping, carefully move the pot back and forth across the burner to keep the kernels inside moving, so they don't burn.
  • How to Pop and Top Popcorn - Step by Step Tutorial for Popping Popcorn on the Stovetop, Including Topping Options by Tori AveyWhen the popping slows down and there are long pauses between pops, remove the popcorn from the heat and immediately transfer to a large bowl. If you leave it in the pot, it will burn.
  • How to Pop and Top Popcorn - Step by Step Tutorial for Popping Popcorn on the Stovetop, Including Topping Options by Tori AveyToss with topping of your choice and serve while still hot.

Comments (74)Post a Comment

    1. Kirsten Roth Hall actually there is no genetically modified popcorn currently available on the market. The variety of corn used to make popcorn has never been genetically modified. I learned that when researching a piece for PBS Food, found it quite an interesting fact considering so much corn in the U.S. is GMO!

    2. Well,thanks for this info!That is new to me. I threw my “normal” popcorn out and replaced it with organic. This will definitely put me on the safe side, less pesticides, too, no matter what.

    3. Wow! That IS good news! I like the convenience of microwave popcorn occasionally, but I prefer the old fashioned stove method flavor the best!

    1. Paul McCool that’s what my mom used to use! They work great. I’ve thought about getting one myself, but my kitchen is completely overflowing with gadgets and cabinet space is at a premium. :)

  1. I have stopped eating processed popcorn, among other foods. I make it with the Whirla Pop! Three minutes for the best tasting popcorn., 2 tsp oil, 1/4t sp salt, 1/2 cup popcorn kernels and whirlaway.

  2. Thank you :) I forgot all about being able to do this! I threw our microwave out. It was shorting, not cooking evenly, and my girls werent learning to cook! Thanks for what you do. :)

  3. Oh Yea , It’s been around a long time . And what wrong with the old way’s . This way you can whip it up in a few min.’s I love the part where your out side and you’ve got a fire going from the grill Step right up friends , We are Loved . :D

  4. I stopped buying/eating microwave corn years ago for all the reasons you listed, PLUS! Stovetop just tastes a million times better.

    I use plain old canola oil, and I toss one kernel in the pot with the oil. When it pops, I know it’s time to toss in the rest. Takes out all the guesswork with knowing when the oil is hot enough.

  5. My husband and I love popcorn. Our favorite way is pop it in oil and put butter, garlic, salt, and parm cheese. We have had it for dinner many times in our 30+ years of marriage.

  6. Microwave. Regular kernels. Brown lunch bag. For our microwave popcorn setting about 3 tablespoons of kernels is right. It is done when the popping is less than 3 seconds apart. No chemicals. And then we add a touch of real butter and a tiny bit of fancy black salt.

  7. I always go organic when it comes to corn & soy because non-organic corn and soy are almost always genetically modified and heavily treated with pesticides. There is organic popping corn available, but I haven’t found any that I like, every one I have tried has a tough husk. Yuk. I’ve been buying bags of organic popped corn either from Whole Foods or a local supermarket here that has their own organic brand.

    1. Rich, if you read through the comments above you’ll see that no popcorn variety in existence has been genetically modified (thus far). Pesticides are a different story, but GMO is not a concern when it comes to popcorn… at least, not so far.

  8. Tori, Interesting that popcorn is not genetically modified. Thanks for that information. I am surprised since as you stated, most corn in the U.S. is GMO.
    If I start popping my own, I would want to find a variety that has a soft hull, because some popcorn varieties taste like nails, others are nice and soft with almost no hull. I’ve used some from Whole Foods that was organic but hard enough to crack a tooth on.

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