Little-known fact: I am a stovetop popcorn connoisseur. I’ve been making popcorn on the stove since my parents taught me in elementary school. Stovetop popcorn is infinitely better than microwave popcorn or air-popped popcorn. If you haven’t made it yet, you’ve been missing out!
I’m on a mission to make sure everyone knows how to make popcorn from scratch. Today, I’m sharing all of my popcorn-making tips so you can make perfect stovetop popcorn at home, too. All you need are popcorn kernels, a good pot with a lid, oil and salt. You can do it!
Of all the salty, crunchy, savory snacks out there, stovetop popcorn is one of the tastiest and cheapest snacks. I love that I can make it in under 10 minutes if I’m craving a snack, and easily adjust the amounts to yield a single serving or popcorn for a party.
The 10-minute buffer period is actually great, since it means I can’t reach into the pantry and mindlessly snack on popcorn. That’s why I don’t keep tortilla chips on hand—I eat them too fast.
How to Make Stovetop Popcorn
- Use a good, heavy-bottomed pot. Cheap pots don’t distribute heat evenly, and you can end up with hot spots that burn the popcorn.
- Don’t crank the heat up too high. It’s too easy to burn oil at temperature higher than medium heat, and if you catch even a whiff of smoke coming from the pot, your popcorn is going to taste burnt.
- Start with two popcorn kernels to gauge the temperature. Once those pop, your oil is hot enough. Add the remaining kernels and remove the pot from the heat for 1 minute. This primes the popcorn to pop without burning the oil.
- Tip the lid ever-so-slightly while the popcorn is popping. That way, the popcorn doesn’t steam itself in the pot and lose crispness. (See photo above.)
- If the popcorn starts overflowing the pot: Simply remove the lid and tip the excess popcorn into a bowl. Return the lid and return the popcorn to the heat until popping slows.
- Season with salt carefully. You can always add more, but you can’t take away too much.
Scroll down for my recipe!
Cooking Oil Options
- Extra-virgin olive oil: You can absolutely make popcorn with olive oil, as long as you cook it over medium heat. Olive oil is my favorite oil to use and it’s the healthiest option.
- Coconut oil: Movie theaters cook popcorn in coconut oil and it is delicious. Opt for unrefined (virgin) coconut oil, which is more redeeming than the highly refined version used at theaters.
- Canola oil and other vegetable oils: I avoid canola oil since it’s usually highly processed. Avocado oil, grapeseed oil and safflower oil are good neutral options.
Recommended Popcorn Seasonings
- Black pepper and good olive oil: This variation is so good that it made it into my cookbook.
- Cinnamon honey butter: This popcorn is a little sticky, but irresistible. Whisk 1 tablespoon melted butter with 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon.
- Spice it up: Sprinkle with cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes or white pepper.
- Nutritional yeast: This is a healthy vegan alternative that offers butter flavor. Here’s how my friend Ali makes “nooch” popcorn.
- Melted butter!
Is popcorn healthy?
In the crunchy, salty snacks category, popcorn is definitely one of the healthier options. That is, if you make popcorn on the stove with a reasonable amount of high-quality oil and don’t douse it in butter or caramel afterward.
I make popcorn with extra-virgin olive oil and organic popcorn kernels, so I’d say my popcorn is as healthy as popcorn gets. Popcorn is a whole grain, and it offers some redeeming fiber. You can enjoy a big serving (2.5 cups) of popcorn for the same amount of calories as a handful of tortilla chips.
Movie theater popcorn and flavored microwave popcorn are another story. They’re typically made with highly refined oils and coated in artificial “butter flavor” chemicals and preservatives.
Even if you’re buying unflavored microwave popcorn, the bags themselves pose health concerns. They’re typically coated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is the same toxic substance that coats Teflon pans. PFOA’s stick around in the human body for long periods of time, and the EPA states that PFOA’s at sufficient levels can cause a host of health problems, including cancer.
Why make stovetop popcorn?
It’s super delicious and chemical-free. Granted, you could also make air-popped popcorn and it would be free of all the bad stuff, too, but it’s flavorless and dull. Snacks should taste good! Stovetop popcorn tastes way better with as little as one tablespoon of oil for eight servings.
If you want to drizzle butter to your stovetop popcorn (so tasty), go right ahead. Even one tablespoon of butter on those eight servings of popcorn adds a lot of real butter flavor. Do you know how much saturated fat is in a medium movie theater popcorn? An entire stick of butter’s worth.
Best Stovetop Popcorn
- Prep Time: 2 minute
- Cook Time: 8 minutes
- Total Time: 10 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings
- Category: Snack
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: American
Learn how to make perfectly popped popcorn in under 10 minutes! You’ll never go back to microwave popcorn after you make this recipe. Recipe yields about 10 cups (about 4 servings).
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil
- ½ cup popcorn kernels, divided
- Salt, to taste
- In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine the oil and 2 popcorn kernels. Cover the pot and wait for the kernels to pop, which might take a few minutes. In the meantime, place a large serving bowl near the stove so it’s ready when you need it.
- Once the kernels pop, turn off the burner, remove the pot from the heat and pour in the remaining popcorn kernels. Cover the pot again, and give the pot a little shimmy to distribute the kernels evenly. Let the pot rest for 60 seconds to make sure the oil doesn’t get too hot before the kernels are ready to pop.
- Turn the heat back up to medium, put the pot back onto the burner and continue cooking the popcorn, carefully shimmying the pot occasionally to cook the kernels evenly. Once the kernels start popping, tip the lid just a touch to allow steam to escape (see photo).
- Continue cooking until the popping sound slows to about one pop per every few seconds. (If the popcorn tries to overflow the pot, just tip the upper portion of popcorn into your bowl and return it to the heat.)
- Remove the lid and dump the popcorn into your serving bowl. Sprinkle the popcorn with a couple pinches of salt, to taste, and any other topping you would like. Toss the popcorn and serve immediately, for best flavor and texture. The popcorn will taste good for several hours, though.
Where to buy popcorn kernels: Look for them near the microwave popcorn. I like to buy organic, which I find at Trader Joe’s or health stores.
▸ Nutrition Information
A word on safety
I burned some carpet in my house while making stovetop popcorn at age 10, and learned a valuable lesson to never leave hot oil on the stove unattended.
The risk here is entirely minimal. Don’t leave the kitchen, and remove the pot from the heat if you see any whiffs of smoke (which is unlikely). If the oil starts smoking at all, you’ll want to let start over. Let the oil cool before adding water to the pot to clean it.
If smoke ever starts billowing out of an oiled pot, whatever you do, do NOT remove the lid or add water. Turn off the stove, don’t touch or move the pot, and if it’s a small amount of oil (like for making popcorn), let it burn out on its own.
Here’s more information about grease fires. Teach your kids!