How to Make Homemade Popcorn & Kettle Corn

Did you ever wonder how popcorn pops or how to make your own kettle corn, caramel popcorn, or stove-top popcorn? For these and other popcorn-related questions, look no further—we have all the answers right here! You can even try one of our recipes to learn how to make popcorn balls or popcorn snack mix. Everything you've ever wanted to know about popcorn is here!

Curling up on the sofa with a bowl of freshly popped popcorn, your favorite soda, and a four-star movie turns any night into a winner. Americans love popcorn so much that, according to the Popcorn Board, we consume 51 quarts annually per person. In addition to being great comfort food, popcorn is a whole grain product that contains about 1 gram of fiber in every cup. It's also lower in calories and fat than many other snack foods: air-popped popcorn has about 30 calories per cup, while popcorn popped in oil has about 55 calories per cup.

How Popcorn Pops

In case you've always wondered, the Popcorn Board offers the science behind how popcorn pops. Popcorn is different from other types of corn in that its hull has just the right thickness to allow it to burst open when heated. Each kernel of popcorn contains a small drop of water stored inside a circle of soft starch. The soft starch is surrounded by the kernel's hard outer surface. As the kernel heats up, the water begins to expand. Around 212°F, the water turns into steam and makes the starch inside each kernel superhot and gelatinous. The kernel continues to heat, and the pressure inside the grain builds until it finally bursts the hull open. As it explodes, steam inside the kernel is released. The soft starch inside the popcorn becomes inflated and spills out, cooling immediately and forming into the odd shapes we know and love. A kernel will swell 40–50 times its original size!

How to Make Popcorn on the Stove

Skip the microwave popcorn for today and learn how to pop popcorn on the stove! Unlike the packages from the store, this easy method lets you control how much popcorn you make and how much oil or butter you add.

  • In a heavy 3- to 4-quart saucepan combine about 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and about 1/2 cup popcorn kernels. Shake pan so all kernels are coated with oil. This amount of kernels will yield about 10 cups of popped popcorn.

Tip: Use an oil that can withstand high temperatures without smoking or breaking down, such as canola oil, peanut oil, or an oil specifically designed for popcorn popping. Do not use olive oil or butter.

  • Cover the pan and cook over medium-high heat 4 to 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally and partially lifting the lid to let steam escape.
  • When the popping slows, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the popcorn to a serving bowl. If desired, toss with 1 to 3 tablespoons melted butter and salt to taste.

Get the recipe for our Garlic-Chili Popcorn

How to Microwave Popcorn

You can also make popcorn in the microwave by using a special bowl designed for this purpose. These microwavable bowls are available in stores that carry kitchen and cooking supplies. Simply add kernels to the bowl (no oil required), cover, and heat according to the recommended time for your microwave wattage. You may have to experiment a few times to get the timing right.

Caution: Do not use a brown paper bag to microwave popcorn, as these are not designed for microwaving.

Try our recipe for Italian Popcorn

Popcorn Tips

  • Whether you are popping corn on the stove or in the microwave, be sure to watch it closely to prevent burning.
  • When using the stove-top method, add only enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan so they all get coated in oil.
  • Salt popcorn only after it is popped. Salting the kernels before they pop toughens the popcorn.
  • For perfectly popped kernels, popcorn needs 13.5–14 percent moisture in the kernel; otherwise it won't pop. Store popcorn kernels in an airtight container in a cool place, such as a cupboard. Do not store in the refrigerator because it can dry out the kernels. 
  • If you add butter to popcorn, use real butter or stick margarine. Tub products contain more water and will make popcorn soggy.

Learn how to make popcorn balls with this easy recipe!

How to Season Popcorn

In addition to butter and salt, you can top your popcorn with any of the following: garlic salt, Parmesan cheese, dried thyme, ground cumin, dried oregano, dry taco or ranch-style seasoning mix, lemon pepper, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, or brown sugar.

Try our Zesty Popcorn Mix recipe

How to Make Kettle Corn

Learning how to make kettle popcorn is easier than you might think. Like any homemade popcorn, you can dress it up exactly how you like it while it's cooking!

  • Line a large baking sheet or tray with foil; set aside. 
  • In a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium-high heat, adding 2 to 3 popcorn kernels to the oil. When kernels pop, add an additional 1/2 cup popcorn kernels, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt; stir well. 
  • Cover; heat, stirring a few times, until popcorn begins to pop. Lift from heat and shake pan, holding with hot pads if necessary; return to heat. Repeat until popping slows. Remove from heat and let sit for a few seconds until popping stops. 
  • Pour popcorn onto prepared baking sheet. Cool. 

How to Make Caramel Popcorn

Caramel popcorn is another classic popcorn dress-up. Here's how to make caramel popcorn so you can enjoy this sweet and salty snack whenever you want!

  • Preheat oven to 300˚F. Remove all unpopped kernels from 14 cups of popped popcorn. Place popcorn and, if desired, 2 cups whole almonds into a 17x12-inch jelly-roll pan. Keep popcorn warm in the oven while making the caramel mixture.
  • Butter a large piece of foil and set aside. For caramel, in a medium saucepan combine 1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar, 3/4 cup butter, and 1/3 cup light-color corn syrup. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture boils. Continue boiling at a moderate, steady rate, without stirring, 5 minutes more.
  • Remove saucepan from heat. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Pour caramel over popcorn; stir gently to coat. Bake 15 minutes. Stir mixture; bake 5 minutes more. Spread caramel corn onto prepared foil; cool.

Try our Caramel Popcorn recipe

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