When you know how to make popcorn on the stove simply from popcorn kernels and oil, you’ll always choose stovetop popcorn over bagged microwave popcorn. It’ll take a little bit longer, but the stovetop method eliminates the need for food additives and puts you in charge. Start popping to create popcorn recipes—classic buttered or truly gourmet popcorn loaded with seasoning and toppings.

By Sheena Chihak
October 19, 2018

Maybe all you know is the convenience of microwave popcorn. It certainly has its time and place, but the classic stovetop popcorn method allows for complete customization and requires minimal ingredients and tools. All you need to make homemade stovetop popcorn is popcorn kernels, oil, and a saucepan with a lid.

Preheating oil and testing popcorn kernels to make stovetop popcorn
Preheating oil and testing popcorn kernels to make stovetop popcorn

Stovetop Popcorn Step 1: Preheat the Oil

To get your oil ready to add the popcorn kernels:

  • In a 4- to 5-quart saucepan or Dutch oven heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
  • Add 2 to 3 popcorn kernels to the oil.
  • When the test kernels pop, you're ready to add the rest of your kernels.

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

Stovetop Popcorn Step 2: Add Popcorn Kernels

When the test kernels indicate the oil is ready, add the rest of your popcorn kernels all at once. Give the pan a shake so all the kernels get coated with oil.

Stovetop Popcorn Step 3: Cook and Serve

Once you've added all your popcorn kernels and coated in oil:

  • 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. Add salt and butter, seasoning blends, and/or candy toppers to your popcorn as desired.

Popcorn-Making 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 stovetop 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.

How to Season Popcorn

In addition to butter and salt, you can top your popcorn with all kinds of spices, dried herbs, and cheeses. Give these ideas a try: 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.

Or try our cheesy chili popcorn recipe pictured above.

Why Does Popcorn Pop?

In case you've always wanted some random popcorn facts, 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, 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!

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