Making The Perfect Popcorn

Here’s how to make really great popcorn

No matter if you’ve got a sweet tooth, or you’re a spice hound, an adventurist, or a purist, there’s a popcorn flavor waiting to meet your personal style. And though there are lots of varieties available on the store shelf, making your own fresh popcorn lets you take charge of the ingredients from start to finish, ensuring both your taste buds and your body are equally happy. Let’s take a look at the simple secrets to mastering this snack bowl staple.

Start With Great Ingredients

You don’t need much to make basic popcorn, which makes the quality of ingredients you choose all the more important. For the corn itself, be sure to choose an organic variety of popcorn kernels—heirloom varieties are fun too, as long as they’re organic. You’ll also want a little fat, and coconut oil will give you the most bang for your buck by far: it has a slightly buttery flavor that can handle all kinds of flavor scenarios, a high smoke point (making it ideal for cooking), plus it keeps your popcorn plant-based. A bit of salt is up to you, but a nice sea salt will do the trick just fine.

Use The Stove

Outside of a popcorn machine, the best way to make popcorn is on the stovetop. Warm a large saucepan (a 3- to 4-quart size will do … just be sure it has a lid) over medium-high heat, and add a tablespoon of coconut oil. Wait until the oil is hot—it should shimmer slightly—then add ¼ cup of organic popcorn kernels, which will yield a whopping 5-6 cups of popcorn once popped! Stir to coat the kernels with oil, lightly jiggling the pan to spread the kernels into a flat layer, and cover. Then, listen closely: once the first few kernels have popped, reduce the heat to slightly below medium (as in, medium low-ish). Continue popping, moving the lid slightly ajar to release some steam, and shaking the pan back and forth the over the burner once every minute to ensure even cooking of the kernels. After 4 to 5 minutes, or once there are a couple seconds between each “pop,” remove the popcorn from the heat and uncover. At this point, you’ll want to immediately add your final ingredients!

Add Coconut Oil (yes, again!)

Your first application of coconut oil allowed the popcorn to cook without sticking to the pan. Your second application of coconut oil is what will offer that deep buttery flavor you crave, and allow any other seasonings you add to stick to the kernels. To get a nice, even application of coconut oil, here’s the trick: do not pour it on top of your finished bowl. This will yield approximately one dozen soggy (albeit delicious) pieces of popcorn, and a thousand more super-dry unflavored pieces. This would make for a sad, sad bowl. Instead, as soon as the popcorn finishes cooking on the stovetop, remove it from the heat, uncover, and immediately stir your coconut oil vigorously into the pot– for the ¼ cup of kernels used above, I generally add about 1 tablespoon of additional coconut oil, though you can feel free to adjust the quantity to taste. You’ll find that the broad surface of the pot, along with the remnant heat and quick mixing action, will distribute the oil beautifully amongst the popped kernels, and ready them for any final additions. Which brings us to our final point….

Stirred Not Sprinkled

Before you transfer your popcorn to an awaiting bowl (or outstretched hands), you’ll want to add your seasonings directly into the pot and stir first. This again helps with distribution, and will allow your seasonings to permeate more kernels, while still providing a nice extra bit of seasoning on top of the bowl, once the popcorn has been transferred into a serving dish.

As for types of seasonings, there are so many options – many of them motivatingly healthy! Popcorn purists may respectfully stop at some sea salt, but you can also add all types of spices and superfoods. A mix of nutritional yeast, turmeric, onion powder, hemp seeds, and salt creates a superfood popcorn that tastes (and looks) deliciously cheesy. You can make a coconut caramel popcorn by combining a little maple syrup with the coconut oil and adding coconut flakes and salt. Chocolate lovers can sprinkle on cacao powder with coconut sugar and a little cinnamon. And feel free to raid your spice cabinet and sprinkle on fun flavors like cumin, garlic powder, chili … even adding a squeeze of lemon or vinegar for some unexpected and welcome acidity.

So, the only question left is: how will you customize your next popcorn bowl?

Author Profile
Julie Morris

Julie Morris is a California-based natural foods chef, on-camera personality, and New York Times best-selling cookbook author. Julie’s mission is simple: to share recipes and nutrition tips that make a vibrantly healthy lifestyle both easy to achieve and delicious to follow.

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  • I want to perfect my popcorn games, thanks a lot.