Stay Near and Play it by Ear
There’s nothing like the taste of freshly popped popcorn and nothing like the disappointment of burnt popcorn or too many unpopped kernels. If you’ve ever made popcorn, chances are you’ve bungled a batch. Follow these simple steps and you’ll have nearly perfect popcorn every time. The best tip is to stay near and play it by ear. Literally. The sound of popcorn popping is your best clue as to when it’s ready.
Stovetop Popcorn Tips
Step 1: Pour enough vegetable oil to just cover the bottom of a pan, turn on medium high heat. Allow pan to warm. The best popping temperature is between 400 and 460 degrees F. Oil burns at 500 degrees. If your oil starts to smoke, it's too hot.
Step 2: Add enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer, shake to coat the kernels with oil, and cover with lid (too many kernels will “blow” the lid).
Step 3: Corn will begin to pop within 3 minutes. When the popping slows, listen until you can count 2 seconds between pops. Turn off heat and remove pan from stove-top. Lift the lid to allow steam to escape away from your face. Steam may burn and remaining kernels may continue to pop.
Step 4: Immediately add herbs, spices or other toppings if desired. Enjoy!
Microwave Popcorn Tips
Follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding placement of the bag in your microwave (place bag “right side up”) and popping instructions. If you use the “popcorn” button found on most microwaves, understand that microwave ovens vary and the technology, although advanced, is not perfect.
If you end up with too many unpopped kernels, try manually setting the timer.
Set the timer for 4½ minutes and stand by. This is your test bag so you need to be there to determine how long it actually takes. Once you discover the right timing for your popcorn, you can make a note of it for future bags.
Start the microwave. Popcorn will begin popping in a few minutes. When the popping begins to slow, LISTEN until you can count 2 seconds between pops. Remove the bag immediately from the microwave oven and open the bag away from your face. The escaping steam may burn and remaining kernels may continue to pop.
Pre-salting kernels toughens popcorn. So, salt the popcorn after it has been popped—or skip salt altogether and add salt-free spices.
Oil & Butter
You can pop popcorn in any type of oil—sunflower, olive, canola, corn, or coconut—but do not use butter as it will burn under high heat. You may choose to drizzle melted butter on your popcorn after popping.
General Measure Rule
One (1) ounce of unpopped popcorn equals a quart popped. Check out our "Unpopped to Popped" infographic.
Without moisture—13.5 percent to 14 percent per kernel is needed—popcorn can't pop. That's why it's important to store popcorn correctly. An entire percentage of moisture can be lost if your kernels are left uncovered on a hot day. Though that may not sound like a lot, it adds up. A loss of 3 percent can render popcorn unpoppable, and even a 1 percent drop in moisture will harm the quality of your kernels.
So what's the best way to store popcorn?
Airtight containers—plastic or glass—are your best bet to avoid moisture loss, especially when stored in a cool place like a cupboard.
Avoid the refrigerator. Some say the cold storage makes the popcorn taste better, but many refrigerators contain little moisture and can dry out kernels.
Saving "Old Maids"
"Old Maids" is an old-fashioned term for kernels that fail to pop and are often found at the bottom of the popcorn bowl. They can, however, be rejuvenated. The water in kernels is what causes popcorn to pop, so all you need to do is re-hydrate the dried kernels.
David Woodside, author of What Makes Popcorn Pop?, suggests filling "a one-quart jar three-quarters full of popcorn and adding one tablespoon of water. Cover the jar with an airtight lid and give it a few good shakes every few minutes until the popcorn has absorbed all the water. Store the jar in a cool place." Woodside says in two or three days you can test-pop a batch of kernels. If you still get old maids, add a few more drops of water to the jar, shake it, and let it sit for a few more days.