When I was growing up, popcorn was something you either had at the movie theater where it was scooped out of a large popcorn machine, or came in a butter-drenched bag that you threw in the microwave and watched carefully to avoid burning. I had heard of hot-air popcorn poppers, but didn’t own one. That was all I knew.
Then I joined the Peace Corps. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have access to microwave popcorn at any of the stores in my community or in the larger town nearby. Never mind that, I didn’t have a microwave to pop it in anyways. I became entirely stove-reliant, so much so that when I returned to the US I kept forgetting that the microwave was an option and would heat up items on the stovetop out of habit.
So I was pretty astonished when I was served popcorn at my friend’s house and I asked her to teach me. Kernels for popping, it turned out, were sold in pretty much every store, and it was so easy to do on the stove. Not only that, but it was better. When I returned to the US, I realized that it’s easy to find kernels and DIY popcorn at home – I had just never seen it done. My partner was also blown away when I made popcorn on the stove for the first time, and now he does it even more often than I do. I bet you’ll fall in love with it too!
Here’s why you should pop your own popcorn on the stove:
- Economical. The savings are huge!! I looked at the prices in my grocery store, and saw that microwave popcorn was $0.33/serving, while a bag of kernels is only $0.13/serving (a serving of popcorn is 4 cups popped). It’s 60% cheaper to pop your own kernels!
- Healthy. Microwave popcorn is loaded with oil, salt, and butter. Yes, it’s addictively good, but you don’t have control over the ingredients. Corn kernels are a whole grain and when you do it yourself, you can reduce some of the less-healthy ingredients if you’d like or adjust to your dietary needs.
- Sustainable. Every time you make microwave popcorn, there’s waste, and you can’t compost or recycle those popcorn bags. But if you buy the kernels, it’s only one bag that goes into the trash rather than many, and it lasts a lot longer too. You’ll absolutely reduce your waste with this method!
- Easy. All you need is a pot and a stove. Yes, it takes a few minutes longer than a microwave, but not much, and given the points above it’s a good investment of your time.
- Tasty. You can control what goes on it, or experiment with different spices and toppings until you find your favorite! I like sprinkling Parmesan cheese over the top; my partner likes furikake. And there are even different types of corn kernels (isn’t the world wonderful?) so you can play with what kernels you like the best. I have grown to prefer a freshly popped taste over the microwave variety.
How to Pop Popcorn on a Stovetop
10 minutes for 1 serving (4 cups popped corn)
- 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
- Canola oil or butter
- salt, to taste
- seasoning, to taste
- Use canola oil, butter, or another fat that has a high smoke point. Olive oil is less desirable because it has a low smoke point, and when an oil passes its smoke point it can leave your food tasting gross.
- Follow the directions on the package as those will be most specific to your type of corn.
- Do a few test pops first. Coat the bottom of the pot with canola oil or butter. Heat it over medium heat and throw in three kernels and cover. Wait until the three kernels pop – this usually takes 4-5 minutes but will depend on the heat level. When that happens, you can pour in the rest of the kernels.
- The corn kernels should fit in one layer at the bottom of your pot. If they can’t easily fit in one layer, you have too much and you’ll overpop your pot.
- Make sure kernels are evenly coasted in oil, or you will burn it. Stir them so that they are evenly coated in oil and cover the pot.
- When the popping slows to a second or two in between pops, remove the pot from heat. Don’t delay or you’ll burn it. It’s usually another 3-4 minutes after you add the kernels, but this depends on the type of corn and the temperature so you definitely need to watch it.
- Season with whatever toppings you desire!