How to Make Stovetop Popcorn

$0.54 recipe / $0.14 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.15 from 47 votes
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Stovetop popcorn is, was, and will always be one of my favorite budget-friendly snacks. It takes only minutes to make, can be flavored with hundreds of different ingredients, both sweet and savory, and it is shelf stable. Really, what more could you want in a snack?? And if you’ve only experienced microwave popcorn, hold onto your seat. Stovetop popcorn is a whole different beast! The kernels are fluffier, have a better texture, and a more intense corn flavor. Once you go stovetop, you’ll never go back.

Originally posed 11-23-2015, updated 1-31-2020.

How to Make Perfect Fluffy Stovetop Popcorn 

A big bowl of stovetop popcorn on a zig zag napkin with a measuring cup of unpopped kernels on the side

What Makes Popcorn Pop?

To understand how to make stovetop popcorn, it can help to understand what makes popcorn pop to begin with. Every dried kernel of corn still contains a small amount of moisture in the center. When that moisture heats up rapidly and turns into steam, pressure builds within the kernel until it eventually pops. To get the best pop you want the hottest oil and the fastest increase in temperature (which is why I don’t add the kernels until the oil is already hot).

What Oil Should You Use to Make Stovetop Popcorn?

Stovetop popcorn is all about the oil. The hot oil is what causes the kernels to pop into a big, fluffy, crunchy cloud and it’s important that you use an oil that can withstand a very high heat. If you use a lower heat oil, you risk the oil reaching its smoke point and then flash point, which will cause the oil to burst into flames (not good). To avoid this, make sure to use a “high heat” oil, or an oil that has a smoke point of 400ºF or higher. Some oils that have a high smoke point include (but are not limited to): vegetable, canola, corn, grapeseed, avocado, safflower, and sunflower oil.

Why is My Popcorn Always Small and Hard?

There are a few things that can cause popcorn to not pop into big fluffy pieces. Here are the most common reasons:

  • Old kernels – if your popcorn kernels are very old, they won’t contain as much moisture in the center and therefor won’t pop as big.
  • Not enough oil – if you don’t use enough oil, there won’t be enough to heat the kernels quickly and evenly, and you’ll get a lot of half-pops and small pops.
  • Adding kernels to cold oil – When kernels heat up slowly with the oil the pop will be less dramatic and the pieces will be smaller.

A big bowl of popcorn with two smaller portioned bowls on the side, with a measuring cup of unpopped kernels next to the bowls

How to Season Popcorn

My favorite part about popcorn is that you can literally add anything to it. My favorite go-to seasoning is Tony Cachere’s, but I also love plain salt and freshly cracked pepper. A little sprinkle of grated Parmesan is great, as is sriracha, truffle oil, nutritional yeast, or garlic herb seasoning. Oh, and butter. OMG butter.

And if you’re into sweet popcorn, butter, sugar, and cinnamon!

Share your favorite popcorn topping with me (and the rest of us) in the comments below!

How to Make Stovetop Popcorn for One

The recipe below makes about 8 cups, but you can also make a smaller 2-4 cup batch for one person. I usually do 1 Tbsp oil and 2 Tbsp corn kernels, making sure to use a very small sauce pot.

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Easy Stovetop Popcorn Recipe

4.15 from 47 votes
How to make perfect fluffy and crunchy stovetop popcorn with just a couple of ingredients and one pan. The perfect, fast, and inexpensive snack!
One large bowl of popcorn with a measuring cup of popcorn kernels on the side
Servings 4 2 cups each
Cook 5 mins
Total 5 mins

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp high heat cooking oil* ($0.04)
  • 1/3 cup popcorn kernels ($0.19)
  • 2 Tbsp butter (optional) ($0.26)
  • 1/2 tsp seasoning salt (optional) ($0.05)

Instructions 

  • Add the oil and one kernel to a large sauce pot. Place the lid on the pot and turn the heat onto medium-high. Wait for the test kernel to pop.
  • Once the kernel pops, add the rest of the kernels, replace the lid, and give the pot a swirl to coat the kernels in the hot oil. Wait for the kernels to begin to pop. You can swirl again to redistribute the hot oil, if needed.
  • Once the kernels begin to pop rapidly, crack the lid a little bit to allow excess steam to escape. Make sure it's only open a little to keep the pot hot enough to continue popping the corn.
  • When the popping slows to about one pop per second, turn off the heat. Wait a few extra seconds for the last few pops, then remove the lid and pour the popcorn into a bowl.
  • Let the pot cool for two minutes or so, then add the butter to the still hot pot. Allow the residual heat in the pot to melt the butter, swirling the butter to maximize the contact with the hot pan. Drizzle the melted butter over the popcorn bowl, then sprinkle with seasoning salt or your favorite herbs and spices.

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Notes

*Some examples of high heat cooking oils are: vegetable, canola, corn, grapeseed, avocado, safflower and sunflower oil.

Nutrition

Serving: 2cupsCalories: 153.5kcalCarbohydrates: 8.75gProtein: 1.45gFat: 13gSodium: 340.9mgFiber: 1.63g
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How to Make Stovetop Popcorn – Step by Step Photos

Oil being poured into a sauce pot

Add 2 Tbsp high heat cooking oil to a medium sauce pot. Examples of high heat cooking oils include (but are not limited to): vegetable, canola, corn, grapeseed, avocado, safflower, and sunflower oil.

Add test kernel to the pot

Add one “test” kernel to the pot. This kernel will be the indicator for when the oil is hot enough to add the rest of the kernels. Place a lid on the pot and turn the heat onto medium-high. Wait for the test kernel to pop.

Add the rest of the popcorn kernels to the hot oil.

When the test kernel pops, remove the lid and add ⅓ cup of popcorn kernels. Replace the lid and swirl the pot a bit to coat the kernels in oil.

Cracked lid on pot full of popcorn

As the popcorn begins to pop, crack the lid on the pot just slightly to allow excess steam to escape (otherwise it will collect on the lid and drip down onto the popcorn). When the popping slows to about one pop per second, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit a few seconds more until the popping stops all together.

Pour Popcorn into a bowl

At this point you have a big pot full of fluffy popcorn, but it needs to be seasoned. Pour the popcorn off into a large bowl. 

Melting butter in the hot pot

Let the pot cool for about two minutes, then add the butter. The pot should still be plenty hot enough to melt the butter. Swirl the butter to help it melt in the hot pot.

Melted butter being poured onto popcorn

Drizzle the melted butter onto the popcorn.

Sprinkle seasoning salt onto buttered popcorn.

Then sprinkle seasoning salt or your favorite seasoning blend onto the buttered popcorn.

A hand picking up a handful of popcorn from a large bowl, two smaller bowls on the side

Dig in!

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  1. I was ready to give up on stovetop popcorn until trying this recipe. Other recipes left me with a bunch of unpopped and burnt kernels but this one really did the trick. This was quick and simple and best of all successful. Highly recommend. 

  2. Don’t follow this recipe, it almost took off my face!!  Never ever put oil on high!  I just did this and when I opened the lid, it shot fire out and almost got my face!  This recipe is trying to start a fire or burn your face off. Not cool.  I’d rate it at zero stars if I could. 

    1. The recipe calls for medium-high heat, not high.  Sometimes it also depends on the stovetop.  I almost always keep my stove at med-low to medium because my main burner tends to run pretty hot.  The oil being used should also have a high smoke point, as well because slightly hotter temps are needed to pop the kernels .  I’m so sorry you had a bad experience!  I have been making stovetop popcorn like this for years without issue. 

    2. 7 or 8 out of 10 on the stove range on the stove..Not high heat. Hope it works better for you.

  3. These instructions are foolproof and perfect!  I used this for my very first time (and my second, and my third….and my nth) making stovetop popcorn, and I have had zero burned kernels.  I use Trader Joe’s canola oil and heat on high in a 2 qt stainless pot on an electric range.  After the first kernel pops, I add the rest and swirl around, and then don’t have to touch the pot again until it’s done. Amazing!

  4. I like to use coconut oil! It gives the popcorn a subtly sweet taste. Then sprinkle sea salt on it. Heavenly!

  5. I season mines with the powdered cheese packet that comes with Kraft macaroni and cheese.

  6. Definitely do not heat canola oil on “High”. 6-8 on an electric range will be fine. “High” will start a fire. #justdidthis

  7. I just read elsewhere that you dont need to use oil to pop popcorn, because heat alone will make it pop. I am going to try this, agitating the pan the entire time to keep it from burning.

    1. It definitely doesn’t work as well without oil, or even with not enough oil. The oil helps transmit the heat around the kernel evenly and you get a bigger, fluffier pop.

  8. I have popped decent pop corn in the microwave. I do it in a Pyrex measuring cup, and use a glass lid that fits it. (Found lid at Goodwill.) I put my oil in the cup, nuke it a little to get it hot, then add 2 Tablespoons popcorn.

    My micro does a good job of popping it in 3 minutes and 30 seconds.

    I’m a diabetic, and measuring a two Tablespoon portion makes a just right snack. When the corn does not pop well, I add a tiny bit of water to the jar I keep the kernels in, and shake it well. By the time I get around to making another batch, the kernels will have absorbed the water and be ready to pop. By a tiny bit, I mean half to one teaspoon of water to a jar that holds about a pint and a half of kernels. Too much water will not be absorbed, and might cause mold.

  9. Bad recipe!  Do not use! 2 tablespoons of popcorn is not enough and you should not pop on high heat. Go find another recipe. 

  10. Yikes. Definitely some missing information here. I pulled mine off as soon as there was a second between pops, but half of the batch had already blackened. Maybe high is too hot?

    1. I pop on medium-high, about a 6 on an electric range. Towards the end I constantly shake the pot to ensure no burning. Shaking in this context is just moving it back and forward (or side to side) on the burner. If you have induction or glass top be careful, because you may scratch the surface. If working with coil electric or gas burners, shake with gusto.

      I make popcorn 3-5 times a week & never fail to make a good batch. Hope this helps.