How to Popcorn


Regular readers will be aware that I worked for a local movie theater chain in my dissolute youth. During my time there, I learned how to make professional-grade popcorn whose addictiveness one friend equated to crack.

At least I think that's what he said. His mouth was full of popcorn at the time.

Popcorn enjoyers may be flummoxed by their inability to make movie theater quality popcorn at home. It can be done, and by popular demand, I will now tell you the secret.

Step 1: Get the right hardware

What you're looking for is a hand-crank stove top kettle. I use this one.

Pro tip: Electric stoves work best. This is because the commercial-grade kettles movie theaters use are electrically heated. A trick we'll see later is knowing when to turn off the heat. What you want is for the heat level to decrease gradually as the seed finishes popping, and that effect is harder to achieve with gas ranges.

Step 2: Get the right salt.

All popcorn salt is not created equal. By far the best I've found is Flavacol butte-flavored seasoned salt by Gold Medal. It's the same kind the better theaters use. Accept no substitutions!

Step 3: Get the right oil.

The main reason most homemade and microwave popcorn falls short of movie theater perfection is incorrect choice of popping oil. Vegetable oil is the worst. Avoid it. Butter is OK but dries out too fast. Olive oil is nice, just watch out for the low smoke point. Bacon grease is good for a hipster flair. But there can be only one popping oil to rule them all ...

I speak, naturally, of coconut oil.

It's got a decent smoke point. It's solid at room temperature, and its subtly sweet flavor profile complements popcorn better than any other fat on the planet. Like everything in creation, coconut oil has its own hierarchy:

  • Refined coconut oil: Good and smooth, but a little bland
  • Virgin coconut oil: even smoother with a subtle sweet note that elevates popcorn to the next level. This is the minimum requirement for theater quality popcorn.
  • Flavored virgin coconut oil: Take the excellence of virgin coconut oil, and add natural colors and butter flavor. This is how you turn great popcorn into buttery golden crack.
Step 4: The seed

Believe it or not, the choice of seed doesn't matter that much. Just buy whatever yellow popcorn your store has. I prefer Jolly Time, but corn is pretty much corn.

Step 5: The prep 

Get a sealable container that holds 1/2 cup of seed with some wiggle room. Fill to just below the top with seed.


Step 6: Add your salt to the seed in the cup. 

The ideal ratio is said to be 1 tsp salt per cup of seed. I like my salt, so I do a whole tsp per 1/2 cup. Close the plastic container's lid & shake to coat the outside of every seed w/ salt.

Popcorn turns inside out when it pops, so this step actually seasons each kernel from the inside. Far more efficient and effective than sprinkling salt on top of popcorn after popping.

Step 7: Put your popper on the burner. 

Add your oil to the kettle WHILE COLD. Do not preheat the kettle. Adding any kind of fat to a hot cooking vessel is asking for a grease fire.

The amt. of oil is up to you. I'd use at least a tbsp.

Set the heat to about 4.5 & melt the oil.

Step 8: Add the seed and salt mixture. 

Make sure to fully lock down the popper's lid once the seed is in.

Slowly & steadily turn the crank. I give the popper a couple good horizontal shakes for good measure

Step 9: Continue to crank throughout the popping process. 

When the kernels start to pop steadily, turn off the heat on an electric stove, or turn a gas burner to low. You're gonna let the carryover heat finish the job.

Step 10: When the pops slow to about 1 every 3 seconds, remove the kettle from the heat & pour popcorn into a bowl. 


If you did it right, you will not need additional salt or butter. Adding salt & butter after popping is for amateurs.

Advanced tips:

  1. The second batch made in the same popper - provided it hasn't been washed yet - is always superior to the first.
  2. To make the best popcorn in the universe, make your first batch following the steps above, but double the oil. Then, without cleaning out the kettle, immediately pop a second batch with the normal amount of oil. Mix both batches. You're welcome.

WARNING: Once you try the double-oil batch/normal oil batch mix, there is no going back. You will be helplessly addicted for life. Embrace it!

And back Combat Frame XSeed: SS on Indiegogo! My entire mech epic is available at a bargain through the campaign, so get your thrilling mech books to read while you much on theater quality popcorn.

Back it now!

Combat Frame XSeed: SS - Brian Niemeier


  1. I have a gas range, but I'll try it. Thanks for the coconut oil link.

    I was a movie usher in the early '80s, so in addition to seeing every film from that period dozens of times, we were still making classic coconut popcorn before the health cult ruined the fun.

    1. Yeah, I remember when the experts got coconut oil-popped corn effectively banned. Theaters switched to artificially colored and flavored canola oil.

      Now everybody's singing the praises of coconut oil because it has omega 3s. Goes to show what lab coats know.

    2. That cult runs deep, and it also ruined McDonald's french fries. People who didn't have them before the mid-90s just don't know. They used to fry their fries in beef tallow, a delicious fat that's good to neutral, health-wise. Then they switched to trans fat due to protests, and now they use vegetable oil, which is bland *and* unhealthy. Modern nutrition science has ruined food and health, and continues to do so because the people in charge just can't admit they were wrong.

      Fun fact, "The Centers for Science in the Public Interest" wrote an article titled "Trans-fats: Not Guilty As Charged," while protesting against saturated fat, then tried to memory hole it when it was discovered they were basically poison.

      And now you can't get good fries anywhere outside your own house, since half the population has seizures if they find out there's a peanut in the room.

    3. The use of peanut oil is another evil arising from the irrational and unfounded drive to ditch lard.
      It's hilarious that health fads got coconut oil banned. I make soap, coconut oil is great for soaping, and the pro-coconut-oil health fad keeps pushing the price up.

    4. And this is why I say that we CAN'T know anything anymore.
      I trust Scripture, and am a skeptic on everything else. I'd rather be called a fool for entertaining the ancients on cosmology than I would for trusting the 'science' on nutrition.

    5. McDonald's also used to soak their fries in sugar water before cooking. They stopped near the start of the Atkins fad.

      And not only don't they use beef tallow anymore, in the US they use soybean oil, which is basically just poison.

    6. Trusting the lab coats now takes more suspension of reason and a bigger leap of faith than believing in young earth creationism. At least the latter has been consistent for centuries and isn't trying to convince folks their genitals are imaginary.

  2. I’ve heard duck fat is also a delicious way to make your own popcorn

  3. To our esteemed host: was your popcorn kettle still made in the USA when you bought it? Just curious, as they're now made in China so I'ms searching for a U.S. made kettle.
    Oh, and thanks for the recipe!

  4. If you're still looking at this, I have a problem in that the salt doesn't stick to the kernels. It just cascades off to settle at the bottom of the container.

    1. All of the salt isn't going to stick. That's OK. Just pour the container's contents, seed and salt both, into the kettle.