How to Make Buttery Movie Theater Popcorn at Home

Two tubs of Movie Theater Popcorn sit next to each other.
Recipe At-A-Glance
Kid-Friendly, Quick and Easy10 min
You don't need to hit up the movie theater to nosh on the best popcorn ever! Enjoy buttery goodness at home with this simple step-by-step tutorial. Snuggle in with your family, fire up a movie, and enjoy movie night!

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I am a bonafide, certified, card-carrying popcorn lover! I have been since I was a kid, when my parents would hand me a little red plastic cup of crunchy popcorn to enjoy while we snuggled up to watch movies almost every night.

My love for popcorn carried me right on through to buckets of movie theater popcorn during date nights when I was a teenager, shared bags of microwave popcorn with my dorm mates in college, and finally to my own kitchen with my own family, where I have absolutely perfected the best method for buttery, crunchy, salty movie theater-style popcorn right at home on the stovetop.

Wholefully Protip

Making stovetop movie theater popcorn is way more affordable than microwave popcorn bags. For the cost of one box of microwave popcorn, you can get four times that amount of stovetop popping corn!

A hand holds a tub full of popcorn.

Why does movie theater popcorn taste better?

There are three things that make movie theater popcorn delicious: butter, salt, and COCONUT OIL. Bet you didn’t expect that last one! Most movie theaters cook their popcorn in a coconut oil blend, which adds an interesting depth and sweetness to the popcorn. You’d never say “Hey, this popcorn tastes like coconut!” but you’d definitely say “Hey, this popcorn doesn’t taste right!” without it. 

What do I need to make movie theater popcorn?

For a large batch of popcorn (enough to satisfy 2-4 movie snackers), you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup of popping corn kernels—I like using Sprouted Popcorn because sprouted corn can be easier to digest, but the regular stuff works, too!
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil—For the best flavor, look for “virgin” or “unrefined” coconut oil.
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter—Salted or unsalted, either works. 
  • Fine salt—I like sea salt, but regular table salt does the trick, too.

An overhead shot of two tubs of popcorn.

What is the best oil for popcorn?

Coconut oil is the very best oil to use for popping popcorn. You’re looking for virgin (AKA: unrefined) coconut oil. It’s what makes popcorn taste like the stuff from the movies. Refined coconut oil will work from a method perspective, but it won’t give quite the same movie theater taste.

Wholefully Protip

Butter and salt make popcorn taste delicious, but the true movie theater taste comes from cooking the popcorn in coconut oil. Don’t skip this part!

Can I pop popcorn using butter instead of oil?

Using butter to pop the kernels sounds like it would add another layer of buttery flavor to your popcorn, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Butter has a much lower smoke point than coconut oil, which makes it tricky to get delicious popcorn instead of burnt popcorn. 

How do you make movie theater butter for the popcorn?

The truth is, the “butter” at the concession stand is actually butter-flavored oil. But at home, you can use the real stuff! But before you melt butter and pour it on top, it’s important to clarify the butter to keep your popcorn from going soggy. This is because butter has a high water content. 

Wholefully Protip

Melted butter turns popcorn soggy because of its high water content. Make sure to clarify your butter before pouring it on.

It sounds complicated, but clarifying butter is actually a breeze in the microwave, and it removes enough of the water to leave you with buttery, perfectly crunchy popcorn. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Put stick of butter in a glass measuring cup. You’ll need to use the spout later.
  2. Microwave on high for 30-40 seconds, or until the butter is all melted and foamy.
  3. Let the butter cool for 1-2 minutes. You should start to see the butter separating into three layers—foam, clarified butter, and milk solids. Don’t worry if the layers aren’t super clear. We’re not looking for perfection here, just to get rid of enough water to keep our popcorn crunchy.
  4. Take a spoon and skim off as much of the foam on top as you can. Again, no need to be perfect.
  5. You’ll be left with a very clear, very yellow layer of clarified butter, with a layer of milk solids underneath. 
  6. When it’s time to dress your popcorn, pour the clear, yellow clarified butter onto the popcorn, leaving the milk solids behind.

You can also do this process with a pan on the stovetop if you don’t have a microwave. Just heat the butter until foamy, and then follow steps 3-6 above.

Numbered images show how to clarify butter for popcorn.

Can’t I just use ghee instead of clarifying the butter?

You sure can! Ghee is shelf-stable clarified butter that is perfect for melting and drizzling on popcorn. Saves a step!

Is there a faster way to clarify butter?

If clarifying your butter seems like an annoying step to do each time you make movie theater popcorn (it really isn’t, it’s probably a two-minute process), you can make large batches of clarified butter and stash them in the fridge for months at a time. Then, just melt a little bit as you need it. Because most of the water and milk solids are removed from the butter when it’s clarified, it keeps for much longer than standard butter.

Alright, teach me how to pop popcorn on the stove!

First up, you’ll want a big pot with a lid for this. Why? Well, popcorn expands! I don’t recommend using a heavy pot (like a Dutch oven), because you’ll need to shake the pot throughout the popping process. And man, cast iron is hard to shake. 

Wholefully Protip

Make sure to use a nice, big pot for stovetop popcorn. Popcorn expands!

Now that you’ve selected your pot, here’s the method you’re going to follow for making your popcorn:

  1. Put your pot on high heat and add in the coconut oil.
  2. Once the oil is completely melted, add in your popcorn kernels.
  3. Swirl the pot around so that each and every kernel gets a nice little coating of coconut oil, and is more or less in a single layer.
  4. Every now and again, give the pan a good shake to mix up the kernels and keep them from burning. 
  5. After your first kernel pops, put on the lid of the pot, slightly ajar to release steam, because if you don’t you’ll have popcorn flying all over your kitchen.
  6. While the popcorn is popping, keep shaking the pot frequently to prevent burning. Within a few minutes, you’ll hear the popping slow down. Turn off the burner and just let it sit for a few minutes. 

Numbered images show the steps for making popcorn on the stove.

I have popcorn and clarified butter. Now what?

Now, grab your measuring cup of butter and start to slowly stream it onto the popcorn. At first you’ll see nothing but clear, bright yellow clarified butter.

But as you get to the end of the clarified part, you’ll start to see that third opaque, white layer—the milk solids. Stop right then! We just want the clarified butter on our popcorn—not the milk solids. 

Melted butter pours into freshly popped Movie Theater Popcorn.

Melted butter pours into freshly popped popcorn.

Wholefully Protip

Milk solids from clarified butter are a great addition to pasta sauce, omelets, and baked goods to give a bit of creaminess.

Stir up your popcorn really well to make sure every kernel gets a touch of butter. Sprinkle on your desired amount of salt (if you used salted butter, you might want to go light on the salt at first). You can also feel free to add other flavorings (garlic salt, ranch mix, etc.) during this stage—but I’m a purist.

An overheads shot of a tub of Movie Theater Popcorn.

Can you make movie theater popcorn in an air popper or in the microwave?

We love our air popper in our house, but for true, authentic movie theater taste, you’re going to need to bust out the coconut oil and a pot and make it on your stove top. If you can’t break up with your air popper or cooking in the microwave, air-popped popcorn with clarified butter and salt is still incredibly delicious!

 
Two popcorn boxes filled with popcorn sit together.

Buttery Movie Theater Popcorn Recipe

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 7 minutes

You don't need to hit up the movie theater to enjoy the best popcorn ever! Enjoy buttery goodness at home with this simple step-by-step tutorial.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, unsalted or salted
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • Salt, to taste

Instructions

  1. Place the butter in a glass measuring cup with a spout. Microwave on high for 30-40 seconds until foamy. Let cool for 1-2 minutes, to allow the layers to separate.
  2. Using a spoon, gently scoop off the foamy top on the butter and discard (no need to be perfect, just get as much as you can). Set the butter aside while you make your popcorn.
  3. In a large soup pot with a lid, melt the coconut oil over high heat. Add in the popcorn kernels, and swirl to coat all the kernels.
  4. Shake the pot frequently to avoid burning. Once the first kernel pops (about a minute or two), immediately place the lid on the pot, but leave it ajar so steam can escape.
  5. Continue shaking the pot frequently until the popping slows down. Once it does slow down, remove the pot from the heat and let sit for a few minutes while the final kernels pop.
  6. Once all the kernels are done popping, slowly stream the butter over the popcorn, stopping when you reach the opaque part of the melted butter (see photo in post). Discard the remaining butter or save for another use.
  7. Stir the popcorn, and then season with the desired amount of salt.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 3 cups
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 66Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 153mgCarbohydrates: 1gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.
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