By Cassie Johnston
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Popcorn gets a bad rap a lot of times as far as snack foods go. I understand why—the stuff that comes in the bags from the vending machine or from the concession stand at the movie theatre is packed full of nasty chemicals, artificial colors and flavors, and more hydrogenated oils and salt than anyone should be consuming in a snack.
And don’t even get me started on the microwave bags of popcorn. While there are some natural and organic options out there, the vast majority of microwave popcorn is loaded with a laundry list of chemicals and general nastiness.
Popcorn itself is actually a crazy delicious, crazy healthy snack food. If you air pop your kernels (in either the microwave, a popper or on the stove), you can eat a whopping three cups of the stuff for less than 100 calories. And in that 100 calories, you’re getting a hefty dose of healthy whole grains, vitamins, minerals and a very satisfying crunch.
If you’re strapped for cash, it’s hard to beat the affordability of air-popped popcorn. By skipping the boxes of microwave popcorn and heading straight for a bag of kernels, you can save a boatload of cash. Bagged kernels cost about 400% less on average than the microwave stuff (and, obviously, a ton less than the concession stand variety).
To air pop in the microwave, all you need is a small brown paper bag and some popcorn kernels. Put a couple of tablespoons of kernels in the bottom of the bag. Fold over the top of the bag twice. Place on its side in the microwave and zap on high for 2-3 minutes, or until the popping slows. Eat. Easy, peasy.
But let’s get real here—sometimes air-popped popcorn is boring. And the truth is, microwave and movie theatre popcorn is freakin’ delicious (especially when mixed with Reese’s Pieces—try it next time you’re at the movies—my gift to you). It’s buttery, it’s salty, and it evokes such awesome memories of date nights at the movies as a teenager and watching Friends re-runs with my girlfriends in the dorm.
Sometimes, you just want some butter on your popcorn! But if you’ve ever tried to use straight melted butter on homemade popcorn before, you know it has it’s issues. Namely, because butter has such a high water content, it makes the popcorn almost instantly soggy. No one wants soggy popcorn! To avoid this, movie theaters actually don’t user butter at all, and use butter-flavored oils (yuck), but you can use butter at home, just as long as your clarify it first.
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. Let me show you how I make my movie theatre popcorn at home on the stove.
First up, gather those ingredients. For a large batch of popcorn (enough to satisfy 2-4 movie snackers or one pregnant lady who is eating popcorn for dinner), you’ll need a 1/2 cup of kernels, 1 stick of butter (salted or unsalted, either works), salt, and two tablespoons cooking oil.
I like to use coconut oil for one big reason: many movie theaters use a coconut oil blend to pop their popcorn. It doesn’t really add a coconut flavor to the end result, but it does add a layer of flavor that other cooking oils just don’t quite match. It’s what makes popcorn taste like the stuff from the movies.
The first step in my movie theatre popcorn process is actually to clarify the butter. If you have ghee kicking around (which is more or less a version of clarified butter), you can skip this part and just melt your ghee and use it straight on your popcorn. But for those of us ghee-less folks, here’s how to do a quick and dirty clarification. Put stick of butter in a glass measuring cup (you’ll need to use the spout later).
Microwave on high for 30-40 seconds, or until the butter is all melted and foamy.
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 when you first take it out of the microwave, the layers will settle more as the butter cools. Plus, we’re not looking for perfection here, just to get rid of enough water to keep our popcorn crunchy.
Take a spoon and skim off as much of the foam on top as you can. Again, no need to be perfect. Just get as much as you can.
You’ll be left with a very clear, very yellow layer of clarified butter, with a layer of milk solids underneath. Awesome work! Set that aside.
Now onto the actual popping process. You’ll want a big pot with a lid for this. Why? Well, popcorn expands (duh)! 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.
Put your pot on high heat and add in the coconut oil.
Once the oil is completely melted, toss in your popcorn kernels.
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.
Every now and again, give the pan a good shake to mix up the kernels and keep them from burning.
Soon enough, you’ll have the very exciting moment where your first kernel pops. After that, things happen quickly! Action shot.
Hurry up and 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. I’ve had kernels fly 15 feet—no exaggeration. You want to save all that popcorn goodness! But you also want to make sure to release the steam, because that’ll also make your popcorn soggy.
While the popcorn is popping, keep shaking the pot frequently. For the most part, the cooked kernels float to the top of the pot, which keeps them from burning, while the unpopped kernels stay at the bottom. It’s a good system, and means that I almost never burn popcorn on the stove (I can’t say the same for in the microwave), but it’s still good to give the pot a little jiggle every now and again.
Within a few minutes, you’ll hear the popping slow down to almost a crawl. Turn off the burner and just let it sit for a few minutes. Because you’ll have some slow-pokes still popping. Even still, trust me, the second you take off the lid, a straggler will pop right into your eye. Not that I know from experience or anything.
You’ve got yourself a beautiful pot full of popcorn! 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. Go ahead and reserve those milk solids for something else; they’re a great addition to pasta sauce, omelets and baked goods to give a bit of creaminess. Lots of folks just toss them, but I’m way too cheap frugal to do something crazy like that.
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 use 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.
And then go pop in a movie, get cozy and enjoy your much healthier, much tastier (in my opinion) movie theatre popcorn! The popcorn tastes even better if you serve it up in some mega cute popcorn boxes.
If clarifying your butter seems like an annoying step to do each time you make movie theatre popcorn (it really isn’t, it’s probably a two-minute process), you can actually make large batches of clarified butter and stash them in the fridge for months at a time and 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.
Clarified butter is also great to have kicking around because, unlike regular butter, it has a really high smoke point. Meaning you can add lots of buttery flavor to dishes that cook at a high temperature (think: pan frying). Here is a great tutorial for making larger quantities of clarified butter on the stove. If you do want to stash your clarified butter in the fridge for extended periods of time, it’s important to be a bit more persnickety with the amount of moisture and milk solids you remove than what I describe here. The tutorial I linked to recommends straining through multiple layers of cheesecloth.
Here’s a full recipe for the movie theatre popcorn, for easy printing!
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Skip the concession stand and make movie theatre popcorn at home with this super easy recipe!
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Yay! Thanks for this! I love air popping popcorn but hate the mushy mess it becomes when I add melted butter. I usually just add salt. Sometimes a little Parmesan cheese.
When I’m feeling nostalgic I like to spritz Bragg’s liquid aminos on the popcorn then sprinkle with nutritional yeast. It reminds me of when I was a carefree 18 year-old spending my summer at hippie-dippy music festivals. Plus my partner doesn’t like that flavoring so I get the whole bowl to myself :)
This looks fabulous! I have never used coconut oil to make my popcorn on the stove but I am sure gonig to start. Thank you for posting! I cannot live without my stove top popcorn!
Looks delicious! Honestly, I have some weird popcorn tendencies. I like to sprinkle my popcorn with parmesan (not so weird) or dip it in things like hummus or honey mustard (more strange, I think). :]
I think I may need to try this. I don’t typically eat popcorn because there’s often a weird squeak when I chew it which drives me insane. I know, I know. It’s a strange aversion I have. :) But I think the squeak might be from the air-popping my husband usually does, so I am adding this to my list of things to try.
I love your popcorn boxes!
Nothing beats real, buttered popcorn. Yum! I rarely take the time to make it, but when I do I devour it. Sometimes I add some honey or agave for a sweet and salty twist, which I also love.
Thanks for the great reminder about how easy it is to make real popcorn and save all that money!
Ahh! Cassie this is so perfect for me right now. My first born turns five in a few weeks and we are having a couple of his little friends spend the night for his party. I bought the exact popcorn boxes you have shown and we are going to have a Monster’s Inc. movie watch party. I love the idea of having the kids help me air pop their own popcorn. Can I find coconut oil in Walmart? Thank you for sharing!
I’m sure Walmart probably carries it. We’ve found it at Kroger, Meijer, Target, Costco, etc. :)
I love air popped popcorn. I like it sweet and salty. My husband likes it with Parmesan cheese. I can’t wait to try this. Another place you can find coconut oil is Trader Joes if you have one near you.
Oh my goodness, I’m eating popcorn right now! But if I weren’t, I would be after reading your post :)
My favorite popcorn sounds kinda crazy but its amazing: Melt about a tablespoon of Earth Balance vegan butter and sprinkle in about half a teaspoon of dehydrated mushroom powder and swirl it around (then pour it on the popcorn). This is a product that Hazel Dell, a mushroom farm in Fort Collins, makes locally with all their leftover mushroom bits and a little garlic powder. It’s delicious!
Why have I never thought to do this? Such an easy and cheap beer snack for when people come over…plus you can so easily jazz it up with various spices and condiments. I will definitely be making this soon (perhaps when the weather is less feral Down Under!).
Thanks for sharing, Cassie :)
Cassie, you changed my life with this popcorn recipe! I can’t believe that a simple change of coconut oil and ghee makes SUCH a difference. I made it for myself and my 3 1/2yr old last night and we both agreed it was the best bowl of popcorn we have ever had. I’ve been following your blog for a year now and am such a fan. You have so many great ideas! Congrats on the baby news too. I have two little girls (8 months and 3 1/2years) and they are the best!!!
Love your mani this week!
This was absolutely AMAZING. I will never make popcorn any other way. Thank you so much for sharing this! My husband took a handful and asked me what I did differently and I said “Why?” and he responded “Because this is so much better than how it used to be.” I agree with him 100%. The coconut oil is marvelous. Big hit all around!
I Googled homemade movie theater popcorn and came across this and it sounded good, so I tried it. It was good, BUT a warning to those who haven’t had coconut oil before and eat most if not all the whole bowl of popcorn.. you may get a very VERY upset stomach and sick.
Super cool tut! The stuff about clarified butter was fascinating.
Don’t need butter when you use bacon grease…
best comment ever, so gonna try that
I had bought a Stir-Crazy popcorn popper, but was still kind of getting tough popcorn when using extra light olive oil. I grew up eating popcorn popped in a pan on the stove, but we used to use margarine w/vegetable oil and let it cook for a while to let the water evaporate to get the buttery taste. I switched to only using real butter a couple of years ago, but noticed real butter makes popcorn soggy. I tried using butter spray, but it does not taste as good as movie theater popcorn. I used both the coconut oil and put the butter in the microwave per your instructions and popped the popcorn on my stove. I now have my childhood buttery popcorn back in a healthier way. Thanks so much for the info!
This looks great! Can the butter be melted on the stovetop? We don’t have a microwave.
I love this blog. For a few months I have been looking for a popcorn recipe to make that crunchy popcorn like the movies. So when u release the steam from the pot while popping it makes it crunchy?
@Cate. Yes! In fact, it’s even better on stove top. Let it brown just a tad and you won’t be disappointed!
Thank you for this recipe. I just made it for my husband and step son. I made a huge batch and about 30 min later my husband comes into the room where I was and gave me a big thank you kiss and said they ate the whole bowl! He said it was like eating movie theater popcorn. Lol – I confessed I read your article right before I made it for them. Great tips! Thanks.
A great way to tell if the oil is hot enough it to put in 3 popcorn kernels in with the oil – when they pop, you’re good to go!
This is so helpful. I love popcorn and it seems so easy to make yourself!
Great tutorial! I love the flavor of movie popcorn, even though I know it’s chemically based. It’s probably MSG. :-) Great idea to clarify thee butter. Will try that next time.
LOVE THIS! I adore using coconut oil to pop my popcorn but I would have never thought to clarify my butter. And now I want some popcorn for breakfast.
Thank you for the idea on the clarified butter. I don’t believe in using a microwave and therefore do not have one. I agree on the bag of kernels as apposed to the other selections out there. I actually found Jolly Time Organic. Worked like a charm. Thanks again.
Pregnancy craving fulfilled – thank you! I usually make popcorn sprinkled with parm and seasoned salt, but was dying for some buttered popcorn and didn’t want to break down and get a box of the microwave kind. I will be making this again soon!
I made two different kinds of popcorn last night: Buttery Cajun (with homemade cajun seasoning) and Butter Maple (with real NY maple syrup). It was cool eating them side by side like that because you’d could take a break from the salty/spicy by eating the sweet and maple-y. Super yummy!!
I like just adding veggie oil and then sprinkling my popcorn with chili powder and salt. Yum! Oil and black pepper do in a pinch but chili powder is best. I’ve found its cheapest to get your coconut oil at an asian market.
I am going to surprise my wife this weekend by making them. :) Thanks a lot for explaining all the details
Wow thanks for the recipe. I love air popped popcorn but did not know it was clarified butter that kept popcorn from getting too soggy! I made this before we went to the movies and sneaked it in…sshhhhh. lol
This looks delicious – and it is! I don’t have a microwave, and don’t really want to invest in one, so this is a great find for my family. I found this @ http://affimity.com/#/sharedPost/1/9160, and just – just thank you! My husband and I cooked up some last night and it was so tasty! Thanks!
Thank you Cassie, worked well for me and my dogs loves it too! Thank you also for a great blog :)
This looks so good. It was a massive sale on popcorn down at my local store, and i was looking for ways to spice the popcorn up. This looks so good. Thanks for sharing!
No matter what you do to the popcorn it still doesn’t taste like what you get at at the movies. The popcorn at home is hard on some parts and soft on others. Popcorn at the movies is crunchy. They kernels after being popped are not even shaped the same.. The color is not the same.. Home popcorn is white. Movie popcorn is light yellow.
My popcorn always has to be stove top. Never tried the clarified butter, but will be
I do have to say using a whilry popper it a tad easier.
Thanks for the great tips.
I like your humorous style of writing. Very entertaining. I don’t often smile while I’m reading a recipe. ?
I use a pot with a strainer lid.. The holes in the lid let the steam out when the lid is secured. Don’t have to tilt it anymore 8-). One of our favorite flavoring is McCormicks Montreal steak seasoning…garlic salty pepper goodness!
Can’t wait to try it with the clarified butter.
That is genius! And I LOVE Montreal Steak Seasoning—we call it our “house” seasoning. It goes on everything!
This looks awesome!!! Shared on my blog!
Finally! I could never put my finger on why my popcorn never really came out right. The coconut oil was the key. The tips on the clarified butter and venting the popcorn was the cherry on top. My popcorn finally tasted as good as…..no make that better than movie theater popcorn. Thank you so much.
Great lost!! I, too, avoid the nuker corn and always pop on stovetop in my old stockpot. However, about 2yrs ago I bought a WhirlyPop at Target for about $20. It’s awesome! I also clarify butter, but I take it a step further and brown it a bit. The aroma and flavor can’t be beat! (If clarified butter isn’t an option that night, I – wait for it … – dip my popcorn in a bit of yellow mustard. I saw a young gal do this 20yrs ago and became hooked. No knocking until you try it!). Yes, we love our popcorn on movie nights…or when Mommy needs a little movie time after kiddos are fast asleep. Enjoy!!!!
Coconut oil in Coffee, C chip cookies or for cooking or sauteing other high temp foods is a good option. But, be sure to use virgin coconut oil (Extra virgin is not a recognized version — whatever that is). Do not buy “processed” coconut oil, per nutritionists.
Also, coconut oil is touted to delay dementia, what ever that is.
I make popcorn at least 3 times a week. I never clarify my butter and have never had an issue.
My favorite type of popcorn is natural popcorn with butter
Great technique and tips. Here is another terrific idea for evenly popped kernels. Put 2 or three in your heating oil and as soon as they pop, put the remaining kernels in and pull off the heat for 30 seconds. Return your pot to the heat and finish popping. I tried it and it works fabulously.
This tip was offered on America’s Test Kitchen.
Thank you, thank you, thank you…..
Finally a homemade popcorn my family will eat. It is soooo good. I tried this with ghee before but something wasn’t right. But this is perfect! I actually used a Cuisinart EasyPop Popcorn maker which has the clear bowl on top and turns a wire on the burner to keep the kernels from burning. This popcorn is awesome. Maybe we can still have popcorn now that doesn’t come out of a box! My kids are devouring it right now. Truly tastes like the movie theater stuff.
I”m an oldie (but a goodie) and remember the days when we would pilethe family into the car and head to the drive-in theatre. We didn’t have much money so we brought our own popcorn. We popped batches of the corn in a 4 qt pan and kept dumping it into a big, tall soup kettle. Then we melted butter – homemade butter that had most of the water pressed out – and poured it onto our corn. No need for salt. We served the popcorn in dixie cups. Those were the days!
For those who want popcorn that tastes exactly like the theater’s, the secret is not just coconut oil, but also a seasoning salt called Flavacol. Soak the kernels in a mixture of coconut oil and a bit of Flavacol for about an hour before popping. (Note that it is not exactly a natural ingredient and is also hard, but not impossible, to find in-store)
Thanks from finland
Never thought to use coconut oil. Great addition, thank you!
Hi! Great post! Question, I have an air popper that resticts the use of oil. Is the popcorn still tasty without the coconut oil? I need help because the air popped corn is tasteless and the popcorn oil I found next to the kernels in Walmart is horrible. Thank you!
The coconut oil is a big key in making it taste like the stuff from the movies. I’ve never used an air popper, so I can’t help much, sorry!
Thanks for sharing this one!!
I always pop my corn on the stove in coconut oil–it totally tastes like movie theater popcorn! But the clarified butter was the missing link. Thanks for that–I will take the time to clarify my butter for popcorn. I eat so much of it, I may just clarify a ton and keep it in the fridge just for my popcorn!
I know you posted this a couple of years ago, but if you’re still a popcorn fiend, try whizzing up your salt in the blender until it is powder and then adding a few pinches directly to the pot with the oil and kernels at the beginning. You’ll end up with perfectly salted popcorn!
Thanks again for the clarified butter tip!
Ooh, that’s genius!
Quick question: I have a popcorn popper that doesn’t require oil, I may have to check the directions again but I’m pretty sure I can’t use oil with it at all, but again, I’d have to double check. Is this only possible over the stove? The popper was a gift and I was hoping to not have to retire it so soon.
The coconut oil is a big key in making it taste like the stuff from the movies. I’m not sure about the air popper!
Oh my gosh, everything except my expanding pants size thanks you. The best popcorn recipe ever.
Glad you enjoyed it!!
I have never once made “soggy” popcorn by using melted butter in its entirety and not clarifying it. I would also recommend finding a bulk food store, such as Gordon Food Service, and purchasing the popcorn salt that is always so iconic of movie theater popcorn. It really can make it taste like you’re at the theater.
having popcorn while watching movies is really great thing ever and everyone loves it.
I would love to try this but I’ve never used coconut oil before. I’m not sure what to look for since there are so many of them out there.. Any suggestions on what brand of coconut oil is best to buy?
I always make sure to grab virgin organic coconut oil—whatever brand is on sale, usually!
Can you do this without the coconut oil? I have an air popper that pops the kernels in like 2 minutes tops, but I hate buying the popcorn butter all the time.
The coconut oil adds a lot of the movie theatre flavor, but you can definitely leave it out and just use butter on air-popped corn.
Nice but your video doesn’t work anymore. Says need permission to access!
Weird! I’ll look into it – thanks!
I always use a spatter screen on my popcorn. It lets the steam vent out and fits any pan. I also use the bottom from a stovetop pressure cooker (not the large canner type) so it is nice and heavy. I never have to shake it to get all the kernels to pop.
Good to see traditional popcorn recipes out here I just have a couple comments. I’ve tried different coconut oils and you can definitely taste the coconut. Don’t get me wrong it’s a nice flavor but if you are seeking movie theater popcorn it doesn’t quite taste the same. Palm kernel oil has a fuller flavor without the coconut taste but honestly any old vegetable oil will do. I see a lot of recipes calling for clarified butter as a topping but I really think the clarifying step is unnecessary. Just heat the half stick of butter in the same pot that was used for the popcorn. The water content will steam right off and most of the solids will stay in the pan when you pour it over your popcorn. The Popcorn won’t get soggy and you can skip the clarifying step.
Oh… oh…. bam! I just tried it… and.. wow! This is the best recipe for homemade pop corn ever !! So tasty ! And so easy ! Thank you for this one ! Pop corn lover, this is just what you’ve been looking for ! ??
This is the best popcorn! I’ve never made it on the stove before and stove top is so much better than microwave or movie theater popcorn. Thanks for sharing!!
This an absolutely delicious recipe…thanks for sharing 😁
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