Safety First!

CAUTION – This is like cooking anything else on the stove with hot oil; once the stove is turned on, you should not leave the stove or get distracted, especially by your cell phone.  If the popper is too hot, the oil could burn in a most spectacular way.  If you turn up the flame too high (if you cook with flame), you can get burned.  So turn off the phone, ignore all distractions, and dedicate about 5 minutes of your time to the perfect pop.

Quick Start

The safe approach to popping: 

  • Add oil – about 2 tablespoons will do.
  • Add popcorn – about ½ cup will make a full popper.
  • Add heat - about medium-high for most stoves.
  • Stir continuously - until popping stops.  You can stir less at the beginning until things warm up.
  • Remove from heat immediately to avoid burning.
  • Pour into bowl and add melted butter and salt to taste.

That’s it!  But for those of you who are serious popcorn enthusiasts, read on...

Popping Instructions and Guidance (Yup ... Guidance)

After some discussion, revisions, and editing, and years of open debate, the following documentation was created.  OK, documentation on how to pop popcorn might seem a little (or a lot) overboard, but it is this well-developed interest in popcorn that motivated the design and construction of the latest stove-top popper.  So the instructions below not only give the basics but also provide some tips and tricks for popping more (or less – now why would you pop less?) and maybe even better popcorn.

The Set-Up - Basic Popcorn

  •  Oil – The primary consideration here is the “smoke point” of the oil, or the temperature at which it starts to smoke.  Higher is better, since the cooking temperature of popcorn is relatively high – about 350°.  Your basic corn, soy (usually called vegetable oil), or peanut oil will work just fine.  Some “experts” will demand that you use a specific type of oil, although we haven’t found there to be a significant difference.  We have recently found that coconut oil works quite well in our popper, in spite of having a relatively low smoke point.  It seems to make for more “crispy” popcorn and the bowl is easier to clean.  To be honest, we have tried many of the different types of oils and there is little difference in the end.  There are some reports that olive oil adds a nice taste so you don't have to use butter.  It is definitely the healthier approach...but then you can't add the butter (oh...what to do?).  Realize, if you use olive oil, there might be some more smoke that if you use corn oil, as the oil gets hotter the longer you pop, you might get a small amount of smoke in the air while popping.
  • Popcorn - You have many options here, and it is all about your personal preference.  As a general rule, there is white and yellow popcorn.  The biggest difference is in the finished product.
    • White corn: The popped kernel is a bit crispier but smaller than that from yellow corn.
    • Yellow corn: Conversely, the popped kernels are larger and softer than white kernels.  It seems to cook with fewer un-popped kernels.
    • Gourmet popcorn of all colors and types.  Experiment to your heart’s content!
  • Salt – “Popcorn salt” is the best, although normal table salt will work.  The only real difference is that popcorn salt has a finer grain and will stick to the popcorn with or without butter.  Also, and maybe more importantly, less salt will produce the same flavor.  But popcorn salt is usually (much) more expensive than table salt and is usually sold in flavors, which may or may not be to your liking.
  • Butter - Butter is butter.  You can choose salted/unsalted, organic/non-organic, cage-free/conventional butter based on your preferences.  To us, butter substitutes just don’t cut it on popcorn, but if you like them, go for it.
  • Hot Pad or Glove - With some practice and care you should have no need for this, but keep it handy anyway.
  • Large Bowl - a bowl for the popped corn.  Bigger is better! 

Amounts

  • Corn – ½ cup is about the right amount for a popper-full, but feel free to add more as described below.  Less might do for a snack, but up to 1 cup will work for a meal for two to four people.  (You never eat popcorn for a meal?  You must not be a Casey!)
  • Oil - As a basic rule of thumb, use 1-2 tablespoons of oil for each ½ cup of corn.  Less will lower the fat content of the popcorn, but more will allow it to cook a little better.  We’ll leave that up to you.
  • Butter and Salt - to taste.  For each ½ (un-popped) cup of corn, you might use a tablespoon of butter.  Admittedly, we have trouble keeping it down to that.

The Pop - It's all about the Kernel

  1. The secret of popping corn optimally is to rapidly bring the natural moisture in the kernel to a boil, producing the pressure that will cause the kernel to pop open (explode).  Speed is important, or the kernel will soak up oil and become soft, making the explosion less powerful, resulting in an un-popped or partially-popped kernel.
  2. Place the popper on a burner that matches its base and turn the heat on medium to high.  You want to keep the heat localized to the bottom of the pan - flames coming up the sides only serve to heat up your hand!  All of this depends on the type of stove and heat – gas, electric, radiant, etc. (not inductive).  If the heat is too high, the corn can burn after popping.  Too low and the number of partially-popped kernels will increase, and the impatient children will start to ask "Is it done yet?"  Each stove will be a bit different so you may have to experiment on your first couple of pops.
  3. Collect all the ingredients and start melting the butter in a small pan or in the microwave (I’ve heard that some people have these).  Keep the large serving bowl close (you will see why in a minute or two).
  4. If the oil is heated too slowly, it will start to oxidize (technical term), turn brown, and taste bad, and that’s why you don’t add it at the beginning.  When the pan is hot, add the oil to the popper.  (The real gourmets will have an optical temperature sensor to measure 350°. Really!)  Our popper is thicker and heavier than the less expensive poppers, so the pre-heat stage will take a couple of minutes.  Not too hot, though, or you could end up with an oil fire.  As a cautionary note, you might start adding the oil sooner rather than later for the first several pops until you get the hang of it.  Fire = bad.  When the temperature is correct, a water drop placed in the pan will bounce around, not just sit there and boil.  Continue to heat the oil and when it just starts to smoke, add all the corn and close the lid.  Better to add the corn a little early than to have the oil start to decompose, or worse yet, catch fire.  Again, fire = bad.5.    Turn the stirrer several times to coat the kernels with the oil.  The oil should coat all of the kernels uniformly with not a lot of oil left on the bottom.  The purpose of the oil is to transfer heat from the pan to the kernels, and if you have insufficient oil, not all the kernels will be coated and you will end up with some un-popped or partially-popped kernels.  If you use too much oil, the popped corn will absorb some oil, making it softer than it should be – after all, you’re not trying to deep-fry the popcorn
  5. Turn the stirrer at a steady pace – faster doesn’t improve the process.  The correct pace is open for debate but, in general, slow and easy works fine.  With practice, you will be able to pause to check on the butter or something.  You need to continue the stirring process until it is finished popping, but it will only take a couple of minutes.  Keeping the un-popped kernels evenly heated is essential to popping all of the kernels.  With reasonable attentiveness, you will be able to pop most types of corn with no (zero) un-popped kernels.
  6. As the popping stops, immediately remove the popper from the heat and pour out the popped corn - to avoid burning the corn, no delay is allowed.
  7. Want more?  You can pop more than one popper-full at a time simply by adding more corn in step 4.  As the popper fills, turn the popper to the side to allow the lid to open and pour out the popped corn into the serving bowl.  Don’t turn it too far or the un-popped kernels will come out, too.  Hold the stirrer down during this process or it might get caught up in the popped corn - this might take some practice.  Continue to cook until all the corn is popped.  We have found that you can pop at least three poppers-full in one batch.
  8. If you would like butter, now is the time to pour it evenly over the popcorn. (You did melt it while you were popping, didn’t you?)  Anxious kids will appreciate that, as once the smell of popcorn permeates the house… well, you get the idea.  Salt to taste.

Cleaning Up.  The best approach we have found is to wipe the bowl with a paper towel before it cools, or just get over it – there are other things in life more important – like eating popcorn!

Leftovers and other uses.  Believe it or not, popcorn makes a good leftover.  The trick is to minimize the absorption of water vapor from the air.  A serving bowl with a snap-on lid works great for a day or so.  Even if you live in a humid climate, it will likely be good for a few days.  Otherwise, stick it in a 200° oven for 10 minutes or so – that will dry it back out and make it good as new.  Also, popcorn makes great packing material as a more natural replacement of, uh, popcorn of the Styrofoam type.

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