Bring home the magic of the cinema with these tips for making the perfect movie theater popcorn.
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One of the most frequently Googled questions of 2020 was "Can I get movie theater popcorn delivered?" We all miss the comforting smell of that warm bag of popped goodness as we enjoy a box office hit. But did you know you can get that classic popped treat right at home? Anyone can make authentic movie theater popcorn with these simple tips. 

What gives movie theater popcorn that signature color, smell, and flavor?

I know what you're thinking: butter. It's got to be butter. Nope! 

While butter flavor is involved, there's no actual butter in most movie theater popcorn. Instead, these two key ingredients give movie theater popcorn its signature taste and smell: popcorn popping oil and popcorn seasoning. Yup, it's that simple.

Popcorn popping oils come in a few varieties, including pure coconut oil or a blend of canola oil. While some folks swear by using only pure coconut oil, there's really no noticeable difference in flavor between the two oils, so it's fine to use whatever is readily available to you. The key ingredient in these special popcorn oils is the beta carotene that's added – –the same stuff that gives carrots their orange hue is what gives movie theater popcorn its gorgeous yellow/orange color.

Flavors for popcorn seasonings are endless and range from sweet to salty to spicy. But to get that classic flavor we recommend a butter flavor seasoning.

close up of buttery popcorn
Credit: Jessica Furniss

How do I make movie theater popcorn at home?

You've got two options when it comes to actually popping your corn. You can opt for the stovetop or the microwave. To me, either way is just as tasty, and if the microwave is a more approachable option for you, don't feel like you're missing out.

But if you have the space and time, then the old-fashioned stovetop method can be a lot of fun. Plus, kids love seeing the popcorn grow and push open the saucepan lid.  

Pro tip: Don't let your popcorn sit in its cooking vessel or it will get soggy. Immediately pour it into a serving bowl when it's done cooking.

Microwave Popcorn for 4

What you'll need: 

  • 1 brown paper lunch bag
  • ½ cup uncooked popcorn kernels
  • 1 tsp popcorn popping oil
  • 1 tsp popcorn seasoning
  1. In a small bowl combine the kernels, oil, and salt until the kernels are fully coated. 
  2. Pour into your paper lunch bag and fold the top of the bag over three times to secure it. 
  3. Cook on high for 2 ½ - 3 minutes or until there’s about 2 seconds between each pop. 
  4. Pour into a bowl immediately and allow it to sit for 1 minute before tasting and adding extra seasoning if you like. 
popcorn popping in a saucepan with a lid on top
Credit: Jessica Furniss

Stovetop Popcorn for 4

What you'll need: 

  • 2-3 quart stainless steel saucepan with lid
  • ½ cup uncooked popcorn kernels
  • 3 tablespoons popcorn popping oil
  • 1/2 tsp popcorn seasoning for cooking
  • 1 tsp popcorn seasoning after cooking
  • 1/4 tsp salt after cooking
popcorn popping ingredients in a stainless steel pot
Credit: Jessica Furniss
  1. Add your uncooked kernels, popping oil, and ½ tsp seasoning to the saucepan and stir until all the kernels are well coated. 
  2. Cover the saucepan with its lid.
  3. Turn the stove to medium heat. (Maybe medium high, depending on your particular stove. If you find it’s not popping, then bump the heat up a little, but not higher than medium high.)
  4. Once you hear the oil start to sizzle, grab the handle of the saucepan and gently shake it back and forth over the heat source continually. 
  5. Once the kernels have about 2 seconds between each pop (or when the popcorn starts pushing up the lid of your saucepan) remove it from the heat. 
  6. Immediately remove the lid and pour your popcorn into a serving bowl. 
  7. Taste and add the extra 1 tsp popcorn seasoning and ¼ tsp salt if you like.
  8. Allow it to rest for 1-2 minutes to make sure it’s nice and crunchy.

Pro tip: Don't use extra seasoning while cooking. It will burn! Taste your popcorn right after cooking before adding extra seasonings. You can always add more, but if you add too much you'll have to start all over again.

freshly popped popcorn sits in a white stoneware bowl on a white counter with white subway tiles behind it
Credit: Jessica Furniss

Common Popcorn Popping Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Soggy Popcorn

One of the biggest complaints folks have about making popcorn at home is that it turns out soggy. There's two main reasons for this. First, sometimes folks add too much oil before or after cooking. I know it's tempting to add extra, but you'll get a much better result if you stick with the measurements we recommend. 

The second reason for soggy popcorn is steam. If you remove your popcorn from the heat but leave it covered (or leave it in its microwave bag), the moisture created during cooking is going to destroy all the crunchy goodness, and you'll be left with soggy, mushy pieces. So don't forget to uncover and immediately pour your popcorn into a serving bowl.

popcorn in a red striped box spilling out onto a marble counter
Credit: Jessica Furniss

Burned or Unpopped Kernels

Another common issue home cooks have with popcorn is that it burns and/or only half of the kernels pop. This occurs when you don't move and shake the saucepan enough during cooking. Popcorn needs to be actively moving around while it cooks so the heat can spread evenly to each individual kernel. So make sure you're really moving and shaking those kernels while cooking.

How Do I Store Popcorn?

One word: Don't! 

This fresh-made movie theater-style popcorn is at peak deliciousness when eaten right after you make it. You can store it in a zip-top bag or glass to-go container, and it will be perfectly safe to eat for two to three days, but it just won't have the same taste or texture as it did the day it was made.

Whether you choose coconut popping oil or canola popping oil, stovetop or microwave, it's totally possible to have that nostalgic movie theater popcorn for your next movie night. Press play, and snack away.