Who Says Making Popcorn is Easy?!

Somehow, over the weekend I got this crazy idea that rather than microwaving a bag of Pop Secret for movie night, it would be fun to make homemade popcorn on the stovetop instead!

What was I thinking?!

I had stumbled across a newspaper article earlier in the week that talked about how wonderful homemade popcorn is: simple to prepare, fast, convenient, tasty, and vastly superior to boring old microwaved popcorn, which contains ingredients like partially hydrogenated soybean oil and artificial butter flavor and propyl gallate (whatever that is!) for freshness. My favorite ingredient? “Color added.” Yum! I love me a big ol’ bowl of “color added” every once in awhile! By the time I’d read the article and the accompanying recipe for “perfect homemade popcorn,” I was questioning my sanity in ever buying the microwaveable garbage. On my next grocery shopping trip, I bought a bag of popcorn kernels, and I eagerly promised the kids a “fresh, real, and delicious” homemade popcorn experience for our customary Saturday night movie.

Don't I wish. (Courtesy of dailygalaxy.com).

8:00 rolled around. Go time. It takes approximately two and a half minutes to microwave a bag of popcorn, so we’re used to firing up the movie a few minutes after eight and having time to spare afterward before going to bed. I figured making popcorn from scratch might take a little longer, maybe seven or eight minutes, so I informed the kids that we’d be starting the movie a few minutes later than usual. No big deal. I consulted the popcorn recipe I had cut from the newspaper (because seriously, I’d never made it before – popcorn-from-scratch is a lost art these days, like riding Big Wheels and rewinding video tapes). The first step was to coat the bottom of a 3-quart pan with vegetable oil. I can only surmise that “coat the bottom” means different things to different people, because after coating the bottom I added the requisite single layer of popcorn kernels, only to find them bobbing along in the currents of what was a veritable sea of oil.


“Shit!” “This simply will not do,” I muttered out loud. I lifted the pan, tilted it carefully, and poured out the majority of the oil. It still seemed like there was an awful lot left, but what could I do? It was coating the kernels. In retrospect, I could have – should have – dumped the whole thing and started over, but I still believed things could be salvaged and the popcorn would be great. So I covered the pan, turned the heat to medium, and waited for the kernels to start popping.

And waited.

And waited.

“Maybe you should turn the heat to high?” Rusty suggested.

“Can’t do that,” I replied. “The kernels will burn. We’ll just have to wait.”

And wait.

And wait.

Seriously, what was taking so long? The oil was bubbling away like mad by now. The kernels were dancing around, weaving and bopping. Doing everything except the one thing they were supposed to be doing.

And then, at long last, there was a pop and one of the kernels bloomed into the fluffy white flower it was destined to be. We all broke out into applause and gathered around the pan excitedly, waiting for the others to start popping.

And waiting.

And waiting.

“Are you sure you shouldn’t turn the heat up?” Rusty asked.

At this point I wasn’t sure of anything, but I stubbornly insisted we follow the instructions and maintain a medium heat setting so the popcorn wouldn’t turn out blackened and scorched.

Oh, how that lone kernel teased us! Getting our hopes up with promises of an all-out onslaught of popcorn explosions, and then failing to deliver. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, but was actually only…well, you know what? It was an eternity!…another kernel popped. Followed by a few more. They were timid and seemed to be going about the popping business half-heartedly, but at least something was happening. When you’re microwaving a bag of popcorn, once things get going, they happen fast and furiously. Not so with popcorn in a pan. It took a good ten or twelve minutes before I decided we had enough for two bowls (Audrey had, by now, surrendered all hope for homemade popcorn and had microwaved – and eaten – a bag instead). I filled bowls for Rusty and I, added some melted butter and salt, and took a bite.

Mmm, I thought while chewing. Pretty good. The real butter made a difference. Only I kept chewing.

And chewing.

And chewing.

I don’t know why, but the popcorn was – well, chewy. And dense. Heavy-tasting. And, despite my insistence on keeping the heat on medium, there was a slight burned taste to the stuff, anyway.

I dumped mine out about 1/3 of the way through. To add insult to injury, the movie we had planned on watching was 2.5 hours long, and it was already 9:00, so we scrambled to find something a little shorter and settled on Dracula: Dead And Loving It. Even the combination of the late, great Leslie Nielsen as the titular Count and Mel Brooks as Van Helsing couldn’t save this dud. But, at least I learned a valuable lesson. It’s pointless to fight progress. Microwave popcorn exists for a reason, even if it does contain propyl gallate.

I’ll never stray again.


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

37 thoughts on “Who Says Making Popcorn is Easy?!

  1. you are CRAP at stovetop popcorn.
    this is because there can be only one ME!
    I RULE at stovetop popcorn making.

    You MUST not use too much oil–hence the chewy–and you must not use too little.
    aim for “goldilocks”–just right.

    stovetop popcorn is THE best–and, when you make it that way, you are NOT ingesting flame retardant materials, which are included in the microwave popcorn bags…
    try it again.
    wax on, wax off.
    you’ll get it.
    it’s the…
    (wait for it)
    blessings from my ice pack,


    1. So, Jane, you’re saying it was Operator Error? I suppose I could – should – try again, since I’ve got half a bag of kernels left over that very nearly ended up in the trash can midway through our lame movie Saturday night.


  2. Stovetop popcorn really is the best. I had forgotten how much we used to make it growing up until I was visiting my mom and her hubby made a huge bowl for us. Heaven! I’m not a big popcorn fan, but I still keep a small bag of kernels in the cupboard for just in case.

    Oh, and since I showed you how to make an awesome Bloody Mary, it would be my pleasure to show off my mad popcorn popping skillz…


  3. Did you vigorously shake the pan back and forth? And you’re supposed to gave a lid on the pan! No peeking either- it let’s all the steam out!


  4. Okay Mark, you are NOT going to believe this, but all last week I kept thinking that I would try to find the old-fashioned Jiffy Pop Popcorn, remember that stuff? It came in one of those tin foiled plates that you would shake on the stove until the foil on the top rose into a big round ball, and then you would stick a fork in it and VIOLA…you had popcorn!

    My whole plan was to do this and then blog about it. Well, I kept forgetting to look for it in the grocery store last week, but I think it’s hysterical that you posted about popcorn today!!!!

    “at long last, there was a pop and one of the kernels bloomed into the fluffy white flower it was destined to be. We all broke out into applause and gathered around the pan excitedly, waiting for the others to start popping.”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! OMG, I could actually SEE that happening to you guys.

    “It’s pointless to fight progress. Microwave popcorn exists for a reason, even if it does contain propyl gallate.”

    Sad, but true!

    GREAT post, Mark!


    1. I remember those Jiffy Pop pans, Ron! Seems to me like that would be the perfect compromise. Still cooked on the stovetop – not in the microwave – but all you do is turn the stove on and wait. Now THAT I could live with!


  5. Mark, Mark, Mark…alas…I reply once again.

    I have to agree with Sage and Jane. Stove-top really is the best popcorn. I don’t know how hubby does it, but he does turn the heat all the way to high and then takes the pan off the burner right at the precise moment. Real butter and salt just add to the whole experience. BTW…not just any popcorn kernal will do. Orville is the bestest with PopSecret coming in at best.


    1. Welcome back, Tracy! I had no idea the brand of popcorn made a difference. I bought the cheapest one I could find…the Kroger brand. Maybe THAT was my problem…


  6. Wow, and here I thought stovetop was foolproof. I just like it because you can dress it up any way you want… Bragg’s, brewer’s yeast, furikake, Hot Tamales, etc! And no toxins!


      1. Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, yum! Basically soy sauce, which is good, too.

        And brewer’s yeast I discovered at local arthouse movie theaters. Sounds strange, but is delicious and cheesy. There are special popcorn flavors, but I just shake on whatever they have!

        TRY the Hot Tamales, though. So good a bit melted. Can you tell I get bored with popcorn easily? 🙂


  7. LOL, Mark, I loved this story. You had me cracking up over here. I can’t remember ever making homemade popcorn – sounds like too much work for me! But you totally get an A for effort!


  8. I used to make stove-top popcorn every single day after school. Important notes: Not too much (or too little) oil. [This is something you get a feel for.] Shake the H-E-Double-Hockeysticks out of the pan once it starts making noise, or you can have Very Very burned popcorn in a heartbeat. Hold the lid on during this process, because it WILL fly off otherwise (plus keeping the lid on supertight keeps more heat in for popping). And finally… never try to make a second batch in the same pan unless it’s been thoroughly cleaned and cooled… because the second batch will burn to a cinder.

    But it really is tasty stuff, when it comes out right. Plus all that shaking MUST burn off some of the calories, right?


    1. I like your logic. And your directions.
      All this feedback has made one thing apparent: I’m going to have to try my hand at this popcorn making business again…


  9. Years ago, someone told me about, and I bought, I microwave popcorn popper container. It’s a translucent plastic bowl on sort of legs with a tight-fitting cover that has slits in it. There’s a well in the bottom into which you pour I guess 1/4-1/2 cup of popping corn, put it in the microwave, set to 4 minutes on high, and stand by. When the popping almost stops, turn off the microwave, pour into a non-plastic bowl (for easier cleaning of butter residue), pour on melted butter, sprinkle with salt, and enjoy. I have no idea where to get them anymore — haven’t seen them in years — but it works wonderfully, and the popping bowl can just be put away until next time. No additives, no fat or salt except what you choose to put on (umm … come to think of it, that last part may not qualify as an advantage in all circumstances).


    1. That sounds like a great solution. You have the convenience of microwave popcorn with the flexibility of stovetop. I need to find that (or something like it).


  10. No fancy recipe needed. Dump some oil (I prefer olive oil) into the bottom of a pot, add the kernels, cover the pot, put heat on high for a bit just to get it going and then immediately reduce it to medium. Oh, and very important, crack the lid of the pot. That’s why the popcorn was chewy. It’s not because of too much oil, but because of all the steam that is produced that is sogging up the popped corn. Perfect every time. Give it another try. It really is so much better than microwave popcorn.


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