How to Make Paper Bag Popcorn, Step by Step

Updated: Jan. 04, 2021

Making paper bag popcorn in the microwave is one of the easiest ways to make the homemade version of your favorite movie snack.

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As an avid home cook, I try to pull out all the stops when I have people over. But the recipe that gets the most remarks (and the most copycats!) is so easy it’s hardly a recipe at all: paper bag popcorn (aka, DIY microwave popcorn).

Using a plain brown paper bag, I can make a batch of popcorn in less than 3 minutes and everyone flips for the trick. Sure, store-bought microwave popcorn is delicious (here are the best microwave popcorn brands). But it’s also expensive and coated with unhealthy chemicals. On the other hand, paper bag popcorn is easy, fast and surprisingly healthy. Here’s how to make it.

How to Make Paper Bag Popcorn

Making paper bag popcorn is one of the three main ways to make homemade popcorn. This recipe makes enough for one to three people, depending on how many kernels you use—and how hungry you are!

You’ll need:

  • Popcorn kernels, between 1/4 and 1/2 cup
  • A brown paper bag (a typical lunch bag is just the right size)


Step 1: Pour kernels into the bag

For a snack-size serving for one person, use 1/4 cup of kernels. Use 1/3 cup if you want a good-sized portion for two (or dinner for one, if it’s been one of those days). To completely fill the paper bag with popped popcorn, use 1/2 cup of kernels.

Pour the kernels directly into the bag. No need to add anything else!

Editor’s tip: The type of popcorn kernels you use—yellow or white—may affect the texture and shape of your popcorn.

Step 2: Close the bag

Fold the top of the bag over twice to prevent the kernels from spilling. If your microwave is on the small side, you might need to fold in each corner to allow the bag to spin freely as it heats.

Step 3: Pop the popcorn

Microwave the kernels on high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. The exact timing will vary depending on the type of kernels you use and your microwave’s power.

Keep an ear on the microwave and stop it once the popping slows and there are several seconds between pops. Let the bag sit for a minute before opening—the bag will be hot and a few more kernels will pop.

That’s it! Go ahead and fold up the bag to use for another batch.

A batch of freshly popped homemade paper bag popcorn in the microwave.desertsolitaire/Getty Images

Tips for Making Paper Bag Popcorn

What can I add to paper bag popcorn?

Like any homemade popcorn, paper bag popcorn is a blank slate for toppings and flavors. Melted butter and salt are the standby, of course, but there’s no need to stop there. Season with cinnamon and sugar, toss with cheese powder or nutritional yeast, or try any of our flavored popcorn recipes.

Is it safe to pop popcorn in a brown paper bag?

Brown paper bags aren’t technically microwave safe (the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service advises against putting brown paper bags in the microwave), but the paper bag method is a tried-and-true way to make homemade popcorn. To be safe, keep an eye on the microwave as the popcorn is popping.

How do you make microwave popcorn without a paper bag?

If you don’t have a paper bag or aren’t comfortable with the idea of sticking one in the microwave, there are plenty of microwave-safe popcorn makers you can buy. This Ecolution microwave popcorn popper is one of the best popcorn makers on the market.

Apart from the microwave, you can make popcorn on the stove using a large pot, or use a popcorn maker to make air popped popcorn.

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Teddy Nykiel, Taste of Home Associate Digital Editor, contributed to this article.