How to Make Popcorn the Old-Fashioned Way

Learn how to make popcorn on the stove, just like Grandma and Grandpa did it. Our Test Kitchen shows you how (and it's worth the effort).

When I was growing up, my family ate a lot of popcorn. Microwave popcorn on movie nights. Bowl after bowl of air-popped, dry and light as packing peanuts. Kettle corn bought by the sack at summertime fairs. And best of all, stovetop popcorn.

My grandma made us real old-fashioned popcorn on the stove every summer, and it was by far the best. It tasted like actual corn, with just the right amount of butter and salt. This is the only popcorn I eat now. It takes a bit more effort than the others, but it’s easy enough to make late at night when you’re in the mood for some healthy, crunchy snacks.

How to Make Popcorn on the Stove

You’ll need:

  • 2 tablespoons oil with a high smoke point, like canola or peanut
  • 1/3 cup popcorn kernels
  • Melted butter
  • Salt
  • A large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid (this ensures even heat and prevents the corn from scorching)

This will yield a big batch—about 10 cups.

Step 1: Bring the Heat

Popcorn kernels covered in oil in a large metal pot sits on the stovetop

Pour the oil and kernels in the pot and cover. Set on the stove over medium heat. Wait. You’ll hear the popcorn begin to sizzle. Keep waiting. (Have a pair of oven mitts at the ready!) Eventually, you’ll hear the first pop.

Step 2: Shake It

Person with oven mitts on holds onto a covered metal pot

Once the first kernel pops, start shaking the pan, holding onto the lid so it doesn’t fly off.

Test Kitchen tip: For extra-crisp popcorn, keep the lid ajar or use a lid with a vent hole to allow some of the steam to escape.

The popping rate will accelerate. Keep on shakin’. After two to three minutes, the popping will slow down and eventually putter to an infrequent pop. Take the pan off the heat.

Test Kitchen tip: Keep the lid on the pot for another minute. Usually, a few kernels will pop after you stop shaking. When you remove the lid, open it away from you to avoid contact with the steam.

Step 3: Add Mix-Ins

Pour your melted butter over the popcorn and shake. I like to do this right in the pan. I add salt last so it adheres more evenly.

Test Kitchen tip: For movie theater-style salt, use superfine popcorn salt or grind up regular salt in a mortar and pestle. The fine grains make your batch pleasantly salty, and you can use less.

If you want to try a new flavor, test out these flavored popcorn recipes.

Now put all that popcorn to delicious use!
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Peggy Woodward, RDN
Peggy is a Senior Food Editor for Taste of Home. In addition to curating recipes, she writes articles, develops recipes and is our in-house nutrition expert. She studied dietetics at the University of Illinois and completed post-graduate studies at the Medical University of South Carolina to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. Peggy has nearly 20 years of experience in the industry. She’s a mom, a foodie and enjoys being active in her rural Wisconsin community.