getting ready to make stovetop popcorn

Stovetop popcorn & difference between sweet and popcorn corn

Updated: 16-Feb-2017

Popcorn = cinema = not made at home.

At least, that’s how I used to think about popcorn. That changed when I discovered microwave popcorn and changed even more when I realized it’s also super simple to make stovetop popcorn! You don’t even need complicated equipment, a pan with a lid is enough to make stovetop popcorn. That lid is pretty essential: no lid = no popcorn ór popcorn all over your kitchen floor.

Thus, let’s discuss how to make your stovetop poporn.

Popcorn corn

Let’s start with exploring the main ingredient: the corn. There are a lot of different varieties of corn plants. Originally there used to be a lot more even, especialy in Middle and Southern America. Hunderds of varieties could be found there (read the post on popcorn history). Nowadays there are two main varieties: sweet (regular) corn and popcorn. As I explain in my post on the science of popping corn, popcorn corn is surely no regular sweet corn.

Popcorn corn vs. sweet corn

The popcorn plant is calledZea mays var. everta’ whereas the regular sweet corn is ‘Zea mays rugosa‘. Besides it being a different variety popcorn corn also has to be grown differently, for one thing the harvest is done at a different time of year. Whereas sweet (regular) corn is harvested at its sweetest and still very moist, popcorn is harvested at a much later point of its growing cycle. The corn is left on the stalk to dry out after ripening. This hardens and dries the corn, which will help it pop since it will be possible to build up some pressure inside the corn.

Storing popcorn corn

Once harvested, the storage of popcorn becomes important. The moisture content should be kept constant and at the right level. If not, the popcorn won’t pop when it’s made into fluffy popcorn. Easiest is to store it in a plastic bag (in which it was probably already packed when you bought it) to prevent any moisture from going in and out.

Stovetop popcorn and microwave popcorn are the same variety of corn. Since the moisture content of popcorn is so important, microwave popcorn is also packed in plastic to prevent moisture losses.

getting ready to make stovetop popcorn

Microwave vs. stovetop

Popcorn can both be made using a microwave or a stovetop. As explained in the science of popcorn: popcorn pops due to rapid heating of the moisture in the corn.

A microwave uses waves to move, and thus heat, water. These waves can travel through the whole bag of popcorn and heat the water in corn kernels all throughout the bag. This process goes very fast.

On a stovetop on the other hand, heat is brought into the kernel through the surface of the pan and convection. It’s transmitted to the oil and to the kernel itself.  It’s not as fast as the microwave waves though and less homogeneous. Therefore, popping corn using a microwave often goes faster, but none take very long.

Microwave popcorn smaller?

Microwave popcorn often pops to a smaller size than stovetop popcorn. It is thought that this is due to the fact that more fat is required to properly pop the microwave popcorn. This fat could prevent the popcorn from expanding as much as it does on a stovetop.

Managing the fat and salt content of popcorn

Salt and butter are not required to make popcorn (even though I use them in the recipe below). You can leave out the salt and use a tasteless oil to make popcorn. A great advantage of making stovetop popcorn is that you can control the fat and salt content, whereas the one for microwave popcorn is set. If you prefer a low fat and low salt diet, this can be a reason to choose for making your own.

Making stovetop popcorn – the recipe

Now that you’ve got your properly stored popcorn corn, there are a lot of different ways to make popcorn. You can vary the type of pans, heating method, flavour, etc. A simple browse through the internet will give you loads of ideas. I’ll give you my preferred method, making stovetop popcorn using a wok!

popcorn and ghee

Making your own stovetop popcorn

Yield: 1 large bowl
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes

This recipe should make enough popcorn for a large bowl for 2-3 people to enjoy.


  • 1/4 cup of popcorn corn
  • 1 tbsp of clarified butter
  • salt (to taste)


  1. I use a wok to make my popcorn, I've found it to be easiest to transfer heat, but as long as you have a sturdy pot it should work fine.
  2. Add the clarified butter to your wok and leave to melt and heat up at a medium heat. Add salt in the butter, as much as you like. Once the butter is warm (you should see some vapours coming of, but it should not have started browning or burning), add all corn.
  3. Place a lid on your wok (still leaving space for moisture to escape). You should hear the popcorn starting to pop within a minute of adding the corn. If not, turn up the heat of your wok. Shake/swirl the pan around a few times during popping to prevent burning or sticking of the corn to the pot.
  4. Keep the pan on a medium heat until the popping sound has stopped, all popcorn should have popped now.
  5. Place the popcorn in a bowl and enjoy!

Making stovetop popcorn: what not to do

Here are a few tips to get your popcorn just right. It might take a few tries to find your perfect settings, but these tips will definitely help you along!

  1. Stovetop heat The amount of heat you require will depend on your stovetop and the pan you use. If your popcorn starts getting black, turn down the heat a little next time. If your popcorn doesn’t pop at all, turn up the heat next time.
  2. Type of fat to use In my recipe I use clarified butter (actually, I use ghee, but that behaves similar to clarified butter) which works well. Since you’ll need quite a bit of heat for your popcorn you’ll need a fat which can withstand high heats (doesn’t start to smoke). I don’t like using butter, it’s more prone to burn and the butter which is still in the butter can splash and interfer. There are a lot of other oils you can use.
  3. Popping unpopped kernels After I popped my popcorn, I was still left with a lot of unpopped kernels. Reason was that I had turned the heat down too low, not heating them sufficiently to actually pop. So I scooped out the properly popped kernels, place the wok back on the fire and started heating again. This was, the least to say, not very smart. By placing the kernels in the wok while heating it back up they didn’t pop but burned!  In order to pop corn properly you need it to heat up quick, I heated it up slow, allowing it to burn. It became a mess…
burned popcorn
Take care, popcorn can burn pretty badly…

Some other stovetop popcorn tips

Psst, don’t go yet. While browsing around on the web I found a lot of delicious looking popcorn recipes that I couldn’t resist not sharing with you! There are tons of toppings you can add, combine chocolate with popcorn, or pop the popcorn on the cob!


As always, I try to mention all the sources I’ve used for the article: Modern farmer, Farming corn, Gardening, Organic gardening

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