Perfectly Popped Corn

Popping popcorn on the stovetop doesn't need to end in disaster.

Stovetop popcorn can be tricky: Most of the time you wind up burning some kernels, while others never pop at all. The best method that we’ve found for avoiding both problems calls for first placing a few kernels in high-smoke-point oil (such as canola or peanut) and then removing the pan from the heat as soon as they pop. Add the rest of the kernels, cover the pan, and wait 30 seconds before returning it to the stove to finish popping the corn. When we tested this method, we got great results each time: no scorching and only one or two unpopped “old maids.” Why does it work? Preheating the oil with “test” kernels indicates when the oil has reached the optimal popping temperature (around 380 degrees), and the 30-second off-burner wait allows all of the kernels to gradually heat to the same temperature—so they pop almost simultaneously.

1. Heat 3 tablespoons oil and 3 popcorn kernels over medium heat in ­covered 4-quart pan.

2. When test kernels burst, remove pot from heat and add 1/3 cup popcorn.

3. Cover pot and wait 30 seconds before returning pan to heat.

4. When kernels start to pop, shake pan (with lid slightly ajar) until popping slows to 1 to 2 seconds between pops.

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