Popcorn is one of the simplest snacks to make at home. You don't even need a stove; a microwave, fireplace or hot plate will do. Which method is "best" depends on what tools you have at hand, plus personal preference -- and in the end, any bowl of homemade popcorn is a good one.
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Start with a large, deep, heavy-bottomed pot. Add 1/4 cup of cooking oil. Heat the pot over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering but not smoking. Test the oil by tossing in two or three kernels. If they spin or pop, the oil is ready. Add 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels. Shake the pan so that the kernels are coated in oil. Then cover the pan and wait, shaking gently once or twice, until the popping sounds die down and you can count several second between pops. Remove the cover and pour the popcorn into a wide bowl immediately. At this point, you can season your popcorn to taste.
Use an oil with a high smoke point such as safflower, sunflower, corn or peanut oil. Avoid olive oil, which has a low smoke point, and butter, which will burn.
Air-popped popcorn has several advantages, including less mess and fewer calories due to the lack of oil used in cooking. It does, however, require that you own an air popper. Follow the manufacturer's directions when preparing air-popped popcorn. Also note that you won't save many calories in the end if you dress your air-popped corn with melted butter.
Microwave popcorn in pre-prepared pouches, complete with seasoning, is a convenient way to prepare a batch of popcorn. But you can also air-pop kernels in a paper bag in the microwave, do-it-yourself style. Place 1/4 cup of corn kernels in a paper bag. Use the popcorn setting on your microwave if you have one; otherwise, set the timer on high for two minutes. Cook until the bag has expanded and you can hear the speed of the popping kernels slow.
Do not leave DIY microwave popcorn unattended; there is a small but definite risk that if you overcook the popcorn, the bag could catch on fire.
If you have an open fire, such as a campfire, grill or fireplace, you can prepare popcorn campfire-style in aluminum foil packets. Place 2 tablespoons of popcorn and 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in the center of a large square of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Form the foil into a closed packet, leaving room inside for the kernels to expand. Place the packet in indirect heat, near but not in the flames. Cook until you hear the sounds of popping subside. Remove the packets with long tongs. Each packet makes a single serving of popcorn.
If you really love popcorn and have occasion to make it in bulk, buy a small commercial popcorn machine and set it up in your home. Commercial machines cook popcorn in a manner similar to stove-top methods, utilizing a cooking oil and an electrically heated kettle to pop the kernels. The kernels overflow the kettle and fall into a waiting container, often a glass-walled box, when finished. Follow manufacturer instructions if you choose this method.
If you find yourself with a lot of unpopped kernels left in the bottom of your popcorn bowl, your corn may be old and too dry to pop up. The Popcorn Board recommends adding 1 tablespoon of water to a quart jar three-fourths full of unpopped popcorn. Cover, shake thoroughly a few times at 10-minute intervals and let the popcorn sit for two to four days to allow the corn kernels to rehydrate.