Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Microwave Popcorn

Microwave Popcorn on Black Acrylic

Quick, Easy, Healthy, and Tasty — the Best Way to Make Homemade Popcorn

Look in the “snack aisle” of your local supermarket and you’ll see package after package of microwave popcorn.  You know, boxes filled with sealed paper bags designed to be nuked at home.  Most stores stock several brands, and they usually offer a wide variety of flavorings.  It’s convenient, and microwave popcorn really is good stuff.  But look closely at the list of ingredients on the box, and you may wonder whether those are things you really want to ingest.  If you’re like me, you’ve probably had your fill of weird-sounding additives whose names you can’t pronounce.

Way down on the bottom shelf, you’ll generally find popcorn in bulk — the kind that’s meant to be cooked the old-fashioned way.  It’s not as convenient as the packaged microwave popcorn, but it has no added ingredients.  And it’s much cheaper than the “convenience” brands.

And guess what?  You can pop that bulk popcorn in your microwave.  You don’t need to buy the specially packaged “microwave” varieties.  Just find an appropriate container — I use a brown paper sack — and you’re in business.  And you can flavor the popcorn with your own tasty (and natural) ingredients.  No mystery chemicals needed.  The result is much better flavor.  Plus you’re saving money! 

Try this method of making popcorn and you’ll never look back.


Microwave Popcorn in White Ramekin

Recipe:  Microwave Popcorn

Microwave ovens cook with radio waves, which excite the water molecules in food, causing them to move back and forth.  This movement — and the friction the molecules create as they rub together —produces the energy (heat) that does the cooking. (For a more detailed explanation, check out Wikipedia.)

Any food with a high water content is an excellent candidate for the microwave.  That includes popcorn.  Even though the kernels appear to be dry, they actually contain moisture.  When heated, that moisture produces steam, which causes the corn kernels to puff up (explode, actually), forming the characteristic shape we associate with popped corn. 

The traditional way of preparing popcorn at home is to put it in a covered pot with some fat (so you don't scorch the kernels), and heat it on top of the stove.  You can get excellent popcorn this way — but if you don’t want the added fat, you’re out of luck.  When you cook popcorn in the microwave, you don’t need to add fat, so you can enjoy a relatively low-cal treat.  And if you do want to add some fat as flavoring (butter or olive oil are my faves), you can easily do so after you’ve prepared the popcorn.

You can microwave “bulk” popcorn in a large covered bowl.  Or you can buy a dedicated microwave popcorn popper (which is essentially, well, a large covered bowl).  But my favorite method is to use a paper bag — one of the inexpensive brown lunch sack-sized ones that come in packages of 100 or so.  You’ll need to secure the bag so it doesn’t spring open.  I do this with 2 staples from an ordinary office stapler.  Yes, I know you shouldn’t put metal in a microwave, but a couple of staples aren’t enough to cause problems (see Notes).  This method works in a microwave that has a turntable (as most do).  I haven’t tested it in one without a turntable, so I can’t vouch that it works or that it’s safe to use staples in that case.

I learned about this method of microwaving popcorn from Alton Brown’s first cookbook, I’m Just Here for the Food. My recipe is (slightly) adapted from his, and yields 6 or so cups of popcorn.

Ingredients
  • 1/3 cup unpopped popcorn
  • salt to taste (optional)
  • melted butter to taste (optional; I usually like 2 - 3 tablespoons or so for this amount of popcorn)
Procedure
  1. Place popcorn in a paper bag.  Fold the top of the bag over itself twice (use ½ inch folds).  Staple 2 times, making sure each staple is at least an inch from the side of the bag, with a couple of inches between the staples.  When you place the bag on the microwave’s turntable, make sure the staples don’t touch the sides of the microwave (and won’t when the bag expands).
  2. Heat on high.  The popcorn kernels will begin popping in about 30 seconds.  Remove bag from microwave when the kernels have essentially stopped popping (i.e., when the time between pops is around 5 seconds or so).  In most microwave ovens, the whole process will take 2 to 3 minutes.  In mine, it takes 2 minutes and 10 seconds.
  3. Tear the bag open (be careful — the steam trapped in the bag is hot) and pour the contents into a bowl.  Add salt and optional butter, and toss to mix.  Serve.
Microwave Popcorn Paper Bag showing staples
Position of Staples on Paper Bag

Notes
  • Very small amounts of metal (like the 2 staples I recommend) seem to be OK in a microwave — or so Alton Brown assures us.  I trust him and have had no problem microwaving popcorn this way dozens of times.  But if you’re hesitant, you can also tape the bag shut with cellophane tape.  My luck with this has been inconsistent — it usually works, but sometimes the tape doesn’t hold (although the popcorn stays in the bag).  I use staples, but if you're worried they might cause a fire, try the tape method.
  • You can use just about any brand of bulk popcorn.  My supermarket’s generic brand usually works fine (most of the kernels pop, and the popped kernels are a decent size).  Several interesting “boutique” brands of popcorn are available, and I’ve read that some of them are particularly good.  If this sounds interesting, experiment until you find a brand that makes your tongue happy.
  • Some people like to add salt and butter to the bag before popping.  I don’t find that this produces better flavor, though, so I prefer to season the popcorn after it’s popped.  It’s easier to get the flavors well distributed throughout the popcorn when you season after the fact.
  • I like salt with some heft to it (so it clings to the popcorn).  I generally use Kosher salt, but you can also find special popcorn salt.
  • Salt and butter are classic popcorn flavorings — but they’re just the beginning.  You can also add black pepper, herbs (rosemary is great), olive oil, or cheese (Parmesan is a classic, although any cheese tastes good; use a couple of tablespoons, or to taste).  Whatever you think will taste good probably will.  A lot of people like to add sweet flavorings (caramel, etc.), so that’s another route you can take.
Microwave Popcorn in White Ramekin, Overhead View on Black

Ridiculously Easy — and Cheap

“This is just too easy,” Mrs. Kitchen Riffs observed the first time we made our own microwave popcorn.  “Just put popcorn in a paper bag, staple it, and nuke for a couple of minutes?  Why have we been bothering with that supermarket microwave popcorn?”

“Good question,” I said.  “We should have done this long ago.  We get to add our own flavors, so it’s much tastier.  And it costs way less.”

“Great budgeting move,” mused Mrs K R.  “We’re saving money with every bite!  Which means we can afford to buy . . . .”

I took another handful of popcorn.  I had a feeling we’d need to eat a lot of it to pay for whatever Mrs K R had in mind.

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96 comments:

  1. Nice to be able to make your own microwave popcorn...I somehow do not like what is in the ones at the store bought. I will definitely try this method.
    Thanks for the recipe and hope you are having a fabulous week :)

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    1. Hi Juliana, I find some of the store bought ones OK, but homemade definitely is better. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. Love Alton Brown too! This is a great post. I am a huge fan of microwave popcorn (from bulk popcorn) but I use a special bowl that doesn't need any oil. I did a post about it as well last year. Hmmm, now I am thinking I might need a snack - popcorn time!

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    1. Hi Alyssa, popcorn is one of my favorite snacks! Although it's great with butter, I often eat it plain (with a little salt) - it's good either way. Thanks for the comment.

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  3. I've never tried making it in a paper bag, I always did it on the stove. But less calories in the popcorn means more for dessert (probably not the best logic, huh?). Hmm, wonder what the Mrs. is in need of. Hope you two are having a wonderful week.
    -GIna-

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    1. Hi Gina, I like the way you think! I'm always interested in more dessert. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  4. So much better than the store-bought stuff with all their preservatives. Yum -- makes me want to put a double-feature in the DVD player right now, just to have an excuse to pop some.

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    1. Hi Carolyn, this is definitely better - no preservatives present or needed! And it's such a great snack while watching that double feature. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  5. We always make our popcorn on the stove (the old-fashioned way, I guess). ;) I'll have to try this method!

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    1. Hi Jeanne, the old-fashioned way is pretty good! And it certainly works. And if you're adding fat anyway (I don't always) it may be the best way, at least in terms of flavor. The microwave method is fast and easy - definitely worth a try. Thanks for the comment.

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  6. 2 hours ago (9pm) I was going to make popcorn but then I told myself it's better not to eat any snack after 8pm. Now at 11pm I see your popcorn post!!! I'm so tempted to try with brown bag... I usually make it over the stove (since I related microwave popcorn to those unhealthy store bought kinds). I think I'm going to snack on popcorn... just a little bit!

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    1. Hi Nami, sorry to tempt you! But popcorn made in the microwave and without added fat is a reasonably low calorie snack. And you don't have any of those unhealthful chemicals added to the store bought kind. Thanks for your comment.

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  7. Love it and the pictures! I haven't eaten popcorn in awhile! That is going to change : )

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    1. Hi petit4chocolatier, popcorn made this way is so easy you can have it any time you crave it! Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

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  8. An interesting way of preparing popcorn. I don't own a microwave, though...

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Hi Rosa, ah, if you don't have a microwave this won't work! We have one because it's convenient for reheating food, and the best way to melt chocolate (really), and because we have the space. But it doesn't do anything you can't do using another method. In the case of popcorn, doing on the stove top works well! Thanks for the comment.

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  9. Alton scares me, he's too smart and it freaks me right out. But he is right. Our microwave actually came with metal racks. I was stunned. I thought metal was a no go. But apparently the amount of actual metal on them won't case issues. It's still weird to me and I find myself terrified to use them on a regular basis.

    Love popcorn. So much. When I heard I'd never be able to eat it again cuz of the diverticulitis I about lost my mind. Then did massive research, okay it was google, and found out it's not true for most people. Yah me. Popcorn lives on. I am trying this method this weekend. I like doing mine on the stove but the thought of not having to wash the big pot appeals to me.

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    1. Hi Kim, you're so popcorn-crazed that I'm glad you can still eat it! I'll be curious to see how you life the microwave method as compared to your stove top. And I agree that the easy cleanup is one of the big appeals of this method. Thanks for your comment.

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  10. Are you kidding me that it's this easy?!! I had no idea. Thanks so much for sharing this. My kids will be forever grateful (and me, too)!

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    1. Hi Kristy, it really is this easy! Amazing, isn't it? Now you'll be making popcorn twice as much! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  11. FABULOUS idea! I have that cookbook - why didn't I catch this? My husband is an engineer and Alton's show is the only show the hubby digs! The kids and I are going to try this out since I just bought popcorn kernels!

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    1. Hi Laura, you'll really love this method of preparing popcorn! Alton's book came out quite awhile ago, so you probably saw it and just forgot about it - I do that all the time! Thanks for your comment.

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  12. What an interesting way to make your own popcorn. So much better than the store bought ones which have tons of preservatives. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi Asmita, it's really a fun recipe! And so easy. Try it, and I'll bet it'll be the main (probably only) way you'll prepare popcorn.

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  13. I just did it my commercial strength microwave and it worked! 2 minutes for 1/3 cup of corn. I use scotch tap and sealed it twice. No problem.

    Thank you! This has changed the way I make popcorn.

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    1. Hi Anonymous, when I use tape it usually works, though I've had it come apart - never have that problem with the staples. But if it works, that's all you really care about. Glad you enjoyed this method, and thanks for commenting.

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  14. Healthy without compromising on flavour - delicious :)

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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    1. Hi Uru, easy, too, which is the big appeal for me! Thanks for the comment.

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  15. I saw a documentary the other day about the popcorn bought at the movies and it was frightening. The calories in their popcorn was astronomically high and they do the hard sell on it because they make so much money from it. The cost per serving is literally a few cents and so the profit is enormous. I like your idea of popcorn in the microwave, but it still has a lot of butter if only one person is eating that amount. I wouldn't eat three tablespoons of butter in a week. But it really needs butter to taste of anything, hence the dilemna.

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    1. Try different seasoning combinations until you find one you like or even in a pinch a small amount of commercial popcorn seasoning so you can use little or no butter. The commercial seasonings aren't all natural but they aren't too bad in moderation.

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    2. Hi Suzanne, I usually figure this amount of popcorn serves 2 (or 3 rather small servings). Still, that's a bit of butter, isn't it? We usually don't add butter, but when we do we want to taste it!

      Food Junkie, good tip re the seasoning combos! And thanks to both of you for your comments.

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  16. This is fantastic! I love old fashioned in the pot popcorn, but hae never really loved the microwave bags. This is perfect! Thank you!

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    1. Hi Clare, it's really easy - a great way to enjoy popcorn. Thanks for the comment.

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  17. Great tip! I like the idea of popping the corn kernels in a brown bag instead of a bowl. Love the first shot of the popcorn! :)

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    1. Hi Biren, it's kinda cool to watch the paper bag puff up as the popcorn pops! Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

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  18. Just wondering if the traditional lunch bag size bag is okay for popcorn or should I get a bigger size? I'm so glad I stumbled onto your blog. I love popcorn but have been wary of all the additives in the microwave versions

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    1. Hi Sonya, I use the regular lunch bag size. With that size, 1/3 cup of popcorn will fill it up when popped. You could also use a larger bag if you want, but make sure it fits in the microwave. Welcome, and thanks for the comment.

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  19. I gave up on popcorn when I started reading labels. Microwave popcorn contains too many ingredients that I couldn't pronounce. (Of course, I still eat popcorn at the movies, slathered with that supposed butter stuff, but that's because there's no label to read.) I never thought to try something like this, though, John. I'll give this a try, for sure, if for no other reason than to put metal in the microwave and get away with it. :)
    Thanks for sharing a great post and idea.

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    1. Hi John, I don't want to know what's in movie popcorn! This is a fun technique - you'll enjoy it. And yes, putting metal in the microwave seems so wrong - but it's such a small amount it doesn't matter! Thanks for the comment.

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  20. If anyone's worried,you don't have to use the staples, just make sure the bag is folded a couple of times. Mine never opens.

    Microwave popcorn is super crunchy - never tastes old. It's my new fav method!

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    1. Hi Anonymous, I'll have to try it without the staples. Thanks for the tip, and the comment.

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    2. agreed, i would NOT use staples because they are a fire hazard

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  21. Important safety tip: Do NOT leave the microwave unattended when popping corn, especially in a paper bag. The stuff will catch on fire if over cooked in the microwave.

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    1. Hi Food Junkie, good tip! The first couple of times I did this I wanted to be around the microwave anyway so I could figure out how long it'd take to pop a bag. Now that I know, I set the timer, but it's such a short period of time I wouldn't leave the kitchen anyway. Thanks for the comment.

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  22. I'll definitely try this out, thanks for posting!

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    1. Hi Riley, it's really a nice way of making popcorn! Hope you like it, and thanks for commenting.

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  23. My daughter makes microwave popcorn this way. I too think it is a great way to make popcorn.

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    1. Hi Dawn, isn't popcorn made in the microwave such good stuff? I totally love it. Thanks for the comment.

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  24. Cool info on microwave popcorn, but whaaaat!!! This is awesome! I never even thought about homemade microwave popcorn, this is the best! I think I would be one of those fearing creating a fire with the staples (my sister started a fire in my microwave once. And a fire on the stove twice, one melting the whole stove. I'm now one of the most careful people in the kitchen, although my sister still has not learned. The number of times I've walked downstairs in the morning to discover the stove on... and she's already left for school..)

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    1. Hi Cathleen, there really shouldn't be a problem with the staples (well, at least that's the theory!), but no problem making this without. Scotch tape works pretty well, and some people don't even bother with that - they just fold the top of the bag a couple of times and it seems to hold well. However, given your sister's history in the kitchen, this might not be a recipe that you want to share with her! Thanks for the comment.

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  25. Have you seen all the crap that's in those supermarket bag things? A guy who ate 2 bags of butter flavored microwave popcorn a day got sick from the fumes coming out of the bag.

    From Discovery Fit and Health: Flavoring manufacturers have paid out more than $100 million over the past five years to settle lawsuits filed by workers who have contracted the disease from exposure to the chemical.

    Your method is not only less expensive it's much better for you.

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    1. Hi Maureen, the flavor of the supermarket microwave popcorn is pretty good, but as you say, look at everything else you're getting! No thanks - it's really not healthy. Good info about manufacturers have to pay $$$ to settle lawsuits - I didn't know that. Thanks for the comment.

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  26. Haha! I wonder what it is Mrs Kitchen Riffs has her eye on! Popcorn is such a tasty and healthy snack! I've not cooked the kernels in a long time, let alone in the microwave...I might have to try it! Thanks for sharing :)

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    1. Hi Ali, who knows what Mrs K R has in mind! I'm sure I'll be finding out. ;-) Popcorn, without the added salt or fat, is a pretty healthy snack. Reasonably low in calories, it adds roughage, and it's mighty tasty. Good stuff all around. Thanks for the comment.

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  27. I always air pop my popcorn, and put real butter on it, because I can't stand the packaged microwave stuff. I've never thought to put regular popcorn in the microwave... what a great idea! I'll definitely be trying this.

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    1. Hi Jen, we used to have one of those air poppers, but then it broke and we never replaced it. No need to with the microwave! If you try this, I'll bet you'll like it. Thanks for the comment.

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  28. So cool!! I don't have a microwave, so I've taken to making popcorn on the stovetop, which is also easier than I ever imagined. Growing up we had an air popper, which I just loved - it was such a special occasion to rent a movie and make fresh popcorn. It had an indent in the top where you could put a pat of butter so it melted from the heat of the popcorn popping - just remembered that! Anyway, I can't wait to share this with my friends who have microwaves!

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    1. Hi Katherine, stove top popcorn is quite good, although you do have a bit of added fat (if that's a concern, which it often isn't). The air popper we used to have also had something where you could add some butter, which would melt. As I recall it only kinda sorta worked - easier to melt the butter separately, then mix it with the popcorn and salt! Thanks for the comment.

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  29. You, my friend, have officially saved this girl's decision to revert back to her former pre-busybee lifestyle of fun, healthy eating. I'm loving the lack of additives here, and this is a call for me to start with my DIY kitchen recipes again. Thanks, John!

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    1. Hi Ala, isn't this a great recipe? Totally easy, and so totally satisfying. Plus you can add whatever flavorings you want in your preferred quantity. Good stuff! Thanks for your comment.

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  30. Hello John and Mrs. KR! It's been some time since I've been here. Thanks for leaving comments on my blog, they definitely kept me going.
    When I first opened this post and looked at the title, I had to giggle: all I have to do to make this easy snack is... to buy a microwave! :) And I guess I am not alone. I do have a question about metal staples on the bag as I heard that nothing metal should be placed in the microwave?

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    1. Hi Marina, glad to see you again! Hope the move went well. Yeah, not having a microwave is a big obstacle to doing this recipe, isn't it? ;-) The metal in microwave thing is tricky. As I understand it, the staples have so little mass - and are shorter than the microwave rays - that they are essentially "invisible" to the microwave. Nothing is acting on them, so there's no sparking. But if you're nervous (I admit I was the first time I tried this), just tape the bag shut - that works well, too. Thanks for the comment.

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    2. Thank you John. The reason I asked you about the staples is because one time, when I did have a microwave, I put something to be re-heated on a plate that had traces off gold or silver rim. Oh my, it was so loud like on 4th of July! :)

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    3. Hi Marina, I've done the same thing! I once put a fancy ramekin with a gold rim in the microwave. Fireworks like July 4th is a pretty accurate description! So I've been there, done that. The staples work, really. But tape is also an option. ;-)

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  31. I'm with Mrs.KR - this is just too easy! I did quit using pre-packaged microwave popcorn a few years back, but have been popping on the stovetop with oil and spices. It sure makes for a messy pan! Your method is SO much easier. Definitely will be trying it this weekend when we have our Sunday football popcorn. thank you for sharing this! Have a great weekend!

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    1. Hi MJ, it really is too easy! It's not really a recipe at all, but it was fun to write about (and take photos). Enjoy your Sunday, and I hope your team wins! Thanks for the comment.

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  32. Replies
    1. Hi Ilan, yup, it is awesome. ;-) Enjoy! Thanks for the comment.

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  33. My husband loves the Orville Redenbacher microwave White Popcorn unfortunately, most of the popcorn company's have moved away from the regular bag size and now provide the pop-up bowl for all of their varieties! The pop-up bowls have less popcorn for the same price and they constantly burn in the microwave.
    I love this method of making homemade popcorn especially since OR has changed their packaging. I generally cook mine on the stove top but I ask my kids to use the brown paper bag when making an after school snack.

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    1. Hi Rebecka, it's been long enough that I've had the commercial microwave popcorn that I didn't know they had changed their packaging! If you plan to add fat to your popcorn anyway, you could certainly make the case that the stove top method gives you superior flavor (some day I should do a taste test!). But nothing is easier than the microwave method, so that's what I always use. Thanks for your comment.

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  34. Such a simple way to make popcorn. You know there are no additives except what you put on it yourself.

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    1. Hi Karen, isn't this nice? Simple is me! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  35. I only recently found out that popcorn can be cooked in the microwave. And you're so right about cooking real popcorn rather than those microwave bags - they're so expensive (by comparison) and you have no idea what's in them xx

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    1. Hi Charlie, I love how much money this technique saves! And you get to flavor it yourself, a big plus IMO. Thanks for the comment.

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  36. looks great and love the way you take your pictures

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    1. Hi Rebecca, it's such a nice, easy recipe. Delish, too, which is the most important part. Thanks for your kind words and your comment.

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  37. I never had tried this, I usually buy the microwavable ones or I pop it in the pan. Thanks for this post, this will make my life easy

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    1. Hi Raymund, it's really worth trying - I think you'll enjoy it. Thanks for the comment.

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  38. Absolutely fantastic idea!! I loooove microwave popcorn and the convenience of it but its quite expensive compared to the bulk buy stuff. I've never even thought about putting in a paper bag like this before - genius! I will definitely try this :)

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    1. Hi Christine, this really is a money saver! Thanks for the comment.

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  39. Popcorn is possibly my favorite food in the world. I always pop it on the stove, but I love the idea of using a paper bag in the microwave. That makes it very kid friendly too. Great tips!

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    1. Hi Lisa, stove top popcorn has wonderful flavor, but this is so easy! Thanks for the comment.

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  40. I have the microwave bowl and I've used the paper bags too. They both work great and as you say, skip all the additives and crazy amounts of sodium. We lightly spray our popped corn with olive oil and sea salt. Totally fantastic and healthy treat!

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    1. Hi motherrimmy, I've never tried the bowl - glad to hear it works well. And it's so nice making popcorn just the way you want it! Thanks for the comment.

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  41. That sounds like an excellent Idea. They have started to sell those micro popcorn bags here, but they are soo pricey. I dont think its worthwhile for the quality and I dont like masala popcorn or chilli popcorn, I am the old fashioned girl. Anyway... I am a bit hesitant though with the metal part, maybe I ll try it first with a bowl to get accustomed to the idea. I am kind of freaky when its a bout my new oven/mirco. ;)

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    1. Hi Helene, I don't blame you about being nervous about using the metal staples - I sure was! But I tried it, and nothing happened. But the bowl (or taping the bag) works too. Thanks for the comment.

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  42. OMG this is too cool John. I'm a huge, HUGE FAN of store-bought butter pop-corns and this seems to be perfect. I have no clue that I could make them myself at home. It's funny how simple things don't hit us until someone else tells us hehehe

    Thanks a gazillion :) I owe you tea now, if you happen to come to Pakistan any tim,e lemme know. :)

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    1. Hi Leemz, if I ever make it to Pakistan I'll let you know! And I agree that sometimes we overlook things that are simple and obvious. Enjoy your popocorn! And thanks for commenting.

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  43. Just made this. The kids ducked for cover - no faith in their mom! LOL! LOVE THIS!! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi Laura, the image of your kids ducking for cover is pretty funny! Isn't this a terrific way to make popcorn? Thanks for letting me know you tried it and enjoyed it!

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  44. I've been doing this for a couple of years. I never use staples. Just fold it twice, but I only use 1/4 of a cup. Then use a really good extra virgin olive oil and fresh ground pepper. Wonderful!!!

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    1. Hi Anonymous, I really should try the folding method sometime, although using staples works well. EVOO and black pepper sounds terrific! Thanks for the comment.

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  45. Thanks so much for this tip. I just finished making the watermelon pickles and thought I would root around on your site. I live in Argentina so no microwave oven poppers here. I tried the covered glass bowl trick and it works fabulously! Thanks again.

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    1. Hi Deby, glad the covered bowl trick works! Welcome, and thanks for the comment.

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