Movie Theater-like Popcorn at home

From Jiffy Pop to pots and microwave popcorn

Jump to the recipe directly if not interested in the rest. 

So, in theory, popcorn is a reasonably not-so-unhealthy snack. Of course, there are a wide range of ways to make it that can make it better or worse, but it’s certainly an American tradition from fairs to movie theaters. Further, while ‘simple’ snacks seem to blow themselves out to $5 a bag and more for potato or tortilla chips, popcorn can also become a reasonably economical alternative, and besides - who doesn’t like popcorn?

I grew up where Jiffy Pop was a thing, as well as the evolution of microwave popcorn, or even more tasty - microwave kettle corn.

Besides microwave popcorn being in general of questionable health, and the fact that convenience has a growing cost associated with it… compared to 8 pounds of popcorn for $11 or so… I decided ‘no more’ and it’s just time to do it myself.

I’ll list out a few other options at the end of this article, but to save you the time, went through, tried and had OK results with air poppers, even microwave re-usable poppers, and came full circle to the only way to make reliable, consistently-similar-results popcorn is on the stove, with a few tips and tricks to turn it into a few minute exercise.

Pot or…Whirley Pop?

I’m going to save you the grief of trying out too many options here, lessons learned by a lot of time.

Get the Whitley-Pop.  Make sure it has metal gears.  Yes, it’s still somewhat high priced for what it is, but - it works, and works well.  You can generally clean it with a paper towel or rag and leave it ‘seasoned’ assuming you use it at least monthly.  

Yes, if you’d like - you can use a big pot instead, and I have, but - get the Whirley-pop or a clone.  Much easier cleanup and general sanity, much less risk of being burned by escaping steam (you’ll need a lid), and life is too short to have popcorn kernels shooting around the kitchen or burning your hand on escaping steam.  The crank also stops the popcorn from burning, which just isn’t done easily safely with a big pot.  Get the Whirley-Pop!

Special Ingredients


Eh - pick a favorite, and buy in some level of quantity; it’s cheap.  I’ve had pretty good luck with Redenbacher’s in 8lb sizes  but have been wanting to give an organic option a try like Franklin’s Organic Gourmet Popcorn - but at a nearly 3x cost.

Regardless, 8lb of popcorn will net somewhere between 32-64 servings or more, depending on how much you make at a time. (There are ~2 cups of unpopped popcorn per pound).

Popcorn oil, ‘butter’ and salt

So, there’s a ‘movie theater way’ which I’ll detail, and then some variants.

For making popcorn in the Whirley-Pop, you’re going to need some oil to pop the kernels.  For true movie theater popcorn, the oil used for both popping the kernels AND the butter topping - is Snappy Butter Burst.  This is pretty much soybean oil with some beta-carotene for coloring, but it is indeed, definitively, that ‘movie theater butter.’  I didn’t believe it either, but this is it.

You can also use coconut oil to pop the kernels in, either something like Paragon linked to, or something else - but then that leaves you with what to use for the ‘butter.’  I’ve tried everything here, from slow melting of real butter, which works pretty well, but I’ve got to say - Snappy is that ‘movie theater butter’ and it works well and tastes good.

The other ‘magic ingredient’ in the mix, is ironically, little more than - salt.  To be specific, Flavacol.  This is effectively finely ground salt, with a bit of yellow food coloring and ‘butter flavor.’  Yes, you can certainly use other salt, although finding salt ground so finely may be a bit of a chore.  Note - 1 teaspoon is a bit over 100% of recommeded daily values, so use sparingly.

There’s the ‘real’ movie theater recipe, and I’ll cover making it in the section below, along with some additional comments - popcorn, a popcorn maker using oil in most cases (can also try air poppiing), adding Snappy for the butter flacoring, and Flavacol for the salt. Snappy and Gold medal (Flavacol) have been selling this for well over 50 years at this point, so yeah - this is it, assuming you’re looking for ‘authentic movie theater popcorn.'

Anything else?

Well, there are one or two more things, but not much.  I bought some squeeze bottles  which I use for anything from filling wing sauce from gallon containers to, you got it - keeping a couple full of Snappy oil for making popcorn.  Label them if it makes you happy, but I keep a pair of them next to the popcorn, and 2 full of wing sauce, and we manage to not need labels on them.. ;)

I also have a set of magnetic measuring spoons  and I pretty much just leave the 1tsp and 1tbsp ones stuck together with ’the popcorn gear.’  

Recipe: Making Movie Theater Popcorn

Everything needed and step by step

The Whirley-pop doesn’t need much heating at all, as it’s a relatively thin aluminum.  My routine is pretty much as follows

  • Set the stove to medium the first time.  I use medium to medium high, but easier to make it go slower the first time and find your groove.  

  • Put 2 to 2.5 tbs (tablespoons) of Snappy oil into the Whirlypop.  Lots of people say to also put a bit of Flavacol into the pot, but I just haven’t seen the difference, and Flavacol is almost pure sodium, so I skip this part.  Make sure the lid is snapped onto the top, and both ‘half lids’ are down.

  • Add 1/2 cup of unpopped kernels into the whirlypop, and put it on the stove if not already there.  Crank the handle a few times to cover the kernels in oil.

  • As the first kernels start to pop, things will happen fast.  Just grab the handle and start cranking.  The popcorn pops very quickly using this method, so remove from heat as you hear the last pop after a second and a half of silence, and keep cranking the handle to avoid any burnt kernels.

  • Dump the popcorn into a bowl, preferably with a lid, (I use something like these).  Add up to 1/2 tsp(teaspoon) of Flavocol, some squirts of Snappy butter flavoring, put the lid on and shake.  

  • Enjoy!

Misc notes and other methods

So, it’s all about your goals.  For some, they only want organic.  Some might want more salt, or less.  Others may choose to use untouched coconut oil for popping the kernels, or use clarified butter, or melt stick butter to drizzle on top.  

Some may use Himalayan salt in a grinder  or - try for white cheddar  in addition to, or to replace the butter flavoring.  

Others may try using air poppers instead, or even a microwave re-usable popper.

Air poppers can work, kind of.  They’re not bad for relatively small amounts, but they don’t do very well at extended duty or making a bunch of popcorn.  Some of them may have improved - I’d look for one that has at least 1/2 cup measuring cup/butter warmer.  1/2 cup of unpopped kernels make quite a bit of popcorn, enough for 2 to share or someone hungry to snack on - for some time.  I usually make my wife 1/3rd a cup, and make myself 1/3rd to 1/2 a cup.  With the air popper, it would spew unpopped kernels out and was somewhat ‘fiddly’ to get it to both not jam/keep circulating and popping, but it may work for you, depending on how much you make at a time.  Air-popped corn, at least to me, also has a different texture to it.  Not terrible, but certainly - different.

Meanwhile I’ve played with but not yet managed to make a truly tasty white cheddar popcorn.  The real white cheddar powder isn’t too expensive, but also not super cheap.  You’ve really got to dust it quite a bit to get it to stick and have reasonable amounts of flavor.  

My wife alternates between ‘make your kind’ to melthing her own stick butter and using different salt than the Flavacol, while I’d like to revisit a decent white cheddar popcorn, but until then the ‘movie theater popcorn’ rules the roost for us.