How to Make Popcorn on the Stove — Best Flavor, Best Oil

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Follow Me on Pinterest Inspired by the news that popcorn is loaded with antioxidants and, really, inspired by popcorn itself, we have been on a quest to make exquisite popcorn.

My requirements are that the popcorn taste great and that it not lead to slow death with the added ingredients or with the cooking process itself.

In conducting many home kitchen experiments (and the required extensive sampling), I will say that the stove top is by far the tastiest path to popcorn because the corn actually pops in oil. Popcorn cookery that pops the corn in oil will certainly work as well. An air popper with butter added later will never achieve the flavor you can get if you pop your popcorn in oil.

Cooking popcorn in oil on the stove top brings an immediate dilemma: What oil has the heat stability to pop your corn and not oxidize at the same time?

Here the requirement that the corn not lead to slow death becomes relevant. All of our bodies face heavy oxidation loads and the last thing we need is to add more oxidative stress in the form of stove top popcorn, cooked in oil inappropriate for the popping temperature.

The Popping Temperature

All of this begs the question: What temperature does a popcorn kernel need to pop?

One peer review study on popcorn suggests that the internal temperature must reach 350 degrees. NASA reports here that it must reach 450 degrees. One reason for this difference of 100 degrees could simply be that the oil itself must be hotter than 350 if the internal temperature of the popcorn kernel is going to hit 350 degrees anytime soon.

Whatever the ideal popping temperature is, if the popcorn does not get hot enough, much of your corn will not pop — temperature definitely matters for good popcorn. According to these sources, we can expect decent popping rates somewhere between 350 and 450 degrees. I find in my kitchen that NASA’s number may be closer to the ideal popping temperature needed in the oil itself.

If you are into oils you already see the dilemma: Most oils reach their smoke point below 400 degrees and are probably off the list immediately.

Hoping that was not the case, I popped a few rounds of popcorn in butter and coconut oil trying to keep careful control of the stove top temperature. The flavor would be divine, so it was worth a shot. I found it difficult to pop anything without smoking up my kitchen. It is a pity indeed.

I moved on to a more heat-stable oil next testing palm shortening. In terms of smoking, palm shortening was far better than butter and coconut oil for popcorn but I still had to watch it very carefully to keep it from smoking and I still was not all that successful. Many of the kernels did not pop.

Palm shortening has a smoke point of 425 degrees and it was still difficult to get a smoke-free popcorn cooking up in the kitchen. As I said, the NASA report of 450 degrees fits my own kitchen experience. I looked for oil with an even higher smoke point and I found safflower oil.

With safflower oil, I did not have to fuss as much with the temperature of my pan (though I was still careful). I had far more kernels actually pop.


Follow Me on Pinterest Compare the performance in your own kitchen: An oil stressed at its smoke point will obviously smoke but as it reaches that point, a sensitive nose will catch a change in the odor coming off the pan. After the popcorn is popped, you may also see slight yellowing in the oil residue that remains. If your oil smokes and if it burns slightly and sticks to your pan, you are eating food that is adding to your oxidative load.

I was pleased using safflower oil that my pan came out clean after popping the corn, as pictured here. It took no effort to wash it.

Safflower Oil

Safflower oil turns out to be a decent choice for any high-heat cooking such as roasting. I now keep it in my pantry as a stock item. Unlike many vegetable oils, it is actually a monsaturated oil like olive oil, but it has a smoke point of over 500 degrees. It is low in Omega 6 fatty acids (less than 13%), a fat we do try to avoid. (Find its nutrient profile at the USDA.) It compares well to other popular oils on the market for both the smoke point and the fat profile itself.

(Note from the comments below that I am suggesting a high monosaturated fat oil. There is another safflower oil high in polyunsaturated fats that is causing confusion with this one. You can be sure you have the right one if the label says it is a “high oleic” oil — and most of what you’ll find in the market is this better type.)


Of course, you will want to add melted butter to your finished popcorn. Do not use butter substitutes — they tend to be high in Omega 6 fatty acids, implicated in heart disease, depression, and diabetes. Saturated fat from butter balanced by fresh produce and whole grains is part of a healthy diet. Conveniently, popcorn is a whole grain. :)

I have it from a reliable source that in heaven the smoke point of butter is 500 degrees and we will cook our heavenly popcorn in butter. Here on earth, butter smokes at about 350 degrees requiring that we add it after popping.

Genetically Modified Popcorn or Safflower Oil?

In your shopping, rest assured that there is no genetically modified (GM) popcorn or safflower oil on the market. Keep your eyes open of safflower oil because it is becoming an increasingly popular substitute in commercial baking.

Stove Top Popcorn Recipe

To indulge in exquisitely flavored popcorn in your own house, this is the basic process we follow.


  • 2 tablespoons safflower oil

  • 1/2 cup popcorn
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Salt to taste


  1. Using a sauce pan or small soup pot, cover the bottom of the pot in safflower oil (about two tablespoons).

  2. Add 3 popcorn kernels and place a lid on the pot.
  3. Turn your burner on high for a moment and then turn down to medium high.
  4. In the meantime, slowly melt your butter in a separate pan.
  5. When your popcorn kernels have popped, your oil has reached popping temperature. Add more kernels to fill the bottom of the pot in a single layer (about a half cup).
  6. Place the lid on the pot.
  7. When the kernels start popping, lift the covered pot off the flame and shake it.
  8. Place the pot on the flame for a few seconds and then shake again.
  9. When the popping slows, turn off the flame to reduce the heat and avoid burning kernels.
  10. As popping stops, remove the lid and pour the popcorn into a large bowl.
  11. Drizzle butter over the popcorn and stir well.
  12. Salt and stir. Taste for salt and butter and make adjustments.

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15 Responses to How to Make Popcorn on the Stove — Best Flavor, Best Oil
  1. Denise

    Free Radicals

    Safflower oil is one of several widely used polyunsaturated fatty acids, each of which has two or more double bonds, according to Mary G. Enig and Sally Fallon, authors of “Eat Fat, Lose Fat.” In chemistry, a double bond is a covalent bond in which two electron pairs are shared between two atoms. Safflower oil itself has two double bonds and is a linoleic acid, or omega-6 fatty acid. Because polyunsaturated fatty acids have bends or turns at the sites of double bonds, they do not pack together readily, staying in liquid form even when refrigerated. Enig and Fallon point out that such oils are highly reactive, forming free radicals when they are subjected to heat or oxygen, such as occurs during processing, extraction and cooking. Free radicals, in turn, have been implicated as causative factors in a variety of illnesses and disorders, including heart disease and cancer. To avoid the threat posed by free radicals, Enig and Fallon recommend that consumers strictly limit their use of industrially processed polyunsaturated oils, including safflower, corn, soy and sunflower oils.

    • Amanda Rose

      Free radicals is exactly the concern which is why you need a heat-stable oil for popcorn. Enig is referring to a high Omega 6 safflower oil. I am referring to a high monsaturated fat safflower oil.

  2. Denise

    Just use an air popper and drizzle on half coconut oil and half butter – delicious!

    Unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, balance hormones, strengthen the immune system, and prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, and all types of inflammation. Some polyunsaturated fatty acids are so important to health that they are called essential fatty acids, or EFAs — you literally can’t be healthy without them. Polyunsaturated vegetable oils are the safest fats for cooking, especially deep-fat frying, and they’re the key ingredients in healthful salad dressings. Canola oil, flax seed oil, soy oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and other polyunsaturated vegetable oils are today’s true health foods.


    “Wrong on all counts,” says Ray Peat, Ph.D., a physiologist who has studied hormones and dietary fats since 1968. According to Peat, every one of the above statements is incorrect. In fact, he says, the polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs in vegetable seed oils are the bane of human health — they actually cause cancer, diabetes, obesity, aging, thrombosis, arthritis, and immunodeficiencies. Their only appropriate use, he says, is as ingredients in paints and varnishes.

    Peat is not alone, for a growing number of reputable researchers, medical doctors, nutritionists, and health care practitioners share his views. Their discoveries, they say, may save your life.

    What’s wrong with vegetable oils? The main problem is that polyunsaturated oils contain long-chain fatty acids, which are extremely fragile and unstable. “The unsaturated oils in some cooked foods become rancid in just a few hours even when refrigerated,” says Peat, “and that’s responsible for the stale taste of leftover foods. Eating slightly stale food with polyunsaturated oils isn’t more harmful than eating the same oils when fresh, since the oils will oxidize at a much higher rate once they are in the body. As soon as a polyunsaturated vegetable oil enters the body, it is exposed to temperatures high enough to cause its toxic decomposition, especially when combined with a continuous supply of oxygen and catalysts such as iron.”

    • Amanda Rose

      Denise — Peat is referring to a high Omega 6 safflower oil. I am referring to a high oleic safflower oil.

    • Amanda Rose

      An air popper definitely solves the smoke point problem, but it just doesn’t have the flavor and I was going for flavor :)

  3. Carol

    We use 100% coconut oil. Seems to work really good and not smoke at all.

  4. Sharon

    My husband has excellent success with sunflower oil.

    • Deb Frost

      I haven’t tried it but, wouldn’t ghee work?

      • Amanda Rose

        That does have a higher smoke point, but it’s more in the range of the palm oil. I may try it one of these days.


  5. Warning: Some safflower oil (and like many sunflower oils) can have extreme levels of O6 (it depends on the type):

    Even at 13% O6, you have to remember it has virtually no omega 3 (unlike olive oil), so unless you are eating heaps of fish or brains, it is still sending your O6:03 ratio into the danger zones.

    The only vegetable oil that really competes with tallow (beef/lamb fat) for cooking is macadamia oil, with a really low 5% Polyunsaturated fat and a good balance of O3 to O6.

    • Amanda Rose


      The safflower oil I’m suggesting is the type high in monosaturated fat.

      Lard and tallow are great but have a smoke point of 400 or less. They are higher than coconut oil and may be as high as palm shortening which I also wasn’t able to get to work. I actually wrote a book that included a good bit of information on Omega 3/6 balance and it is my first approach to choosing oils, but we’re talking about a high heat context here wit 2 tbs of oil in a large bowl of popcorn. If 2 tbs has 6 teaspoons and one teaspoon is left smeared in the pan, there is half a teaspoon of Omega 6 fats in a bowl of popcorn serving 6 people. What I am suggesting in this article is that I would take that portion of Omega 6 over 2 tbs of rancid, cancer-causing oil. I appreciate that coconut oil and lard lovers read this website (and I’ve got 8 gallons of coconut oil in my house right now), but I don’t intend to eat ANY oil that has reached its smoke point.

      With respect,

  6. Karen Wear

    I’ve had great success with 100% coconut oil as well. I sprinkle the oil and kernels with Himalayan Pink Salt before popping and think the popcorn tastes great even without adding butter.

  7. Cheryl

    Hmmm, macadamia nut oil sounds pretty good (albeit expensive! :D )

    I always pop my popcorn in 100% coconut oil, at medium heat on my electric stove top in my heavy-bottom stainless steel popcorn popper (that I got for a STEAL at Salvation Army! :D ) All my kernels always pop, no burned oil, never have to worry ’bout cleaning the pan. Plus popcorn in coconut oil is so delicious, I couldn’t eat it any other way – doesn’t even need butter!

  8. I think not only Safflower Oil but also vegetable oil we may use.

  9. I prefer to use coconut oil, although it’s a little hard for the trick in order not smoking. But I want to try safflower oil too as you describe for the better quality of oil :D

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