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Episode 9: Popcorn

Posted on Mar 09, 2010

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Mark and Dan take on popcorn, searching for the best way to make it and the optimal seasoning beyond mere butter and salt. Dan attempts to reprogram Mark's anti-cheddar corn stance. Mark explains the limits of caramel corn and the sublime joys of kettle corn. Stove top, microwave, popcorn maker and Jiffy Pop methods are evaluated. Plus, a deep fried hot dog stops Dan in his tracks.

Photo: Flickr CC / superiphi
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Sara Rankin says:

I'm coming into this conversation a little late, but I have some every strong popcorn making and eating opinions. I have used a Stir Crazy popcorn popper (http://www.amazon.com/West-Bend-82306-6-Quart-Electric/dp/B00004RC6R) my entire life and I can't stand popcorn any other way. With the stir crazy 90%+ of the kernels are popped, and it is almost impossible to burn the popcorn. You can cook 6 quarts with very little clean up or mess (just wipe the popper down with a paper towel when you are done), and as an added amazing bonus, the lid to the popcorn popper turns into the bowl that the popcorn sits in-again, less clean up, less mess, no having to find a huge mixing bowl or something out of an awkward place in the cabinet. The heating element doesn't heat up extremely hot, so you can use a healthier fat like olive oil. Mmmmm yum.As for toppings, I am very flexible with what I will try, but if i have an option, I will 99.99% of the time go with a mixture of parmesan cheese-either fresh grated (preferred) or shaken-and Spike seasoning (http://amzn.com/B001O8KIWC) if you have not heard of Spike, you have either been living under a rock for your whole life, or you should have been. It is the best thing ever, you can put it on potatoes, chicken, soups, etc etc, and of course popcorn.My recommendation: go online, go to Amazon.com, to Target, somewhere, buy a Stir Crazy, make some popcorn, put parmesan and Spike on it and enjoy...maybe even sneak a bag into the theatre so you don't have to pay for that awful stuff they have (that is, if the other patrons wont beat you up for crunching away at those heavenly kernels).Enjoy!

Joy says:

The love of stovetop popcorn is the only reason I didn't throw out my husband's teflon pot after getting married and combining kitchens. Olive oil in the bottom with a layer of store brand kernels at medium high heat is a simple efficient way to make popcorn without the need for a bulky microwave crowding the kitchen. The two stealth key ingredients that sound gross but make our signature popcorn tasty are canola oil for the fat, prepping the surface for the generous salt, and the....nutritional yeast. I know it sounds gross--and I was highly suspicious after my San Francisco sister mentioned it--but the taste buds approved. Healthiness be damned.Microwave popcorn? That was really your favorite? I must have tried the wrong brands, but I'm always left with a slimy coating on the tongue.Also bringing in an international perspective to the sweet versus savory debate. We've been living in Nigeria for a few years, and most folks here are only familiar with the sweet although the movie theaters carry both.

Silverlock says:

One other popcorn variation I highly recommend is The Chicago Mix from Garett's Popcorn (http://www.garrettpopcorn.com/). It's a mix of cheddar cheese corn and caramel corn that takes the salty-sweet combo to a whole new level.

Silverlock says:

I have to concur with the people who mentioned the Whirley-Pop stove-top popper. We love ours and use it weekly. We've made regular kernels & oil, kettle corn, and also movie-theater style. I found that packets meant for commerical poppers that contain oil, popcorn, and seasoning work perfectly well and produce popcorn that is almost indistinguishable from movie-theater corn. The only adjustment required is to divide each packet into three batches, since each one makes a very large amount of popcorn. The packets we like come from Gordon Food Service (http://www.gfs.com/en/home.page?).

anne says:

Another thumbs up for the Whirley Pop. Ours came from a garage sale, and it is possibly the best dollar ever spent. Throw in a bit of sugar while you cook it, and you've got homemade kettle corn.

mmontano says:

People overestimate the difficulty of homemade popcorn and the Sporkful underestimate's its goodness. Popcorn made on your home stove is the best, hands down. All you need do is cover the bottom of your pot with oil (Amanda's infusion idea above is great) and then cover the bottom of the pot evenly with kernels. Cover and crank the fire to high and let it happen. No shaking. Turn it off when popping stops. Nothing gets burned and there is no sticking. The trickiest part is salting it. I pour out a bowl and salt it with sea salt. A light sprinkling, stir and repeat. Then do the same with what is left in the pot. I use a kettle which is enough for a big bowl with leftovers to have for breakfast when, (or even a couple of hours later) the popcorn becomes even more flavorful. I use Jolly Time Organic. Orville's is very overrated. Microwave popcorn is an abomination.

Michael Barrows says:

Of the many interesting comments on the Popcorn Podcasts, Amanda's (03/30/10) concerning the variety of oils (especially the citrus suggestion) is the most inspiring. I am a quick-&-neat-nik.Airpop, no extras. Easy do, easy clean. But I also love the orange, lemon, lime oils (as well as garlic and chili) and may even go back to the stove-top for this treat.Thanx, Amanda! (Anybody tried truffle oil?)

Amanda says:

Personally I think stove top is the best way and the best popcorn. Best if made in a pot with a clear lid (its just fun to watch), over medium heat.I was wonder in you guys have every tried to pop your own popcorn stove top and used infused oils, like citrus oil, garlic oil, chili oil? Well if you haven't you should. Also I sprinkle a little salt into the oil before popping which helps to evenly disperse the salt. Now I am a savory person so I go the route of salt and pepper on my popcorn. And in regards to the butter issue if you melt butter on and put it in a spray bottle you get the perfect even non soggy butter coverage on you popcorn.

Sandi says:

Oh the popcorn memories... WE've been using a stovetop popper with a crank that prevents the popcorn from burning,,, great topped with cheddar cheese powder from King Arthur flour...my husbands grandfather used to pop it on the stove and the story goes that he had his own little saucepan to melt the butter to pour on it... my first job at an ice cream parlor in Ma , my boyfriend wo is now my husband used to get a bag of popcorn and hot fuge to dip it in...

victoria says:

Whirly Pop is the way to go. SOOOOO good. Doesn't make a mess, don't even have to wash it - just wipe with a paper towel when done. And every kernel pops. You'll never go back to microwave styrofoam popcorn again!

Mouse from A Mouse Bouche says:

My favorite flavor combination is sort of a riff on the mexican corn on the cob i find at street fairs: salt, squeeze of lime, cayenne pepper, and parmesan cheese. So good. Also, green tabasco sauce is sassy and delicious on popcorn.

Bill says:

I'm trying to remember the brand of popcorn-plus-oil that came in a package with the two ingredients in side-by-side compartments. This was back around 1960, when I was just barely old enough to be trusted messing with a hot stove. The oil part was a sizable slab that looked like refrigerated butter (coconut oil maybe?). You dumped both in a big saucepan, turned on the heat, shook it for a few minutes, and ... voila!... delicious popcorn that was FAR better than JiffyPop.

Tarah says:

No one mentioned the whirley pop! it's a stove-top popper that is pretty fun to use. Someone gave us one as a wedding present and we use it at least once a week. I have to say it was one of the best presents ever! I will never go back to microwave popcorn again!

BrandonGoettl says:

The air popper definitely beats the microwave, guys. I'm really surprised that you didn't mention this one.

The Sporkful says:

Hey Scott -- The smoked cheddar cheese popcorn is indeed Popcorn Indiana brand. Enjoy! /dp

Michael Barrows says:

Hot Air Popper. Cheap, easy, quick, neat, DELICIOUS!Also, why no celebration of the resolution of the Kettle Corn vs. Cheddar Corn controversy by the additon of "Smoked"? I hate it when Mommy & Daddy fight! (Assign that casting per your whim.)

tonyhopedale says:

You forgot about the Hot Air Popper (http://www.consumersearch.com/popcorn-poppers). This is my favorite because I like ONLY salt on my popcorn - althoug I do like FRESH kettle corn, right out of the kettle - but once it is cold I can't eat it.

Spence says:

You forgot air popper.

The Sporkful says:

Superchundy, thanks for that link! I thought I was alone in my disapproval of popcorn in the movie theater. More on this next week. I went on about this when we taped the show to the point that popcorn etiquette had to be spun off into a whole other episode. I wish I'd had Baldwin's piece to further my case. You should like the next episode. /mg

Scott says:

What is the brand of Smoked Cheddar Cheese Kettle Corn mentioned? It appears to be Popcorn, Indiana.Confirmation? Willing to do some more testing on this vector.

SC says:

I second Slate's Rosecrans Baldwin's screed on popcorn: "Popcorn is cinema's worst enemy. Worse than cell phones, worse than Andie MacDowell.""Popcorn looks like sheep shit. Bagging and buttering it only makes it look clammy ""For Orville Redenbacher's "Buttery Salt and Cracked Pepper" flavor:...The aroma wasn't appetizing, either. A bit like burnt magazine subscription cards. The flavor was gruesome. Take the same burnt cards and use them to clean out a pepper shaker. It made my mouth hurt."http://www.slate.com/id/2245901/