Kettle Corn

Fresh Buttered Popcorn
Kettle Corn

I’m a sucker for kettle corn. Nearly every time I go to the Farmer’s Market or the State Fair, I get a big bag of it. And it’s usually at least $6.

Now and then I’d say to myself: “Self? Why can’t I make this at home for almost nothing?” The answer would be “Because you don’t have a 100 gallon cast-iron kettle and a 100,000 BTU gas burner.” And it would always end there.

Tonight was different. I felt like having some kettle corn. The Farmer’s Market was closed and the State Fair won’t be here for another eleven months, so I thought “Maybe I don’t really need a 100 gallon cast-iron kettle and a 100,000 BTU gas burner.”

It turns out I was right!

So, for all of you with a yen for something that you can’t always get, here you go!

First we need to talk about tools: You need a pot and a lid. But probably not the pot or lid you’re thinking of.

Tramontina 22 Quart Stainless Steel Stockpot
Tramontina 22 Quart Stainless Steel Stockpot

The pot needs to have a heavy bottom for even heat distribution and be at least as tall (or taller) than it is wide, since popped corn takes up a lot of space. If the pot is too short, enough corn to cover the bottom will overflow the top.

Next we need a lid, so the corn stays in the pot and not all over your floor. However since moisture is the enemy of crunchy popcorn, you absolutely don’t want that nice tight lid that came with the pot. What works much better is either a strainer or colander that’s large enough to cover the top of your pot.

To that end, my favorite combination is a tall pasta/stock pot and a big strainer to use as a cover.

Last we need to discuss the actual popcorn and oil. There’s absolutely no need to spend $4/Lb for any corn sold by a white-haired guy, or that has the work “gourmet” on the package. You do want the freshest popcorn you can find, which means that you want to buy from a place that sells a lot of popcorn.

So far my favorites have been WalMart “Great Value” popcorn and Wegman’s Store brand.

The oil needs to be Peanut Oil because of it’s high smoking point. Popcorn uses a lot of heat and to borrow a phrase from Alton Brown, burned oil is not “good eats” .

The sugar can be brown or white. White sugar is traditional and gives a light sweet taste, while brown sugar has more of a molasses/caramel flavor. I actually prefer the brown sugar, however it’s always your choice. They’re both excellent, just different.

However that’s enough talk Let’s cook!

Popcorn – Really fresh “generic” is much better than old “gourmet” – See recipe
Peanut Oil (plain not “roasted”)
Salt to taste (optional)
1/4 Cup Brown or White Sugar


  • Sift the sugar. The lumps won’t go away once it hits the pan, so now is the time to get rid of them. If you’re using salt, add it to the sugar now.
  • Add 3 or 4 kernels to the pot.
  • Add peanut oil to a depth of about 1/2 a kernel
  • Cover pot with strainer, put on stove burner, set to medium-high and wait for all four kernels to pop. If the oil smokes before all the kernels pop, you probably have old corn and need to replace it.
  • Immediately add enough popcorn to cover the bottom of the pot and all the sugar/salt mixture. Replace lid and shake back and forth. Continue heating, shaking every few seconds until corn is no longer bouncing off your strainer.
  • At this point you can remove the strainer to let more of the steam escape. The corn will stay in the pot because the corn popping on the bottom doesn’t have enough energy to eject all the corn above it.
  • Continue shaking sideways, and add a vertical shake every now and then to keep the corn from being packed in too tightly.
  • When the popping slows, remove from heat and let it finish using the heat stored in the pot.
  • Transfer to serving bowl(s).
  • Note that if you have a lot of un-popped kernels, you probably had old corn or not enough heat. Try a higher setting next time. If it’s too chewy, you might have had too much heat, try a slightly lower setting next time.