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Make Popcorn the Star of Your Next Family Movie Night

Choose your favorite flick, then get ready to turn your kitchen into a (delicious) science experiment.

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You already know how good it tastes, but making a batch of homemade popcorn also doubles as a great teaching experience for your kids. The popping process encourages children to watch for subtle cues—listening to the space between pops, smelling the acrid aroma when kernels start to burn—instead of relying on a timer or the back of a package. And because popping corn is so affordable, and the process so fast, you and your Little Sous can repeat this delicious experiment regularly!

How popcorn pops: Each dried corn kernel is a seed containing starch (the endosperm), oil, and water inside a tough outer shell. When the kernel gets hot, the water inside the shell turns into steam, which builds up pressure until the whole thing pops inside out and the endosperm turns into that crispy puff we all love.

Why buy pre-popped or microwave varieties when making popcorn at home is a snap?

  1. Stovetop: This method yields large amounts of hot, buttery popcorn for sharing during family movie time. Popping the kernels in coconut oil recreates the flavor of movie theater popcorn (most concession stands use coconut oil in their industrial poppers). The stovetop method also gives you more control over the action, which means fewer unpopped (or burnt) kernels and more of the good stuff. Find the recipe below!
  2. Microwave: Most store-bought microwave popcorn contains artificial ingredients and processed oils, which you can avoid (while retaining that quick cooking time) with a few simple ingredients. Combine ½ cup popcorn kernels, ½ teaspoon oil, and a pinch of salt in a bowl and stir well, then transfer everything to a paper lunch bag. Fold the top of the bag down snugly (we love this method from Serious Eats), and microwave for about two minutes while watching carefully. Because brown paper bags aren’t technically microwave-proof, you’ll want to stop the process as soon as the popping slows down to avoid any (unlikely!) flare-ups.
  3. Instant Pot: This method is a little bit trickier, but folks swear by the speed and fluffy results. You’ll need a glass lid that fits the Instant Pot (not the pressure-lock lid you’d normally use). Try one of these Great Popcorn Experiment recipes from Sisters Under Pressure to play with different oil and butter combinations.
  4. Campfire cooking: Next time you’re on a family camping trip (or sitting around the fire pit in your backyard), grab some heavy-duty tin foil and popcorn kernels to create cowboy popcorn under the stars.

Flavor it up! While we love the simplicity of butter, it’s fun to get creative with your toppings. Check out these great ideas for brown-butter maple popcorn with pecans, chocolate and coconut flakes, and (yes) even Dorito-flavored popcorn. Or give the sweet, churro-style, cinnamon-sugar recipe below a try.

Did you know? Little Sous offers a monthly themed kids cooking box that will help your family connect in the kitchen. Check out our subscription options!

Cinnamon-Sugar Stovetop Popcorn

Move over, melted butter: We’ve got a new favorite popcorn topping. Calling up memories of Churros and sugar and spice doughnuts, this salty-sweet combo is a winner for game night, movie night, or any night. Kids can whisk together spices, listen for popping sounds, and sprinkle the spice mixture on the freshly popped corn.

Featured in: Make Popcorn the Star of Your Next Family Movie Night

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  • Yield: 12 cups

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon popcorn salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • ½ cup yellow popcorn kernels
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled

Steps:

  1. Step 1

    Whisk together the granulated sugar, powdered sugar, cinnamon, and popcorn salt in a small bowl until combined, then set aside.

  2. Step 2

    In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, melt the coconut oil.

  3. Step 3

    Add 2 or 3 kernels to the hot oil. When the tester kernels pop, add the rest of the kernels, stirring or shaking the pot until well-coated.

  4. Step 4

    Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid, lower the heat to medium, then swirl the pan gently. When the popping slows down to 1 to 2 seconds between pops, remove the pan from heat, but continue shaking the pot until all the popping has stopped.

  5. Step 5

    Carefully remove the lid from the pot and add the melted butter in a slow stream, stirring with a spatula to coat the popcorn. Sprinkle in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and stir to combine. Serve immediately.