There are a lot of contraptions out there for making popcorn. You can buy a Whirley Pop stovetop popcorn maker with a hand crank that moves the kernels around and ensures they heat evenly like the one I grew up with. You can buy a container that allows you to air-pop regular kernels in the microwave. You can even buy huge movie theater-style poppers that take up all of your counter space.
But the truth is you don't need any of that. The best popcorn, I learned from my stepdad Frank, is simply made with a large stockpot and copious amounts of oil and salt. You can read all about his method here—but before you tackle it, you'll need the following ingredients and supplies.
A Big Stock Pot With a Lid
When making popcorn, you need a vessel that the kernels can really move around in. A big pot allows plenty of space for popped popcorn to move to the top, while the remaining un-popped kernels stay at the hot bottom of the pan, where it's exposed to the oil and heat.
But just how big is big enough? The proper size of your popcorn pot depends on how much popcorn you're making—if you prefer smaller batches, a 3-quart saucepan will work fine. But if you, like me, enjoy popping extravagant amounts of popcorn, you'll want to opt for a larger pot.
An 8-quart stockpot will be perfect for most popcorn enthusiasts. Just make sure the pot has a thick bottom that's also not too heavy, since it's crucial to shake the pot around to ensure the popcorn cooks evenly.
A High Smoke-Point Oil
The first secret to perfect popcorn is the chamber effect of using a large pot. The second secret is using oil—and copious amounts of it.
Most popcorn recipes will tell you to use only a tablespoon or two of oil, but with Frank's method you pour in the oil until it covers the bottom of the pan and starts to creep up the sides. All that oil makes the popcorn extra crispy but—don't worry!—not greasy.
So you need a lot of oil. Frank uses a neutral vegetable oil, but I like to use coconut oil for the flavor.
Obviously you need popcorn kernels if you're going to make popcorn. I like Arrowhead Mills because it's organic, and after a lifetime of eating popcorn for dinner once a week, I can comfortably say that somehow this brand of popcorn always comes out extra crispy.
A Big Mixing Bowl
Another key way that Frank's popcorn technique diverges from the norm is that it asks you to pour off the popped popcorn once it reaches the top of the stock pot. This, again, helps with that chamber effect and makes sure that the still un-popped kernels are exposed to a lot of air (which helps them pop and keeps them crispy).
To pour off the popcorn, you'll need to keep a large mixing bowl handy. In case I haven't already made it clear, I like to make a massive amount of popcorn, so I opt for the extra large bowl from the winners of our mixing bowl product test—the bowls come in a set, which will come in handy for baking projects in the kitchen, and also for when you make too much popcorn for one bowl (something that has happened to me more than once). These also come with lids, which are handy for storing leftover popcorn.
In the Frank method, every time you pour off a layer of popped corn, you salt it. This ensures that the salt will be evenly distributed throughout, instead of just sitting on top of the big popcorn heap. But while you may thinkg this is the time for your fancy flaky salt, it's not. You want small salt kernels that will dissolve into the popcorn, penetrating it with flavor. Larger kernels will just sink to the bottom of the bowl. (Also, why are you trying to make popcorn fancy? Relax!)
When it comes to flavoring your popcorn, you could certainly just stop at salt. Frank does. But I'm a little extra, so I reach for my all-time favorite popcorn topping, nutritional yeast. It's deeply savory, kind of cheesy, and makes the most delicious way to top your popcorn—especially if you've made a massive pile of it.
Red Pepper Flakes or Black Pepper
Again, it's optional, but occasionally it can be nice to add some spice to your popcorn. I like to do this with a few fairly generous cranks of freshly ground pepper. But you can also add red pepper flakes, or, better yet, aleppo pepper. (The aleppo will round the flavor out with some sweetness, too).
Additional Seasoning Ideas
Popcorn, of course, is deeply personal, and there is no one way to season it. Here are some other tried-and-true faves for those popcorn dinner nights:
Originally Appeared on Epicurious