Which Popcorn Pops The Most Kernels?

I can’t help but feel a little ripped off when you finish a bag of popcorn only to find a bunch of unpopped kernels at the bottom. Am I really paying for defective popcorn? Which is I’m glad reader Wade, a popcorn junkie, conducted a home experiment to see which brand of popcorn pops the most kernels, and which one is the best to buy. They’re not the same. In his test of Newman’s Own, Pop Secret, Jolly Time, Best Choice, Act II, and Orville Redenbacker popcorn, Newmann’s popped the most kernels, but Wade dubbed said Act II the winner. Why? It’s the cheapest, came in 2nd for popped kernel percentage, it comes decently close to providing the claimed amount of servings, and his subjects said it tasted the best. Check out his site for the full results and methodology.

The Popcorn Test [Official Site]

(Photo: H Shap)


Edit Your Comment

  1. zigziggityzoo says:

    Orville tastes best to me. I’ve never had Newman’s own though.

  2. HIV 2 Elway says:

    Good idea, but he needs to run more tests to be statistically significant.

  3. RoboSheep says:

    Or get a good popper (see Stir Crazy) and pay less for popcorn and pop every kernel.

  4. Lacclolith says:

    I’m one of the weirdos who genuinely enjoys the popcorn seeds more than the popcorn itself. As such, I somewhat undercook microwave popcorn by about ten seconds or so to make sure there are a few extra kernels in the bag.

  5. Pancakes?? FRENCH TOAST!! says:

    he didn’t compare to the “plain kernels in a brown paper bag” brand. That is, microwave popcorn without the chemicals that cause lung disease.

  6. mgy says:

    What is actually done to popcorn in a factory that would make one company’s popcorn “pop” more? Wouldn’t your microwave be a bigger factor?

  7. nedzeppelin says:

    we did the same thing in high school once (i promise we had other experiments that were actually educational)

    i believe we settled on the same brand, ACT II or whatever

  8. thewriteguy says:

    ACT II happens to be the brand that I buy from Wal-Mart. If you just want plain, lightly salted nuked popcorn, it’s the best. I nuke mine for 2:10 and it comes out with very few un-popped kernels and no scorched/burned popcorn.

  9. SuffolkHouse says:

    Microwave popcorn hardens your arteries something fierce.

  10. tevetorbes says:

    It’s interesting to note the discrepancies between the published weight on each bag and the total weight (popped+unpopped corn) after each test.

    For instance, ActII has a weight of ~93.6 g but the total weight of all of the kernels after popping is only 75 g! Some are worse than others, with Best Choice being the worst offender (sorry pun): ~99.2 g on the bag and only 65 g after popping!

    Now, the experimenter did not mention if he counts any popcorn detritus in his measurements, like the bits of hull that are no longer attached to popped kernels but litter the bottom of the bag. I think its worth mentioning in your results: he either discarded any ‘bits’ that weren’t either popped or unpopped kernels or the published weights on the packages are just wrong.

    Since he clearly has a scale of some sort, he probably should weigh out the kernels before popping- this would, of course, make the bag unpoppable, or at least change the parameters of the experiment (for instance, popping the bags in another brown paper bag or using an air popper) but he could weigh each of 5 bags of each, say, for statistically meaningful results.

    Speaking of which, the experimenter did not post any of his statistical weights, errors, etc. These would be of utmost assistance!

    At any rate, he mentions serving sizes: I suppose this is what he is talking about, but it seems like the weights before and after shouldn’t change much, if at all.

    At any rate, I digress from the original point of my post:

    Microwave popcorn is gross, dawg.

  11. Hanke says:

    @Lacclolith: I can’t stand Microwave Popcorn. So my wife found a better way; she simply buys the biggest bag of kernals she can find, and pops them in a pot on the stove, with no oil or anything. So now, I also hate regular popcorn, because she constantly burns it.

  12. wilmawonker says:

    the corn i buy bulk at the health food store pops consistently and fluffily in my air popper, best popcorn i’ve ever had.

  13. jaydez says:

    I have an air popper and refuse to ever buy the microwave crap.

  14. @wilmawonker: Interesting irony there.

  15. Juggernaut says:

    @thewriteguy: How long did it take you to remember that it takes 2:10 to “pop” your popcorn? It’s right there, right? Popcorn, microwave, 2:10, BANG!!! Perfect freakin’ popcorn!! I may have to go home and kick her ass again for burning that shit again over the weekend…

  16. ludwigk says:

    @mgy: the most important factor to popcorn popping is the water content of the kernels, which i think is a factor of corn breed. I don’t think handling plays a big part because popping corn lasts for years and remains viable.

    Popcorn needs to have the right amount of moisture to build up heat and steam within the kernel to explode into fluffy goodness. Too little or too much and they don’t pop.

    I’ve actually had really great success popping bulk popcorn from wholefoods in my spaghetti pot. Its like $.59 a lb and he really high popping yield. Just heat 2 tb canola or vegetable oil to just smoking, then add 1/4 cup of kernels. A cooking oil with a high smoke point is important. . Keep the burner on med high, and put the lid on. When you hear popping, shake the pot every 30 seconds until it slows. Super easy, super cheap, super good. Then I top with ground salt and butter.

  17. IrisMR says:

    But Orville is still the best…

  18. meb says:

    They forgot Blas-O-Butter! Mmm…drippy

  19. Farquar says:

    @HIV 2 Elway: @tevetorbes:

    N E R D S. Statistical significance? Weights/errors.. It’s a dude eating popcorn.

    Honestly we need to consider the confounders in the study.

    Nerd —-> Farquar too.

  20. UnicornMaster says:

    I’m a little disappointed Smart Balance popcorn isn’t in there. I love the stuff (and it’s supposedly good for you)

  21. xnihilx says:

    I only microwave pop corn in a brown paper lunch sack. (Go Alton Brown!) It’s easy to do. Plus, buying just the bulk kernals is much much cheaper. You don’t really even need the oil.

    -1/4 cup popcorn
    -1 brown lunch sack
    -microwave set to approx 3:30 stop just before you would regular microwave popcorn, stop at 5-6 pops a second otherwise you’ll burn the kernals

    I put a tablespoon of butter/margerine (etc) in the bag a about a quarter teaspoon of sea salt (must use sea or popcorn salt for smaller grain size or it won’t stick)

    You don’t have to seal it with staples or tape or anything just throw it in a go.

    Also you can put any seasonings you want in the bag!

  22. battra92 says:

    @Sushiwriter: he didn’t compare to the “plain kernels in a brown paper bag” brand. That is, microwave popcorn without the chemicals that cause lung disease.

    QFT! My family (after much fighting) gave up on microwave popcorn because of the obscene amount of sodium. The folks were also buying Pop Weaver’s Extra Butter which really meant extra salt.

    We get white kernel popcorn and pop 1/3 cup in a bag which amounts to like 3 cups popped and then usually half a tbsp of butter on top (or if we put a little olive oil into the bag we skip the butter)

    Popcorn is healthy, cheap and a whole grain and tastes good. It’s like the perfect food!*

    *Bacon is actually the perfect food despite the fat in it; it’s just that good.

  23. xnihilx says:

    I also get a lot less unpopped kernals then I ever did from microwave box crap. That and after doing it this way I had one bag of microwave box popcorn and it was incredibly stale. YUCK!

  24. HIV 2 Elway says:

    @Farquar: Stats nerds UNITE! Give me T-Stats or give me death!

  25. thewriteguy says:


    It took me a couple of tries to fine-tune the popping time. It all depends on your microwave. 2:10 works perfectly for the tiny microwave I have with ACT II’s low-salt, no butter version, specifically.

    From my experience, different brands have different ideal popping times. Also, if the popcorn has extra seasonings or fake-butter, that can complicate the popping time; these things also increase the risk of scorching the popped kernels.

  26. rsd212 says:

    Im a little disappointed in Consumerist, the blog that tends to seek low cost alternatives to mainstream crap. Microwave? Seriously? As mentioned above, pot on stove or air popper…your popcorn is a helluva lot cheaper, and you can determine exactly which chemicals get put on it.

  27. jerros says:

    After years of eating the easy “Microwave popcorn” Alton Brown (you know the food network guy) actually inspired me to go out and buy one of those microwave popcorn bowls (you could use the paper bag & minor oil method he used) and make my own popcorn again.

    You get more popcorn for your money (so you can spare the handful of unpopped kernals) and it tastes so much better than typical microwave bagged popcorn. Not to mention you get to determine how much salt, butter, or other seasonings (like white cheddar) you put on the popcorn this way.

    I sort of feel bad for anyone who eats the bagged stuff these days…

  28. ExecutorElassus says:

    Word up on that bulk popcorn, y’all. It’s about the cheapest stuff you can buy in the bulk section, and it’s way easier than mont people think. Two things to consider:

    The pan counts: needs to be kinda heavy bottomed (think all-clad weight), but not heavy-ass cast iron. The thin Revere-ware copper-bottom pans always burned it.

    Corn does dry out a bit over time, so try to get it fresh, or freeze it.

    But yeah: cook it like ludwigk says, and it works like a charm. I blew my parents’ mind when I cooked popcorn in three minutes flat on the stove.

  29. ExecutorElassus says:

    Of course, my preferred movie-time food is an espresso, a chocolate bar, and a beer, so I don’t get to do this too much.

  30. allstarecho says:

    I just doesn’t get any better than Cousin Willie’s Buttery Explosion microwave popcorn! Everyone I have turned on to it, won’t buy anything else. Hardly any kernels left. And if you like your popcorn buttery and to taste like actual real butter, this is it. Kroger carries it. WalMart doesn’t. Order it online at [www.ramseypopcorn.com] because if you’re a popcorn connoisseur, you’ll thank me!

  31. Rupan says:

    @battra92: Mmmmmmm….bacon.

    Personally I use my wok and make my own. It takes about a minute longer than the microwave stuff but it is worth it.

    I also do home made kettle corn. For those that like it the recipe is deceptively simple. 1/4 cup oil (vegetable, or corn preferrably), 1/2 cup of kernels and a 1/4 cup of sugar.

    Heat up the oil as usual, throw in the popcorn, after a couple of seconds add the sugar and mix it in to the oil (vert important to mix). After it gets done popping you need to lay it out on a baking sheet to cool and salt. If you try and put it in a bowl right away the still slightly melted sugar makes it clump together.

  32. hi says:

    Grow your own popcorn in your backyard. It will cost you a couple bucks and hardly any sweat off your back.

  33. cyclade says:

    Why microwave popcorn at all when it’s so insanely easy to make your own with bulk-bought (or really cheap bagged) kernels, a decent sized pot, and a few spoons full of oil? Add salt, spices, or even sugar to the oil before you pop the corn and man – what a great and super-cheap snack. (And no doubt way more environmentally friendly wihtout all that excess packaging if that matters to you.)

    That said – a clever test those folks did. I’d have expected them to use multiple bags per brand to account for variations from bag to bag that may occur in packaging, etc. But that’s just the picky former economist in me talking.

  34. Finder says:

    1/2 cup whole kernels
    3 tbps Canola Oil
    Popcorn Salt
    Large stainless mixing bowl
    Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil

    Poke some wholes in the aluminum foil to vent, add oil, salt, kernaels and heat directly over the stove, while keeping the kernels moving. Heat until there are a few seconds between pops and you’re done. Melt butter, grate fresh parmesan, whatever you want to do. Kettle corn can be made the same with 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 Canola, 1/2 cup kernels.

    Much, much better than microwaved crapcorn.

  35. jerros says:

    Not sure I made it clear. You can still do the bulk popcorn thing but use your microwave as well. NordicWare & Presto make the two best microwave popcorn bowls (though I’d go for the nordic ware because the presto requires special disc’s to work best and those cost 0.25 each but can be re-used multiple times). Amazon has both of these bowls & they are pretty cheap.

    Nothing special is required, if you want air popped you don’t put in any oil, set the timer for somewhere between 3 and 5 min (depending on your microwave’s power)and let it go until the each “pop” you hear is two seconds apart from each other.

    Take it out of the microwave, dump it into a secondary bowl (assuming you want to make more popcorn) and add your toppings.

    There isn’t much of a flavor difference between this method, cooking it on the stove, or using an old fashion air popper to do the job from what I can tell.

  36. ironchef says:

    the methodology is flawed.

    She needs to make sure the EXPIRATION dates are consistent. The popping percentage is greatly dependent on the moisture content of the seed kernels.

    The age of the corn is a big factor on the popping percentage.

  37. SinisterMatt says:

    For those who still use the microwave to make popcorn (I still do on the rare occasion that we have it in the house), I’ve found that if you put a ceramic plate face (the part you eat off of) down on the microwave turn table and nuke your bag of popcorn on top of that, it actually helps to pop it better, with less left over kernels.

    I don’t know the science behind it or even if I am imagining it, but it seems to work.


  38. mthrndr says:

    @Hanke: err…maybe she should use some oil?

  39. rpm773 says:

    “I can’t help but feel a little ripped off when you finish a bag of popcorn only to find a bunch of unpopped kernels at the bottom”

    *I* feel ripped off when *I* finish a bag of popcorn, too.

  40. BStu says:

    You’ve got a post suggested we butcher our own meat, but you can’t suggest we just got an air popper to save on popcorn? Not to mention get far more popped kernals than with microcorn. I’ve tried the stove-top method, too, but found air popping to much superior in taste and ease.

  41. rouftop says:

    Whirly-Pop!!!! It takes a bit more effort — you actually have to stand around and stir for 3 minutes — but the popcorn comes out perfect with very few leftovers.

    P.S. I miss the “royal we.” Bring it back!

  42. LBM says:

    Save yourself the over-processed, packaged microwave popcorn and make it fresh with real butter.

    Get a paper lunch bag (small). Fill it with 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels. Fold over lid of bag 2x and staple twice (about 1-2 inches apart). Lay bag down sideways in microwave. Microwave for 2-3 minutes.

    And voila – a bag of chemical free, fat-free popcorn. Add butter, cheese, salt or other garnishments to your liking. And it will only cost you:

    Bag of paper lunch bags
    Bag of popcorn
    2-3 minutes of your day.

    I’ll never buy that pre-packaged, over-processed crud again…

  43. nycaviation says:

    I’m generally a big brand labelwhore, but I have long believed Act II to be the best tasting microwave popcorn, and it’s cheaper than the others.

  44. DrGirlfriend says:

    Any more posts expressing shock that anyone eats microwave popcorn, and detailing how to make it on the stovetop? Because I don’t think we have enough quite yet.

  45. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    I have used both an air popper and the paper bag method and rarely have unpopped kernels. I love popcorn, and usually top it with the tiniest bit of melted butter, and then dust it with engevita yeast – not only does it give you extra protein but it gives the popcorn a slightly cheesy taste!

  46. spinachdip says:

    @LBM: For reals, there isn’t a huge jump in convenience from doing it yourself vs getting the pre-packaged kind. It’s just as quick, with less chance of overcooking.

    Before I had a microwave, I’d just grab a bag of kernels at Whole Foods, heat up some oil (some people say peanut oil, but olive oil works just fine), sprinkle some nutritional yeast, and you’re done in under 5 minutes.

    It’s great being able to pick exactly how you season your popcorn – nutritional yeast is awesome, as is garlic/paprika.

  47. jdmba says:

    So, am I to understand that some people can MAKE popcorn on a stove? without a microwave? It would be fantastic if someone could outline how to do so, as the comments seem to be missing any details on such a venture. anyone?

  48. jerros says:


    I’ll agree with most of what you posted. However anyone who’s ever placed metal in a microwave can tell you it’s probably not a good idea. So I wouldn’t use staples. In this case a couple strips of tape should do the job, maybe a rubber band (not really sure how rubber does in the microwave though).

  49. johnva says:

    @ExecutorElassus: The pan doesn’t matter that much as long as you use a little oil and keep it moving. Add the popcorn to hot oil, cover it, and then shake it ever 5 seconds or so, and it won’t burn so much. The burning comes when the popped kernels stay in contact with the bottom of the pan too long.

  50. LBM says:


    I like the stovetop method too…and when I do that I use olive oil with a sprinkling of truffle oil….and then season with powdered salt (put in an electric coffee grinder)…or truffle salt (JUST a dash) and butter.


    Garlic powder on top is a nice touch too….

  51. LBM says:


    “However anyone who’s ever placed metal in a microwave can tell you it’s probably not a good idea. “

    Well, my recipe is from Alton Brown and he addressed the staple issue. Because you’re only using two standard staples and they are an inch or more apart, there is NO interaction. Staple the crud out of it and your results may vary.

    And I’ve never had a problem with it in the many, many times I have used this method.

  52. meeroom says:

    @jdmba: Very easy. Take a heavy bottomed pan (like you would make soup in). Coat the bottom with oil (I use canola). Pour in popcorn in a single layer. Put it on your stove over medium/medium high heat. Cover with the pot lid, and wait. It will start to pop after a few minutes. Shake the pot on the burner every 5 seconds or so to fluff the popped kernels up to the top and make sure it pops evenly. The popping will slow down, when it’s done you’ll know.

  53. MaytagRepairman says:

    I read a while back from Consumer Reports that they recommended the Target brand (Market Pantry?). I’ve tried it. Surprisingly, it is inexpensive and very good for microwave popcorn with more kernels popping than others I’ve tried. In some stores I often find it sold out.

  54. formergr says:

    @jdmba: I weep for our future– it is in fact quite possible to make popcorn without a microwave, it’s how our forefathers made it way back when.

    It’ been a long time since I’ve done it as a little kid, but IIRC you 1) pour kernels in pot (possibly with a bit of oil in there) and cover, 2) turn on stove, 3) put pot over stove burner while slowly shaking/rotating it so that the kernels don’t scorch. 4) it will pop, keep shaking it so that it doesn’t burn. 5) eat

  55. cerbie says:

    @DrGirlfriend: Since the Whirley Pop folks decided to ditch stainless steel, I use a Back to Basics stove-top popper (yes, I have popcorn often). 1/2c kernels (Orville or some fancy Amish stuff), 2-3 Tbsp or coconut or peanut oil, 2/3 to 1 tsp salt, and then whatever else I feel like throwing in it. Just as I’m about to take it off the stove, I toss a couple Tbsp or warm butter in. Forget no or low fat…

    That enough of them? :P

  56. ironchef says:

    @formergr: so you are saying it’s possible to cook food without a microwave????? That’s crazy talk!!! ;)

  57. octoSink says:

    @RoboSheep: yes, an air popper saves money. And tastes better with real melted butter!

  58. cerbie says:

    @formergr: I’m kind of hoping it’s all sarcasm, like wondering why no one has come in with, “credit union.”

  59. DrGirlfriend says:

    @cerbie: Getting closer. Thanks! ;)

  60. formergr says:

    @cerbie: Shit, didn’t even think of that. Though I feel rather sheepish if it is, for the benefit of society I now hope it was sarcasm too!

  61. spinachdip says:

    @octoSink: I prefer to use a large frying pan myself. The kernels aren’t on top of each other as much, and it’s easier to shake than a soup pot.

    @formergr: Use a Mac.*
    /*this from an avid Mac user, who is nonetheless aware that Macs aren’t for everyone.

  62. HeartBurnKid says:

    @jerros: The tiny amount of metal in two staples isn’t going to hurt your microwave (there’s far more metal in those Soup At Hand containers that Campbell’s is hawking), and the steam from the popping corn will melt away any tape you use on the bag. Though, you should be careful not to touch the staples when removing the popcorn from the microwave.

  63. celloperson says:

    I pop my own in a metal mixing bowl on the stove. Popcorn kernels are cheap, and canola oil is too. One thing of kernels and the oil costs like 6 bucks and I get a good solid 15-20 bowls worth. AND you can get the blue corn and red corn and that’s super yummy too :)

  64. SpenceMan01 says:

    I love Orville Reddenbacher’s. The kernels pop up bigger than any other that I’ve seen. We get them in large jars and cook them in an air popper. I’d venture to say our pop rate is > 99%.

  65. chicagojohn says:

    @jaydez: @jaydez: I also recommend a hot air popper… roughly $15-20 at Amazon. Cheaper in the long run if you have popcorn at least once a month.

  66. Pasketti says:

    I will also chime in recommending the air popper.

    Dump in 1/4 cup of kernels, plug it in, and wait for the bowl to fill up. Works ever time, no oil, no burned popcorn.

  67. ExecutorElassus says:

    @johnva: true, but the thin pans got hotspots on a gas burner. I would shake the pans vigorously, and still get some charcoal on the bottom. And that nasty shit never washed off. The heavier bottoms heated more evenly, making them easier to control.

  68. jdmba says:

    Darn it – I forgot to use the … blocks. Sorry :(

  69. HeartBurnKid says:

    @chicagojohn: Yes, but it’s a unitasker, and those of us who worship at the church of Alton Brown won’t have that.

    Besides which, I get much tastier popcorn from my wok. A spoonful of oil, 1/2 cup kernels, a little salt, cover with foil, poke holes, and start working it.

  70. Smorgasbord says:

    I want my air popper back. I like my corn dry, except for a (little) butter. I could leave the kernels in the popper until they pop. There were very few that wouldn’t pop with my air popper; the one I miss so much.

  71. NoLongerInUse says:

    Fireworks Popcorn from popcornlovers dot com.

    I have a heavy duty set of pots and pans from Anolon that I can pop in great. Heat the pan and oil up with a kernel in it on high. When it pops, drop it down to medium, at the kernels and cover.Shake and remove when the kernels die down.

    Heavy pot and medium heat help prevent scorching. Learning to discern the types of corn and what you like makes Orville taste more like packing peanuts than corn.

  72. S3CT says:

    What’s the best way to season a cast iron pot for popping corn?

  73. MelL says:

    I’m more interested in what’s going on in the picture. I see wacky girls embroiled in shenanigans!

  74. ibelli says:

    Its got more to do with the wattage of your microwave than anything. I can usually get a bag to pop all but 9 to 13 kernels. Yeah, thats right: 9 to 13. With lower wattage machines, you’ll get more.

  75. P_Smith says:

    @cyclade: Why microwave popcorn at all when it’s so insanely easy to make your own with bulk-bought (or really cheap bagged) kernels, a decent sized pot, and a few spoons full of oil? Add salt, spices, or even sugar to the oil before you pop the corn and man – what a great and super-cheap snack. (And no doubt way more environmentally friendly wihtout all that excess packaging if that matters to you.)

    It’s because packaging is what they’re selling. Generic no-name kernels taste and pop the same as name brands.

    Here’s a trick if you’ve never tried it:

    1) In the pan with a little butter, heat the kernels on low heat for a minute or two. Use the quick burner for this.

    2) Turn up the heat to high and continuously shake. Sliding it in circles is usually very effective and less noisy.

    Over the years, I’ve found this a very effective way to cut down on unpopped kernels. Also, storing popcorn in the fridge before using it seems to help it pop as well.

  76. FrankReality says:

    I agree from my own informal results, the Act II is the best value of the bunch.

    But that microwave popcorn (well, not the popcorn, but the brick of fat in it) is not good for you – can we say trans-fat? Occasional use maybe ok, but it’s not something you’d want to eat every evening (except maybe the Smart Balance).

    It’s much better for your health to make your own on the stove with a decent quality low-choresterol liquid fat.

    I used to get Act II (regular) popcorn in 10 pound bags, but haven’t seen it lately.