Food + Drink

Making movie theater popcorn at home!

Movie theater popcorn at home -

I watch a lot of movies. I’ve even started keep track of them all with the Letterboxd app. And yeah, I do love the movies themselves, but you want to know a secret? The driving force that compels me to go to see something in the theater (as opposed to at home) is the prospect of eating movie theater POPCORN. Yes, it’s overpriced. Yes, it’s full of crap and loaded with fat and calories. Yes, IT IS DELICIOUS.

As long as it’s not air-popped, I love popcorn so much that I would say it’s my favorite food (right after bagels, of course). It’s definitely my favorite snack! I make it at home at least a few times a week, and until recently, I’ve almost always gone with a variation on my maple pepper popcorn recipe. You know, kernels popped in coconut oil with something sprinkled on top. AND THAT’S FINE! It’s all yummy!

But…what if I could make movie theater popcorn at home? For a long time, I didn’t want to find out how to do it. I think I was subconsciously afraid that I’d find out there’s something really, really bad in movie theater popcorn, or that there was some kind of super-bacteria living in the theater popcorn troughs waiting to kill me, and frankly, I would just rather not know. If my time comes as I’m devouring jumbo tub with my feet on a sticky floor while I’m watching a Jim Jarmusch movie, then that’s just what fate intended for me.

One day, though, I was waiting for a bag of popcorn at Target in Albuquerque (I also love Target popcorn, and it’s a grave disappointment that the Target in Santa Fe doesn’t have a cafe—SOB), and the cabinet under their popper was open. Inside were dozens of orange milk box-style cartons emblazoned with the name FLAVACOL. Intrigued, I discretely snapped a picture and made a mental note to look up this mysterious product at home.

Flavacol for popcorn -

Friends, trust me when I say that Flavacol is nothing short of fluorescent orange MAGICAL POWDER. It’s ultra-fine salt, artificial flavors, and a bunch of artificial colors, and what it does to popcorn is nothing short of a miracle. THIS is what the movie theaters use. And Target. And probably Jiffy Lube (I am 10x more likely to use businesses that have free popcorn in their waiting area, so thanks for the snacks and the fluid changes, Jiffy Lube!).

Now, you don’t put it in a shaker and sprinkle it on top of popcorn. That’s important. You mix it in with the kernels and the oil while they’re heating up in the pot (or popper, if you’re fancy). Every piece of popcorn winds up coated in the most delicious layer of salty, buttery, movie theater-worthy, totally addictive goodness. Is the orange dye toxic? Maybe. Do I care? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ *SNACK*SNACK*SNACK*

It took me a little while to figure out the right amount to use, and here’s how it works out with my longtime kernel-oil ratio:

Movie Theater Popcorn (vegan)
Serves 2 (but let’s be honest here, this is how much I make for just myself)

1 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 tsp Flavacol

In a small pot with a tight-fitting lid, melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Pour in the popcorn kernels and Flavacol, stir to combine, and put the lid on. Get excited when the corn starts to pop, but listen carefully—when you hear that there are more than 2 seconds between pops, turn the heat off. Pour the popcorn into a big bowl! Enjoy as-is, or add butter (I love Miyoko’s on popcorn), cashew Parmesan, maple pepper, or whatever else you love on popcorn!

I ordered my carton from Amazon for ~$8, and it will probably last me for the rest of my life. There are other sellers online (mostly food service suppliers) who have it for $2-5, but none of them are businesses I’m familiar with, so I don’t have a recommendation. If you’re an absolute freak (which I totally respect), you can get a 12-pack from Sam’s Club for $25.

Happy snacking!!

p.s. Enjoy your popcorn while you watch “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.” It was one of the best movies of 2019, and it’s streaming on lots of services.

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  • Reply amy February 19, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    Definitely going to make a note of Flavacol! My favorite go to that’s insanely easy? Popcorn popped in a mix of vegetable + peanut oil, and sprinkled liberally with Johnny’s Season Salt. It’s mostly MSG, and it’s 100% crack.
    Oh, and if you can spare the storage space, I highly recommend the Whirley Pop. It’s fun!

    • Anna Dorfman February 20, 2020 at 9:15 am

      You’re speaking my language!! I’m going to have to try Johnny’s now.

      You know, I’ve considered buying a Whirley Pop so many times, but I always back out when I think about the fact that a pot with a lid really works just fine for me? I don’t know. I feel like I SHOULD have one, I just don’t know why.

    • Amy W. February 25, 2020 at 10:18 am

      Johnny’s makes a popcorn salt that is even better than their regular season salt on popcorn! A little goes a long way with it.

  • Reply Bernadette February 19, 2020 at 6:48 pm

    This is such a great PSA, thank you! I am a total popcorn monster. We’re talking large tub WITH the refill and I hardly share.

    • Anna Dorfman February 20, 2020 at 9:14 am

      I bow down, Bernadette. I always try to convince my stomach that it can handle the free refill, but I just can’t do it. Maybe I need to try going to the movies after not eating for 24 hours?? That seems like a healthy choice.

  • Reply Meredith February 19, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    I’m also a popcorn fiend and have a hard time straying from my honey butter/nutritional yeast combo. I actually don’t love movie theater popcorn but I’d be willing to give flavacol a go! Have you ever had the butter popcorn in the bag at Starbucks? Best popcorn I’ve ever had. I don’t know the secret but it’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted!

    • Anna Dorfman February 20, 2020 at 8:16 am

      I’ve picked up that bag to check the ingredients, and I’m pretty sure it has real butter in it. I don’t eat dairy, so that’s a pass for me.

    • Karen March 4, 2020 at 4:35 pm

      Best post ever! When I was a kid, I had minor surgery and my mother told me I could have any treat I wanted, I wanted popcorn from the local target-like store (King’s). She got it for me, a treasured memory.
      My sister lived in Taos and people there put yeast on popcorn. It was gross. My preference is popcorn with soy sauce and Franks’s Red Hot. But I’m definitely trying your movie theater popcorn trick. Thanks.

  • Reply Lori February 19, 2020 at 8:45 pm

    OMG! I am ordering this RIGHT NOW. I am also a total sucker for movie theater popcorn and have been sorely disappointed by all of the “movie theater popcorn” in chips aisles everywhere.

    I usually use olive oil and have never used coconut oil. I also have a tendency to burn my popcorn to the bottom of the pan. I’m embarrassed to admit that using an oil with a higher smoke point didn’t actually occur to me. Facepalm.

    • Anna Dorfman February 20, 2020 at 9:12 am

      That was me until coconut oil became such a common/easy-to-find product! I used to pop my corn at a low temp to avoid the burning, and I’d wind up with a ton of unpopped kernels and feel like a failure.

  • Reply Gordon Krefting February 19, 2020 at 9:05 pm

    Hmm, I rely on popcorn to get my iodine. This product seems like a miss.

    • Anna Dorfman February 19, 2020 at 9:08 pm

      Look, I’m not a nutritionist!!

  • Reply Ellen February 19, 2020 at 9:28 pm

    I worked at a big chain movie theater when I was in high school and I can confirm you’re spot on with this!

  • Reply Kim B February 20, 2020 at 12:19 am

    This is so funny — reminds me of being in junior high and getting to take home the huge can of nacho “cheese” that was used in the concession stand . . . Love that you found your thing!

    • Anna Dorfman February 20, 2020 at 9:10 am

      Hahaha. I would’ve been so psyched to take home an industrial can of nacho cheese once upon a time. I’d have wanted the pump dispenser, too.

  • Reply Helle February 20, 2020 at 12:47 am

    I must try this. I dislike going to the movies, but I do it for the popcorn.
    Do you use coconut oli with or without the coconut flavour?

    • Anna Dorfman February 20, 2020 at 9:10 am

      I usually buy unrefined coconut oil (with the flavor), but it’s really just personal preference. I don’t notice any coconut flavor coming through in the popcorn, but I know some people are really sensitive to that!

  • Reply Kyle February 20, 2020 at 9:04 am

    Kind of obsessed with that retro Flavacol branding. And loving these posts about little things that make you happy!

    • Anna Dorfman February 20, 2020 at 9:08 am

      The packaging is great. I love that they see absolutely no reason to change it!

  • Reply Helen February 20, 2020 at 2:44 pm

    Thanks! I love popcorn and industry secrets, I’m going to check this out. The Atom Popper was a game changer in my popcorn making life, sadly the website does not do it justice and it remains an obscure cult favorite.

  • Reply Kelly February 20, 2020 at 9:39 pm

    I’ve been following along with your wonderful blog for at least a dozen years and this might be one of my favorite posts ever, as I LOVE popcorn. I hate to shop, but I’m married to a shopper, so if we have to make a Target stop, we have a long-standing agreement: He can shop to his heart’s desire and I will sit in the Target cafe with a big bag of popcorn and a book. A cafe-free Target would not be good for my marriage. Thanks for the pulling back the curtain on the Flavacol. I’m definitely going to order some.

  • Reply Brenda February 21, 2020 at 12:19 am

    I’m eating popcorn now because of this post … with salt … it’s the middle of the night

  • Reply mh February 21, 2020 at 4:42 am

    just want to say that i’m glad you’re back 🙂
    i’ve been an appreciative reader of your blog for many years and never unsubscribed within my feedly blog reader so i was super stoked to see the new posts popping up recently. looking forward to seeing more of your lovely aesthetic and design and hope that you’re well and happy. cheers

  • Reply Keyse February 21, 2020 at 9:35 am

    Any suggestions on a specific pot to make stove top popcorn with? I’m having terrible luck finding one

    • Anna Dorfman February 21, 2020 at 9:45 am

      I just use a basic small aluminum pot most of the time, but when I make bigger quantities I use a stainless pot and that’s also fine. I think the key is really having the heat level right and using oil with a high smoke point.

    • Keyse February 21, 2020 at 11:12 am

      I might be using the wrong oil, I last used olive oil in a whirley pot and it was not good. I’ll try using coconut oil next

    • Anna Dorfman February 21, 2020 at 1:51 pm

      Try coconut or peanut. Olive oil can’t handle the necessary heat.

  • Reply Keyse February 21, 2020 at 11:13 am

    Thank you 🙂

  • Reply Mimi February 22, 2020 at 11:22 pm

    There IS something about movie popcorn… I make popcorn for dinner every 10 days! I use coconut oil for stovetop popping and add Nom Nom Paleo’s Magic Mushroom salt (the Trader Joe’s version pales in comparison.) If I’m extra PMSy I add butter. It’s so delicious!

  • Reply Paule TB February 26, 2020 at 6:24 am

    Oh boy. Will try this! And also, i’ve never popped my popcorn in coconut oil!!! Why did I not think of it?! We do the same ratios but with canola. And add salt, brown sugar and cinnamon..

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