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When making popcorn what is the best practice?

  • Cover the pan lid completely?

  • Leave a small vent to let the heat out?

I have always got mixed responses to my query, where some say cover it completely and some say you should leave it a bit open so that the heat/steam lets out.

Can someone share their personal experiences with both the methods and which one is more appropriate?

4 Answers 4

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I have a theatre-style popcorn machine that lets the steam escape (ever so slightly) as the pot is overflowing. When I want to make a smaller batch, I do it the old-fashioned way: in a fully covered saucepan on the stove. When both are preheated properly, oiled and salted properly, it's hard to tell the difference. I do know this: a tightly covered pot will heat up more quickly (because it's retaining more heat), resulting in the kernels popping a little faster. That's simple science.

From the time the popcorn starts popping until it's removed from the heat, it's only a very short time. The average popped kernel is probably in that environment for a minute or less. Whatever steam the popcorn absorbs in the covered pan it quickly lets off when poured into the open bowl.

There might be a minor difference, but if you have to ask, you are probably better at making nearly perfect popcorn than anyone you're likely to ask. Getting the heat, oil, salt, and other flavorings right along with having fresh kernels of a variety that pops to your liking are going to have far more effect on the finished product than minor venting of heat and steam during the popping process. Once you have perfected the rest of the process, you'll be able to tell for yourself whether to cover tightly or not has much effect.

The great thing about figuring it out for yourself is all the popcorn you get to eat. :-)

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  • Thanks a lot for such detailed explanation :) And I truly agree that finding it out yourself is the best way!
    – Zeba
    May 16, 2017 at 13:59
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Even covered is not a seal unless it is a pressure cooker. The steam will get out. I see no purpose in leaving a vent.

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Venting steam is critical to fluffy popcorn. The trapped steam makes popcorn chewier. I’m not saying you don’t get popcorn if it’s covered but it’s much lighter and fluffy or if it’s vented.

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  • Welcome to SA! You're responding to an old question that already has an accepted answer. You should only do this if you have substantial new information to add as an answer, such as the results of personal experimentation.
    – FuzzyChef
    Feb 9, 2023 at 23:27
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When I read everywhere on-line that you have to let the steam out to avoid chewy, dense fluffs, I took that as you have to get the steam out as quickly and as totally as possible. So, I began popping with the lid fully seated (to avoid oil and kernels escaping the gaps from a tilted lid), but when there was an inch of popped corn in the large 6 quart pot, I replaced the lid with a screen sieve/strainer. It's diameter perfectly matched the pot and would "snap" in to place. It's inverted bowl shape gave the popcorn all the room it needed and, of course, allowed the steam to escape totally unhindered. I thought I was a genius, simulating one of those movie theater poppers. But EVERY time, the popped fluff was dense and chewy. What was I doing wrong?

After many months of this suffering, I tried the exact opposite. I poured 1/2 cup of kernels into 2 or 3 tablespoons of melting coconut oil and let them both heat up over medium heat (ceramic stove top), doing a quick up/down shake of the pot every 15 seconds or so to evenly jostle and rearranged the kernels for even heating. I kept the lid on the pot during the entire time, aggressively shaking the pot several times after the pot became full to giggle the unpopped kernels back down to the bottom of the pot.

When half full, I tilted the lid to let extra steam out. The result? VERY crispy and light fluffs, just like theater popped! Point of this story? Steamy heat is CRITICAL for crispy fluffs! It will fully escape after pouring into your serving bowl.

The right amount of light oil is also necessary, so that its vaporized splatters coat the popped kernels, keeping room humidity out when cooled to room temp. Humidity is what makes crispy snacks go "stale."

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