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How To Ensure Even Butter Distribution On Popcorn

Now that I'm a big boy, I pop my own popcorn on the stove. It's easy once you know how: Take a lidded pot, coat the bottom evenly with vegetable oil. Turn stove on to medium heat, and add three kernels of unpopped popcorn in three different parts of the pot. Then you listen. Once you hear three pops, add 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels into the pot, cover the lid, and shake the pot every five seconds while on the stove—for about a minute—until to popping slows.

My weak spot is apparent when I try to butter my popcorn. My first problem: Deep guilt stops me from adding more butter than I should. Also, when I pour melted butter on the popcorn, I can never achieve an even distribution, ending up with most pieces receiving no butter and a handful of sodden lumps.

And so I turned to Twitter, soliciting help for my butter distribution query. Takeout contributor Marnie Shure replied:

Best, eh?

I e-mailed Portland Hunt & Alpine Club and quickly received a reply from Briana Volk, who has operated the Maine restaurant with her husband Andrew since 2013.

Volk tells The Takeout popcorn has been on the menu since day one and won't likely ever be taken off. Their version uses butter, parmesan cheese, plus green chile powder they get shipped from New Mexico. One of the keys is nailing down the ratio of butter to popcorn: They make theirs with 1/4 cup of kernels, which yields roughly eight cups of popped corn, or enough for four people. For that quantity, they'll use six tablespoons of butter or 3/4 of a stick.

What I really wanted to know is how they get that even coating of butter. I told Volk of my failed method: The popped corn goes into a large metal bowl, I pour the butter on top, and lightly toss it inside the bowl.

Volk then revealed their secret: They employ two metal bowls. After pouring melted butter overtop, they immediately place the second bowl lip-to-lip against the first, then vigorously shake the whole contraption.

If you don't have a second bowl, I suppose you can top it with a lid, but it seems one of the keys is there be enough space for the popcorn to move around while you shake it. A second option is to dump it all in a heavy duty paper bag, the type you get double-bagged from the grocery store, and shake the buttered popcorn in there.

I thanked Volk for her time. I told her I can't wait to visit Portland, Maine, to try her popcorn and restaurant. Then she gave me their recipe anyway.

Green Chile Popcorn

"We're a Scandinavian-influenced cocktail bar that's known for its spicy popcorn. If that doesn't make sense to you, it will after you try this recipe—it's really good popcorn! We have tried other versions over the years, but nothing has been quite as good, or as popular, as this one. It's so popular that the movie theater a block away has asked us to stop serving it to go because moviegoers were ordering it and then sneaking it into the theater. Now, we're not saying that's what you should do, but when you serve this, make sure you have plenty, because it will go fast."


Makes approximately 8 cups

  • 6 Tbsp. butter, divided
  • 1/4 cup white corn kernels
  • 1 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. powdered green chile (available in some grocery stores and online), or to taste
  • 1/3 cup powdered Parmesan cheese, divided
  • Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot (one with a lid) over medium-low heat, adding three tablespoons butter as the pot warms. The pot should be big enough to hold two times your final yield; for the above recipe as written, the pot should hold at least 16 cups to allow enough room for the popcorn to expand.

    In a second, smaller pot, melt the other three tablespoons butter and set aside.

    Once the butter in the large pot has melted and any bubbling has subsided, add the corn kernels to the pot, give it a shake to coat the kernels in butter, and cover the pot with the lid. Increase the heat to medium. As the kernels start to pop, gently agitate the pot to keep the kernels moving. The idea here is to make sure all the kernels are evenly distributed and heated.


    As the popping increases, continue to gently agitate the pot, allowing the popped corn to rise to the top and unpopped kernels to fall to the bottom and continue to pop. If you've ever made popcorn in the microwave, you'll recognize this next step: Pay attention to the regularity of the popping. Once you can count to five (slowly) between pops, the popcorn is done.

    Quickly remove the pot from the heat and dump the popcorn into a bowl that's large enough to toss the popcorn around. Alternatively, you can use a heavy-duty brown paper bag and fold over the top to shake the contents. Gently pour the reserved melted butter from the small pot over the popcorn. Sprinkle the salt, the powdered green chile, and half the cheese over the popped corn, and toss to coat. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.

    Serve in a large bowl and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the popcorn just before serving.

    Reprinted with permission from Northern Hospitality With The Portland Hunt + Alpine Club: A Celebration of Cocktails, Cooking, And Coming Together by Andrew and Briana Volk (Voyageur Press, 2018)