How to Cook Popcorn in a Paper Bag

I had no idea you could do this.


Last week, I visited my friend, Nicole Maynard, author of a seductive new blog called, Our Year of Eating Local.  Nicole is a wife and the mother of two children. Together, their family of four is all in on a journey of eating locally sourced food every other week for one year. Her goals are “to raise awareness of the impact of our food choices on the environment, to better support local farmers and makers, and in so doing, to heal our planet.” She defines local as being within a 100-mile radius of 37215.


While I sipped a cup of coffee at her kitchen table, Nicole prepared locally grown popcorn in the microwave. I was in the middle of asking her where she had sourced the popcorn when she opened a BROWN PAPER BAG full of popcorn, poured it into a serving bowl, and placed it on the table. I interrupted her mid-sentence: “Wait a sec. Did you just cook popcorn in a lunch bag?” I was incredulous.


“Did you use oil?”


So, no special type of non-flammable paper bag, no oil in the bag to make the corn pop, and no additives to season, improve the color or preserve the popcorn. As if to add an exclamation point to my surprise, Nicole nonchalantly drizzled a light California olive oil over it and a little salt. It was perfectly prepared popcorn, simply made, and at a fraction of the cost of store-bought microwave popcorn bags.


I stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up lunch bags.

How to cook popcorn in a brown paper bag.

Yield: 3½-4 cups popped corn (per 2 tablespoons or 1 ounce of corn)

2 tablespoons popcorn kernels
1 brown paper lunch bag



Place kernels in a paper bag. Fold bag top down three or four times. Do not use a staple. I recommend not using any oil, either; the kernels will pop perfectly well without it.


Place bag upright in the microwave and use the “Time Cook” button to enter 1:50 seconds. This is the amount of time it takes to cook 2 tablespoons of popcorn in my microwave. Every microwave machine’s wattage is different so you may need to experiment with the cook time on yours.


When you notice a slowdown of kernels popping, take the bag out. Don’t try to cook every last kernel or you will likely end up with a clump of muddy-colored, smoldering popped corn in the center of the bag. If it gets to this point, it might be best to toss the bag out, start over and cook for 15 seconds less the next time.


You could add a little mild olive oil or melted butter and salt to the bag, shake it up, and have a “to go” single-serving snack. I tried the California extra virgin olive oil recommended by Nicole and liked it on the popcorn. It was much lighter in flavor than the Spanish olive oils I typically use.


What Makes Corn Pop?

Popcorn kernels are seeds, and as seeds, each kernel has both water and carbohydrates in the form of starch to supply the seed with the energy needed to germinate. As the kernel heats up, the water turns to steam and the starch into a gelatinous consistency. As the temperature and pressure in the kernel rise further, the hull ruptures, the kernel explodes, the starch goo inflates, pours out, and expands like a balloon. The puffed-up goo retains its fluffy shape as it cools and you get popped corn.

Not all varieties of corn will pop. For most varieties, the outside shell is too thick. If you want to grow corn that will pop, make sure you buy “popcorn” seeds.

Meanwhile, Nicole and I did a little bartering during our visit. I gave her a bottle of locally made sorghum syrup (Cerulean, KY, 90 miles away) and she gave me a few bars of her homemade hand soap.


Posts related to locally grown food:
How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)
Farming Equipment 101: Harvesting Winter Wheat
Raising Sorghum Cane to Make Sorghum Syrup
Growing Sweet Potatoes at Delvin Farms


Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

28 thoughts on “How to Cook Popcorn in a Paper Bag

  1. LOVE this!!! And now I understand what’s going inside of that bag! Thanks for the hat-tip Judy!

  2. WOW! Who knew! very excited to try this! And now every time I pass a school I envision your Comet in front thinking of your last great post. Thanks Judy.

  3. Thanks for this, Judy! On a related note … After seeing a report on CBS about the corruption involved with Italian olive oils
    I now buy California Olive Oil exclusively. It was not an easy decision given that my paternal side comes from Abruzzo! However, I use a lot of EVOO and was probably purchasing one of the offending brands (which 60 Minutes was carefully not to name.)

    1. Beth! What a great story. I’m so glad you sent me this link. I’ve been cooking with the Spanish EVOO’s for the last few years. My mother got me started on them. Now that I’ve read this, I’m rethinking a trip I’ve been considering to Sicily to watch the olive harvest and maybe I’ll go to Spain instead. I like the California EVOO, but I find it to be milder in taste, so for cooking veggies, I plan to stick with the Spanish EVOO. For salads, I may switch over to Californian. Thanks for this comment. Stay safe through the storm that is coming your way. xo

  4. Judy, I do enjoy your blog and recipes. Jim loves his popcorn and I cannot wait to try this paper bag!!! So much less cleanup and healthier!!! Thanks,Beth

  5. This is great! With Lent only a few weeks away, I like to have a wholesome snack to enjoy. Forty Days of popcorn sounds doable. I’m with Beth on the California Olive Oil. I saw the same 60 Minutes piece.
    Another item to add to popcorn (according to my brother) is nutritional yeast.
    Lots of healthy snacking ahead!

  6. I don’t remember where I read this…the article explained why we shouldnt use lunch bags to microwave popcorn. Health concerns because of the makeup of the bag…recycled materials, etc.

    1. Susan, I didn’t remember to source this when I read it online: the technical information specialist for the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline says it’s because they “don’t know what (the bags) are made of, what can cook out of them and many are made from recycling.” My thinking is that the bag stays dry the way I prepare the popcorn, so maybe there isn’t any leaching. Also, people bring their lunch to school and work in these bags, surely the safety of the food was considered when the bags were manufactured.

  7. I’ve had trouble finding organic popcorn in recent years, so last year I grew some as an experiment. The proper moisture content needed for popping may be something I’ll have to try to get a handle on before I waste (or burn up) too much of my little harvest; I read up on what percentage is necessary, but have no idea how to measure the moisture content of popcorn kernels! So I haven’t popped any yet. Guess I’d better get bold and try it before it’s time to order seeds for this year’s garden 😉

    1. Be bold! I read the moisture content should be around 14%. Have no idea how a home cook would measure that, either. Let me know what happens! I’m going to try and grow a row this year.

      1. I finally remembered to do this! Now I have 50 paper bags and lots of popcorn, and coconut oil and pink Himalayan sea salt. Tried it for the first time and give it a big thumbs up! Thank you!

      2. Great to hear! Ever since watching the kernel explode in slo mo in the video, I’ve haven’t been able to look at a popcorn kernel in the same way. All that starch!! But, I also get now how a seed needs that starch for energy to germinate. It all makes so much sense! Thanks for writing! Next, try the how to test if an egg is cooked or uncooked and making the yogurt. Those were two other revelations for me.

  8. I’ve heard you could do this, but never tried it. Already have the bags, just need to get the popcorn!

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