How to: Brown Paper Bag Microwave Popcorn

So…when I was a little kid, I had a pet goldfish. During this time, my mom instructed me never, ever, ever to put my toothbrush down on the bathroom counter because I would surely get salmonella poisoning. Well, in the 29 years and 11 months that I’ve been alive, I’ve had fish for about 2 1/2 of those years, I do not currently have fish, and yet I am physically incapable of putting my toothbrush down on any kind of counter. In hotels. On counters that I have just disinfected. It’s a curse.

So remember a few years ago when a man became severely ill from lung-related complications because he ate too much microwave popcorn? In my brain, I know that I only eat microwave popcorn a few times a year, that it is a treat and by no means a habit, whatever. Yet the whole microwave popcorn has lodged its way into my subconscious the same way the goldfish thing did and I have since become nearly incapable of eating microwave popcorn. In my neurotic brain, it’s like eating wonderful, tasty death.

A few days ago, we received a comment from some wise, willful, wonderful woman (I don’t actually know if she’s willful, but we’ll give out an imaginary set of cookware to the first person who gets the reference) about how to pop popcorn in a brown paper bag. “Surely,” I thought, “this is a ruse.” I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it before. I was convinced my lunch bag would burn. That there would be kernels, both popped and unpopped, all over my microwave. Then I googled it and stumbled across the fact that Alton Brown subscribes to the same method. Except that he staples his bag shut, which I canNOT wrap my brain around–I don’t care if he is Alton Brown, my microwave is the last vestige of wedding appliances and kitchenware that is still functioning, and it also looks like some kind of alien communication device, and I am not prepared to part with it over a couple of staples.

So then I went digging through my freezer for my popcorn, but then I realized that in June, during one of the darkest, most horrible nights of my life when my tooth abscessed and I thought I was going to die (to the point where, on top of about 8 ibuprofen, I drank some mouthwash in the hopes that it would take the edge off the pain, but not to the point where I considered calling our dentist friend before the semi-reasonable hour of 6:00 am), I used the frozen popcorn as a sort of ice pack. Not totally sure why I didn’t just use ice–maybe it was the mouthwash talking. In an effort to expunge all memories of that horrible night, I think I tossed the popcorn. So I had to send my husband out in the almost-middle of the night to buy popcorn so I could try this out. And it WORKED! I was amazed! And so relieved that I wasn’t going to die of some lung- and popcorn-related ailment from my 2-bags-a-year popcorn habit.

So what do you need? Popcorn. Salt. Butter. At least if you’re me–I’m kind of a purist that way.

You also need plain brown lunch bags. And tape. I’m pretty sure you don’t even have to tape the bags, although I tried it out several ways and had the best success with the taped bag. Again, I didn’t even venture into staple territory.

Alton recommends using oil, but I tried it both ways and I didn’t notice a difference in the taste between the oiled and non-oiled popcorn, but the non-oiled popcorn was virtually fat free, lower in calories, and less messy. So it gets my vote.

All you do is place 3-4 tablespoons of unpopped (duh, but it had to be said, right?) popcorn into a brown paper bag. Then you fold it over twice,and tape it.I pushed the air out–not in an obsessive, vacu-seal type of way, I just laid the bag flat on the table and pushed it once or twice. Then I laid it in the microwave and popped it for 2 1/2-3 minutes. It varied every time, even in my microwave, but it’s the same rule as regular microwave popcorn: once the popping slows down and you hear 1-2 seconds between pops, pull it out and shake it a few times and then carefully open it.

Then I added about a teaspoon of melted butter, a sprinkling of kosher salt, and we had an easy, neurosis-free snack in just a few minutes!

1/4 c. of unpopped popcorn is a great-sized (like, you could share and not be sad) high-fiber snack, and it only has 130 calories. A teaspoon of butter adds another 30-35 calories. You could add flavored salts like seasoning salt, Cajun or Creole seasoning, or even our Garlic Bread Seasoning. So how is that for the coolest thing you’ve seen today? Or maybe I just need to get out more…

Sara Wells
Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. Chomping away on some yummy popcorn as i write this… thank you SO much for this tip! I never even thought to try it! After reading your post i scoured my house for a paper bag becuase i had see if it worked… i found a party bag in my party supplies that is technically paper i think ( its glossy red on the outside). at any rate it worked, and its super yummy and fast and cheap! I think my stove popper might be retired now..

  2. We make popcorn pretty much weekly so I LOVE this idea! More than that though, I love your witty writing style! It's always fun to read your take on something! I love it!

  3. I am an absolute popcorn addict. I love the ease of microwave popcorn, but can't stand the butter flavor on it right now (pregnant). I am absolutely going to do this tonight and may never cook popcorn any other way in my life!

  4. I LOVE putting your garlic bread seasoning on popcorn. I'm excited to try popping it in the microwave now!

  5. I saw the recipe before and it said to use 1/3 cup popcorn. My bag blew up! It was to much. Also the guy that got sick inhaled the smell from the micro popcorn bag into his lungs everyday for YEARS. Thanks for all the great ideas!

  6. No way… I won't believe it until I try it. 😉 Which will be later today after I buy some "UN-popped" popcorn kernels. Can't wait. I like popcorn, just not in love with the microwave kind…because of the butter taste and smell. We have movie night every Friday night with the kids, and this FOR SURE is how I will be popping corn from now on. And we can do all sorts of yummy flavors… that is, of course, if it actually works (wink, wink). WHY haven't I heard of this before now??? You ladies ROCK.

  7. i have made it this way. I did use the staples and it worked just fine. i had to see it for my self. We do a lot on the stove top but this is a great way for a fast snack for the kids. Microwave popcorn always makes me sick. I am with you, its not good for you. Thanks for your tips.

  8. This is a GREAT idea — can't wait to try it!!! Sounds like lots of commenters have so I'll do it today for the kids after school 🙂

  9. Mine always burned when I tried this. Always!!! So I gave up and bought the microwave popper at Walmart. Love it! Never burns and almost no kernels.

  10. I might have to do this for my GFCF kiddo – would be way cheaper than the organic non-dairy microwave popcorn that I currently buy.

    this is such a cool idea!

  11. Fantastic! We make quite a bit of (your) caramel popcorn at our house. I have searched high and low, without success, for a microwave popcorn that is just popcorn- no salt or butter. Now I'll have to try this. Thanks!

    PS- I took 3rd place in the ward chili cook off this weekend using your chocolate chili recipe. Love you!

  12. Julisana–Nope, not damaged in any way, so you could definitely re-use it a few times. 🙂

  13. I love making popcorn this way! I stopped eating popcorn because I hated that gross after taste that's similar to eating mcdonalds fries. I love controlling all the ingredients.

    You can also reuse the bag if you dont mix in everything in the bag. Just microwave it plain, dump in a bowl, and toss with butter and salt. It's so wonderfully cheap and delicious!

  14. Was the bag damaged in any way? Like, could I use it again for more popcorn later? Recycling and all that.

  15. I've been doing popcorn this way for eons, thanks to Alton Brown and the fact that Microwave Popcorn just tastes slippery and icky to me. Smells a lot better than it ever tastes. 🙂

    If you want salt, seasonings, cinnamon sugar to stick to air popped corn a bit better, you can either put it in the bag with the unpopped corn (the steam will help it stick) or spray a little olive oil spray on it when it comes out and then put your seasonings on.

  16. Betsy–Oh, my gosh, are you freaking kidding me?!

    P.S. How did the oyster shucking go?!

  17. I've been making my popcorn this way for years and LOVE it. I don't even tape my bag shut, just sort of scrunch it closed.

    I can reuse the bag a couple of times, then I'll reuse it the final time when I scoop cat boxes.

  18. You are so not sad – that is the coolest thing ever! I had to share w/ my husband and now we need to go out and buy some popcorn kernels and they will not just sit on our shelf like usual – we will actually use them!!! Woot woot! Thanks!

  19. klbuley–Ding ding ding! You win! 🙂 Actually, I have a bunch of pretty sweet (and random) food-related coupons, so I'll send you some if you send me your shipping info. Just for playing my little game. 🙂

  20. "wise, willful, wonderful woman" – Wasn't that written in a book to Paris from Asher when she was dating him on Gilmore Girls? <3 that show, (and <3 love your blog)
    —Cheers

  21. I've done this before and it works nicely! I'm not much of a popcorn fan though so it's been a while since I've done it.

  22. Woohoo!! I'm so excited! I need new cookware so badly! Thanks girls!!♥ You two rock.
    My son is going to love being able to make popcorn in the microwave! He loves it plain (I know. kinda odd for a 7 year old) and I hate dragging out the air popper. I've always wondered how to pop it in the micro! We'll have to give this a try today.

    Oooh, and I can't wait for awesome holiday stuff! I love the holidays and love cooking, baking and crafting for the holidays! Okay, I admit, it's the food that I love the most.
    Thanks again girls…sending that email right now. 🙂

  23. Very Cool! With 4 popcorn loving kids I am sure we will be using this one A LOT. I want to take a picture of them when I make this today and they think I have lost my mind. LOL!

  24. What a great idea! Thanks for sharing. I love making popcorn on the stove top, but I'll try this the next time I don't want the fuss and extra dishes to clean. 🙂 Thanks!

  25. NaDell–If you store it in an airtight container in the freezer, it will stay fresher longer. 🙂

    Jen–I could have sworn he died! Thanks for the heads up! 🙂

  26. Your article says the man fortunately didn't die but did improve after stopping eating popcorn.
    Still though, I never even guessed that the butter flavour on popcorn was a chemical. Yuck. I'm glad I always buy the 'natural' microwave popper stuff and add my own butter.
    Your way is much more cost effective though. If it wasn't 2am I would go to the store for paper bags!

  27. I saw this posted somewhere else a month or two ago and was so excited! I tried it almost immediately and was very pleased with the results. I didn't use oil or anything, not even tape and I didn't flatten my bag out at all either. I just folded the top over twice and then put it straight up in the microwave. Awesome!
    PS. Why do you keep your popcorn in the freezer?