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…


  1. 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?

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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. 🙂

  6. 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.

  7. "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)

  8. 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. 🙂

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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 🙂

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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!

  21. 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!

  22. 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..

  23. I've been doing this paper bag method for years and I love it! So easy, and virtually no clean up. I also don't use any oil – I can't tell the difference, so why deal with the calories and the mess? And I use STAPLES everytime – never once a problem 🙂

    For other readers out there trying this – I've gone back and forth using 1/4 cup and 1/3 cup unpopped kernals. My particular microwave works better with 1/3 cup – the popcorn seems to not burn as easily. But like Kate said, it all depends on your microwave. Another thing you can do is use your programed "popcorn" button – and if your microwave has settings, pick the "light popcorn" option. No matter how you do it, just get it out when the popping slows down.

    Anyway, give it a try if you like popcorn – I do this for a late night snack and least 1-2 times a week 🙂 Awesome tip, Kate!

  24. I had no idea this could be done! I'll be sure to post a link on And I think I saw "Gilmore Girls" in an earlier comment, so I'm not the 1st, but it was the book dedication to Paris (or so she assumed) from the (much older) professor she was dating. I LOVE Gilmore Girls and have pretty much memorized every single episode.

  25. My little boy is a popcorn aholic. We usually just air pop popcorn, but we'll have to try this sometime. By the way, thanks for the fun halloween snack ideas. I made the spider web 7-Layer bean dip and the hot dog mummies, except I used little smokies instead of hotdogs. They were easy but festive snacks (and no sugar! hooray). Keep up the great recipes you guys. Thanks!

  26. WARNING: My dad caught his microwave on fire doing this. Nice little fire that took out the entire corner of his kitchen. Be sure you stand by with a fire extinguisher. I'm just sayin'! =)

  27. Wow! I think this is seriously my favorite post from your blog! I think the same thing every time I eat microwave popcorn.


  28. I love popcorn but CANNOT STAND microwave popcorn. I can "eat" it, but I just can't stand the "smell" of it – makes me gag. So, I'm a stove-top purist. I also prefer white kernels as opposed to yellow kernels – the white ones seem crunchier to me.

    Let me ask you ladies this. By popping it this way, without oil – does it taste/crunch like popcorn made in an air popper? I'm asking because my dad and I did an experiment between stove-top with oil, and the air popper, and I still prefer the stove-top method. In my opinion, the popcorn from an air popper seemed "chewier".

    Also, if I did want to try this method with oil, how much do you use?

    Thank you.

  29. OMG!! How did I live this long and not know you could make regular popcorn with a paper lunch sack?!?

    My mouth literally dropped opened as I was reading your post. I quickly ran to tell my 15 yo (who's pretty good in the kitchen). She couldn't believe it either So, yep, we ran to the kitchen to try popping corn in a paper sack.

    I'm totally speechless. I will never buy another bag of microwave popcorn again!!

  30. I've been popping corn in a paper sack for a couple of years now and I sometimes do popcorn several times a week! My mom got me started doing it. And I do use 2 small staples, have never had a problem. I spray my popped corn with butter Pam and then whatever flavor salt I want to use. I got scared about using microwave popcorn after reading about the health hazards from the chemicals inside the bag.

  31. Fun, I have seen this before but have never tried it. I just happen to have 10 pounds of Cubscout popcorn. They have the BEST kernels evah! Which is why I have 10 lbs LOL. I have already used almost 3 pounds making carmel corn. I am going to go try this right now!

  32. Oooh, I second the scout popcorn thing. They sell the BEST popcorn EVER! Wish I knew where to buy it cheaper.

    Do you find a difference between the kernels they sell for air popping and the ones you're supposed to use on the stove? I know neither of them work really well if you pop them the other way…

  33. Ok, I tried it. And it works!! I don't know why I get such a kick out of this, but it just cracks me up. I can't believe I've been buying nasty microwave popcorn for so long!! THANK you. I tried it with butter and kosher salt. Yummy. And then did a batch of cinnamon/sugar. Also yummy. I am linking to this on facebook and my blog. So cool!

  34. ha ha ha… sad I didn't read this yesterday… not because of the popcorn, but because I own all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls on DVD and have watched each season at least a half a dozen times!!! Oh well 😉 Can I at least win an imaginary antique printing press?

  35. Unfortunately, I am addicted to popcorn. I eat it several times a week and it takes every ounce of willpower I have to not eat it daily. My husband reminds me frequently of the man who got sick. I figure if I have to die a horrible death, let it be death by popcorn. I was so mad when they changed the "formula" to take out the dangerous chemical because it changed the taste. I have slowly weaned myself from extreme butter down to the mini-sized light popcorn, though. So I'm excited to try the paper bag. I'm already thinking about what I can buy with all the money I'll save.

  36. I think that story is insane. Who eats microwave popcorn twice a day??? Still, I like your way better knowing that there isn't any other "stuff" in it. I am definitely going to give it a try.

  37. So, a word about staples in the microwave. Did you know that you CAN put metal in your microwave? I do it all the time! I've defrosted and/or heated pans of lasagna, casseroles, etc, in the micro. I regularly nuke cans of frozen O.J. for 1 min to make it easier to mix up juice in the morning.
    The rule is that the volume of food MUST be greater than the volume of metal. Then there won't be any "arcing".
    So feel free to staple the popcorn bags shut…it works great!

  38. i always only have the "healthy pop" popcorn on the shelf, and my husband HATES it. So i tried this last night, and he LOVED it! He's all about the added butter and salt haha. I even ad to test out the stapler thing, just to see, and it was totally fine! (i should have had more care for our brand new microwavve though!) Thanks for the great idea! i LOVE your site!

  39. I discovered this method a couple of months ago and was absolutely amazed that I had never heard about it before! So cheap, easy and healthy.

  40. I was checking my email for something and got sidetracked with Google reader. When I saw the header for this I had to stop and read. So glad I did. I laughed all the way through it! You are so funny! I'll have to try the popcorn after I get more from the store. Mine ended up on a fire outside with the kids giggling like crazy as they watched it fly in the air. Oh, okay. I started it, but it was so worth it!

  41. Who knew that my little ole' comment would spark such a popcorn popping frenzy! (Assuming it was mine on the Monster Munch last week before Halloween–which btw was a HIT at our school bake sale). Thanks for sharing on your blog. Oh & I am stunned that people didn't realize that store bought micro popcorn is just a {FANCY} white paper bag with kernels & LOTS of chemicals to make it last longer on the shelf. *Happy Popping*

  42. How funny you posted this, I JUST made a batch of your delicious Cinnamon Bun Popcorn and since I don't have an air-popper I did this and it worked great:) I LOVE your website!!! Everything I've ever tried has ALWAYS turned out DELICIOUS!

  43. We've been eating our popcorn this way for a couple years now…mostly 'cause we're cheap! A sprinkle of Parmesan cheese is our favorite topping!

  44. A wee word of warning here: do not use paper bags made of recycled materials, they may contain metals which can get super heated and start a fire. Also, don't ever add oil or butter to the bag. (Same reason.)

    I'm glad so many have tried this with good results, but I'll stick to making popcorn on the stove. (It's not that hard… really 🙂

  45. ok, just tried this and it caught fire in my microwave, freaked me out I didn't know what to do first! the microwave and burned bag are now on the front porch. It looks like it caught fire were the tape was but I will check to see if the bag is made from recycled material like the previous poster. I hope my microwave isn't ruined I will have to have my husband take a look at it. He is going to love this (not!)

  46. Kate, I just tried this and it went over so well I sceduled a blog post about it tomorrow. I'm giving you full credit and linking it over here. Just thought I'd let you know! Thanks for the great, super, fast and healthy way to do microwave popcorn! 🙂

  47. NaDell, if you keep popcorn in the freezer because it helps all the kernels to pop when you apply heat. (I think it has to do with the cold making the kernel contract so that when heat and oil are applied there is a greater chance of explosion from the build up of pressure within the kernel.)

    I am trying this tonight!!! I hate making popcorn on the stove, but it always tastes better home-made!

  48. Have you ever tried brown paper bag microwave caramel popcorn?

    ● 3-4 quarts popped corn
    ● 1 cup brown sugar
    ● 1/2 cup margarine
    ● 1/4 cup white corn syrup
    ● 1/2 tsp salt
    ● 1/2 tsp baking soda

    Place popcorn in a brown grocery bag. In a 1 quart microwave proof bowl or measuring cup, melt margarine with brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil & reset timer for 2 min. Remove from microwave & stir in baking soda. Pour over popcorn. Close top of bag and shake hard. Place bag in microwave & cook for 1 and 1/2 minutes. Shake hard. Repeat. Spray two cookie sheets. Pour popcorn onto pans to cool.

  49. I use white paper bags as opposed to brown (it’s what I have on hand from kids crafting) and they seem to work fine! I did tape the bag due to the bags being smaller. If I didn’t, popcorn would have popped out! Taping gave more room in the bag for less folding. I have noticed that the popping time does vary each time, also. When I was shopping for kernels, I noticed white and yellow. What’s the difference?

  50. Ok so I just made some. Then I decided to experiment a little and make it in a microwave safe baking dish (the kind with the lid). The first time I kept the lid down for the steam to stay inside and it was wet. The second time I popped the lid up in the corner and it worked great! It took a little longer to cook and I think it had a few more “old maids” but I don’t mind that. I like having it in a dish that can be cleaned and avoid the yucky bag altogether.
    Thanks for sharing the popcorn tip!

  51. Can’t wait to try. Wish I wasn’t at work so I could try it right now 🙂 I could really use some popcorn, now I’m hungry!

  52. creepy!!! i was just thinking the other day about looking up online to see if i could cook popcorn in a brown paper bag. i absolutely LOVE your site. i came across it a few days ago and i cant stop visiting it. im seriously addicted!! i made your crepes for breakfast today and they were to die for. (ofcoarse you already knew that.) i will be making them again tomorrow for my husband who when i said the kids and i had them he asked “where’s mine?”

  53. I’m not sure if using brown paper bags is totally safe in the microwave. Maybe it depends on the microwave? I just use a glass pyrex baking dish with the cover on and it works great! I like to spray the kernels with butter-flavored cooking spray and salt before popping. Yum!

  54. 1 teaspoon of butter? for the bag? or did you mean one teaspoon for each kernel? That’s more the ratio I prefer. Great info. I use a Norpro microwave popcorn cooker and it’s great, too. Got it from Amazon.

  55. So I just tried this and the bag totally caught on fire. The popcorn looked fine though (although it all ended up in the sink drenched in water so I didn’t taste it). I think I’ll buy a popcorn popper – after I buy a new microwave since mine is now scorched and dead! Sad day.

  56. Ive been waiting all week to try this recipe; and today i decided that i must try it already! 30 seconds into the time on the mircrowave, i smelled something burning… i opened the microwave door and the paper bag was already scorched and turning black in places. Needless to say, i didnt continue to pop the popcorn, instead i did it on the stove in a pot. Sad this recipe didnt work for me.

  57. I suggest you think twice before trying this. Back in the 60’s, this was all the rage – until the fires started. And I speak from personal experience. I burned up my very first microwave popping corn in a brown paper bag. It didn’t happen the first time, or the second. I’d been doing it for a couple of months when it finally happened.

    Never again!!

  58. I just tried this and it was so good! I think I’ll try different flavored olive oils in the future. Thanks for saving me 20 bucks…I was about to go buy an air popper when I saw this on pinterest 🙂

  59. If your leery of the paper bag…put the 1/4 cup popcorn in a largish microwaveable bowl and cover with a plate. It pops just the same way. No paper bag. No fires. Great popcorn. Try it. My 7 yo has learned to do it on his own when he wants a snack.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.