Why Using Your Microwave’s Popcorn Button Is a Bad Idea

Pressing the "popcorn" button couldn't be easier, but it almost definitely won't yield the best popcorn. Here's what you should do instead.

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Anyone who has ever had a kitchen can most likely sing the praises of the microwave. You can have a ready-to-eat meal with the push of a couple buttons (and potentially a towel or oven mitt to remove the sometimes scorching hot tableware). And some of those buttons are even labeled specifically with the oft-microwaved food they’re designed to cook. They’re supposed to make your life easier—just press the button that corresponds with the food you’re cooking and call it a day.

But sometimes they’re not actually the best amount of time to cook those foods, and this is especially true when it comes to the popcorn button. Chances are your popcorn button does not give the correct amount of time for cooking popcorn. Microwaves do vary, but your popcorn button probably runs the microwave for around two minutes and 30 seconds or a little less. And the general consensus is that this is way too long to cook your popcorn. Using the popcorn button—or any timer—is one of the mistakes you’re making while cooking popcorn.

So how long do you microwave popcorn? Don’t use the microwave—use the popcorn. “Read the package of the popcorn to see the time that is required to cook it,” suggests Becky Beach, a food and lifestyle expert/blogger. “Each brand of popcorn is different, so pay close attention.” Some popcorn brands’ instructions won’t even give you a time but will instead say to listen for the “pops.” “You must listen to it, and when the popping slows down, take it out,” confirms celebrity NYC caterer Andrea Correale. A good guideline for this is usually that your popcorn is done when there’s a two- to three-second delay between “pops.” If you let your popcorn cook until the microwave’s popcorn timer runs out, you’ll probably end up with burnt popcorn.

So why are microwaves’ popcorn buttons set to the wrong time? Well, it’s not necessarily the “wrong” time. Again, every bag of popcorn is a little different, and two-and-a-half minutes can be the right amount for a large bag of popcorn. If anything, it’s pretty much a guarantee that your popcorn will, indeed, be done by the end of that time. (Probably overdone.) But, again, the actual time depends on the brand; Beach says that “the 100-calorie Smart Pop bags of popcorn, for instance, are very small and only need up to two minutes to cook.”

Another reason to trust the bag of popcorn instead of the microwave? “Most microwaves have a preset time programmed into the popcorn button and can’t detect humidity,” Beach explains. “Very few microwaves have a sensor that detects it so that the popcorn won’t burn.” She recommends peeking at your microwave’s manual to see if it detects humidity. And even if it does, you’ll probably get more perfectly cooked popcorn if you follow the package guidelines. Now that you know to leave the popcorn button be, find out more ways you’ve been using your microwave wrong.

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.