Microwave Popcorn in a Brown Paper Bag post image

Microwave Popcorn in a Brown Paper Bag

There are lots of articles about how to pop popcorn in a brown paper bag in the microwave.  We tested tips and here’s what worked for us:

A regular paper lunch bag with ¼ cup of popcorn in the bottom, mixed with ½ tsp olive oil and ¼ tsp popcorn salt (*finely ground salt, or popcorn salt, such as Morton Popcorn Salt), fold over twice and stand up in the microwave.  Microwave until popping slows down to a couple pops per second.

There are a few different websites that talk about making your own microwave popcorn in a brown paper bag.  The big draw of this idea is 1. less money, and 2. fewer chemicals than standard microwave popcorn.  Not less money and chemicals than hot air or stove top, but less than purchased microwave popcorn bags.

I love popcorn (and I know I’m not alone here), but I’m not interested in microwave popcorn.  I have not read a great deal about the chemicals in it, so I won’t pretend I’m an expert on that – I’m just not a fan of the chemical smell or the taste.  I must say, though, when I read about brown bag microwave popcorn, my curiosity was piqued.  Would that actually work?  Reading through the responses on other sites, it appears that results varied.  Hah, time to test it out. 

Here’s the basic idea: put popcorn kernels in a brown paper lunch bag, fold the top over twice (some staple it), put it in the microwave, and pop it until the popping slows down to a couple pops per second.  I’m not going to give a time, because everyone’s microwave is different, but I can’t see it taking more than a couple minutes.  But it’s the details that matter, so here’s what I tested:

1. Should you put a staple in the bag to hold it shut?
2. How much popcorn should go in the bag: ¼, 1/3 or ½ cup?
3. Should the popcorn kernels be soaked in water first?
4. Should the air be squeezed out of the bag first?
5. Does the type of popcorn matter: yellow vs. white?
6. Does the age of the kernels matter – will old kernels pop?
7. Does the brand of popcorn matter: brand name vs. no name?
8. Does the brand of paper bag matter?
9. Should the bag stand up or lie down on its side?
10. Should there be oil in with the kernels?
11. Does the type of salt matter: regular vs. popcorn salt? Okay, this one obviously does not affect the popping, I just wanted to know which was better…
12. Should we use brown paper lunch bags in the microwave?

This to me was a no brainer.  The bag works just fine folded over a couple times.  Although most sites tell you to put two staples in the top of the bag, I refuse to even test that.  It doesn’t matter to me if a food expert recommends it. I might be curious if an engineer who did research for a microwave company recommended it (but I still wouldn’t do it).

How much popcorn?
Although some sites say ½ cup, I found ½ cup burnt some kernels, and ¼ cup worked better (some still didn’t pop).  So basically, this method worked better for an individual snack size bag, as opposed to a big sharing size.

Soak in water first?
Okay, I was curious about this.  Some people recommend soaking the popcorn kernels in water first; the idea being that the moisture content inside the kernel would increase, and since what causes the popcorn kernel to pop is heated steam inside the kernel, then the kernel would pop better.  Sounds reasonable.  I found it made no difference.

Should the air be squeezed out of the bag?
Some people recommend squeezing the air out of the bag first.  I found it popped a little better without doing that.

Type of popcorn
I had only ever bought yellow popcorn, but apparently, there are other types.  For example, white.  I tried both, and they both work the same.  Same volume popped, no big difference between the two.  Except white is… whiter.

Old popcorn vs. new popcorn
Newer kernels popped better.  End of story.

Brand of popcorn
I found no difference in popping time or quality with brand name vs. no name.

Brand of paper bag
I compared three different types, and apparently, a lunch bag is a lunch bag.  No difference.  The question of whether a paper lunch bag should actually go in the microwave is a different question. More later.

Should the bag stand up or lie down?
Interestingly enough, although many sites recommend that you lay the bag on its side, mine worked better standing up.  Less burning, more popping.

With oil and salt or without?
I must say, yummier with ½ tsp of olive oil and a bit of salt put in with the kernels (some say 1 tsp of olive oil, but I found that unnecessary); however, a messier bag and microwave (you may want a plate underneath).  The tradeoff is that it seems to take less oil and salt to flavour it when you put it in with the kernels than when you put it on afterwards.  Of course, just plain is great too.

Salt: regular vs. popcorn
Popcorn salt is very finely ground salt.  The popcorn was better with it, due to a lighter, more even dusting all over.

Should we put brown paper bags in the microwave?
I’ll be honest.  I hadn’t thought about this before researching this article.  The USDA lists “brown paper bags and newspapers” under their “not safe to use in the microwave” section.  They do not give a reason; however, they recommend using food-safe bags only.  I don’t know whether it is because brown paper bags are made of paper and thus flammable, or because they are made of recycled fibres in many cases, or other reasons.

So what worked?
If you decide to pop popcorn in a brown paper bag in the microwave, here is a summary of what worked best for us at TipBusters:

In a small bowl mix together:

1/2 tsp oil (I used olive oil)
1/4 tsp salt (*finely ground salt, or popcorn salt, such as Morton Popcorn Salt)

Stir in 1/4 cup popcorn kernels (any kind will do, but fresh will pop better)

Stir with a spoon until everything is well-mixed. Pour into a brown paper bag. Fold the bag over 2 to 3 times, and place upright in the microwave.

Microwave until popping slows down a couple pops per second. Everyone’s microwave is different, and will require a different amount of time. I have a 1200W microwave, and I cooked it for 1 minute and 25 seconds. Only use the paper bag once.

Check out my other post: Microwave Kettle Corn in a Brown Paper Bag for more easy, delicious popcorn!

Morton Popcorn Salt


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{ 35 comments… add one }

  • Jack February 18, 2015, 11:58 am

    Just one hour ago I tried the brown paper bag for popping corn and used a
    small staple in the top. In less then 40 seconds the staple caused the top
    of the bag to catch fire. It was very fortunate that I was watching because it was
    instant fire and I did get it out and extinguished with little damage. I am doing this as a warning because my microwave is new and might be more powerful
    then the older ones.

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  • Burbs May 16, 2014, 10:12 pm

    Like your site, btw.

  • Burbs May 16, 2014, 10:02 pm

    Actually, I agree with the writing police regarding semi-professional and professional bloggers. Blogs seeking a wide audience are not merely chatty letters to friends. If a person has a website/blog he or she wants to market to the public in some way, then every effort should be made to write like a professional, and that requires taking the time to edit appropriately. However, eve professionals make mistakes (far too many these days because even professional site owners are too cheap to pay proper editors and most Internet writing appears to be written my high school seniors or college freshmen). A professional will appreciate reader’s providing correction so they can correct the mistakes, thereby providing a more professional looking site, and he or she will learn and improve his or her writing if the mistake wasn’t merely a typo. A friendly thank you and fixing the mistake will also appeal to not only the person who took the time to point out the mistake, but to other readers as well.

    Those rules do not apply those merely commenting in the comments section. Sure, I’m always interested in and impressed by well written comments, but it isn’t fair or reasonable to expect everyone taking a minute to slam out a comment to also write especially well. Most people do not write well, so why expect those who are not posing as writers to do so?

    • Burbs May 16, 2014, 10:06 pm

      I tired to edit my own typos, but either the site of the browser won’t let me! lol

  • Donna May 7, 2014, 4:31 pm

    I just want to thank you for explaining how to make this with measurements!! It’s a BIG help. As for as grammar police….you’ll have a field day with mine. Lighten Up.

  • Kira March 20, 2014, 7:09 pm

    I love the exactness of your research, TipBusters! Thank you for proofing the method. My popcorn was delicious with only store brand sea salt and the brown bag folded over twice. Three tablespoons of popcorn and about two and a half minutes in my little 700 watter. Wonderfully popped and only a few kernels. You have a very fine blog, and even the intellectual excerpt on a CASUAL BLOGGING site was rather amusing. Perhaps a higher venue would be a more preferable choice for some, as even correcting the misdeeds of others has its more apropos time and place. Thank you again!

  • Marghi March 18, 2014, 7:58 pm

    Thanks for doing all this work to test these ideas. Making my first bag now.
    It’s great! Thanks again.

  • Lolita40@aol.com September 16, 2013, 8:27 am

    I am trying to find a cheap way to pop pop corn for my Lab , his vet wants him to lose weight and recommended a handful of pop corn at night for a snack. I tried the glass bowl but it takes to long and the bowl gets really hot .I thought about the paper bag, but was’nt sure if it was safe. I love my LAB so much, I won’t give him anything unsafe that i would’nt eat myself.

  • kay go September 3, 2013, 6:24 pm

    Just wanted you to know I used this method today for some air popcorn in a brown paper bag. It worked perfectly. I was very happy with it. Nice review article. Mine took 1.25 minutes, none burned and all was popped. I used 2 T popcorn mixed with 1/4 tsp. solid ghee and seasonings.

  • Carolyn January 29, 2013, 6:35 pm

    If brown paper bags are not ok to use in microwaves then why are they safe to put food in them?

  • Lexi January 27, 2013, 5:22 pm

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service ( http://www.fsis.usda.gov) says never use brown paper bags in the microwave.

    Kathy Bernard, 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.”

    I would say paper bags are surely safer than the bags of popcorn we get from the stores, but that is just my opinion. I am sure it’s just SUGGESTED as a precaution

    • TipBusters March 1, 2013, 10:22 am

      Thanks for stopping by, Lexi. I would love to see microwave-safe bags that come in bulk packages like brown paper bags. I haven’t scoured the Internet for them, but I certainly haven’t seen them in our stores. If anyone comes across them, please let me know!

      Appreciate the comments!

    • Pamela April 23, 2014, 1:39 am Reply
  • SoccerFan November 30, 2012, 3:53 pm

    This worked fantastic! My only recommendation is to not use the same bag again for another batch as it started smoking before the popcorn was done. Lesson learned!

    • TipBusters March 1, 2013, 10:31 am

      Ah, yes! Because of your comment, I just added a line into the article to let people know to use the bag only once…

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Thomas Frieder October 9, 2012, 1:43 pm

    you can buy microwave popping bowls for around $8 that have a small corn compartment and a vented lid to let steam escape..the bowl is see thru so you can tell easily if the corn are all popped …dishwasher safe and re-usable without any oil needed…why deal with all these unknowns especially since paper lunch bags and oil cost money

  • DayOwl May 7, 2012, 5:52 am

    It never, ever occurred to me that I could make microwave popcorn on my own. I despise the store varieties. I’ll be finding some organic popping corn tonight to give this a try!

  • Sherry January 14, 2012, 2:33 pm

    Put 1/4 cup of popping corn (used no oil) in bottom of brown paper lunch bag, folded bag twice, put in microwave on two minutes (will use a little less time on next bag), and WAAHLAA!!!!…delicious popped corn! I preferred no oil or seasonings of any kind. Very good and very good for you!

    • Jak April 6, 2013, 2:23 pm

      It’s “VOILA”. There’s no such word as “WAAHLAA” or “Wahla” or however you spell this word that people are constantly mispronouncing.

      • Jeff April 8, 2013, 5:41 pm

        Her comment was fine. WAAHLAA was just an expression. just be kind.
        In the case of people just talking sometimes we are just talking. Please do not respond so criticaly. (I spelt:) it it wrong will you repsond to correct or encourage?)

        • voxleo November 10, 2013, 4:21 pm

          Well, to be fair, people really ought to be informed that while “just an expression” it is, in fact, an actual French expression, not just some random sounds like “TAA-DAA!” to be mangled at will by those who are only as well read as the internet permits them to be in comment sections on youtube. It is spelled VIOLÀ (note accent grave over the A), and is actually a contraction of the words VOIS LÀ , which literally translates to “SEE THERE” from the the irregular French verb VIOR “TO SEE”, and in effect meaning “BEHOLD” (or the less stodgy aforementioned “TAA-DAA!”)

          I actually find the dismissal of the importance of being correct more upsetting than the correction here. It may be tedious to be called out by the grammar police, but it is also very tiresome for those of us who read when people are making errors that require us to figure out what it is they really mean to say. I can’t tell you how many times I get stuck on a sentence that I have to re-read because someone insists on relying on phonetically (and inaccurately even as such) spelling phrases like “might have done” as “might of done” which is an absurd thing to write as it makes no sense at all. It detracts from the trustworthiness of everything else that poster might offer when I see that, so I think its good that there are at least some people who care enough to try and communicate well. If I am in a research or info gathering mode, and I come across a mistake like that in an article, I may actually just stop there and move on to some other source unless it looks to be an anomaly. But more than twice, and I quit reading for sure.

          I know I work very hard to find the right words so that I might be understood, but it is discouraging to think that it all might be a wasted effort if no one else has bothered to learn them so they will know what I mean. I can relate to the tendency to get a bit impatient about the 30th time you see this poor word destroyed. It is appearing more often wrong than correct by at least a factor of 10, if not more, and I find it distressing as indicative of the quality of literacy among the population.

          We can aspire to a higher standard than Twitter or Text-speak, even when online. It seems like the Grammar Nazis are all that stand guard over what is left of journalism now.


          • Just Sayin' December 1, 2013, 11:35 am

            voxleo, I agree with all you said about good grammar and spelling, however care should be taken not to make mistakes when handing out the corrections as evidenced by your sentence quoted below:

            “I see that, so I think its good that there are at least some people who care enough to try and communicate well.”

            I believe you meant it’s good (it is) rather than the possessive pronoun its.

          • Julie March 21, 2014, 8:08 am

            I appreciate your commitment to correctness but you actually spelled it wrong, transposing the i and o.

            A viola is a musical instrument, larger than a violin, smaller than a cello.

            ‘Voilà!’ is the French expression that means “Taa-daa!” or “Behold!”, and to an English speaker is essentially pronounced “wah-lah” which is why you see so many people spelling it out phonetically without knowing the origin and proper spelling.

            I see people accidentally write “Viola!” almost as frequently as “Wahlah!”

          • biglarry April 24, 2014, 11:42 am

            I love those semi-educated posters who are, nevertheless, full of themselves and write several paragraphs full of factual and orthographic errors to show off their “knowledge” of insignificant lexical details in someone else’s comment. If you were trying to teach the unwashed masses about the spelling of “voila”, you hoisted yourself on your own petard by misspelling the word, and you are definitely on the wrong website. Chill, dude, and choose your battles.

  • Erica September 29, 2011, 7:59 pm

    I just put plain popcorn in a bag, pop until it’s done (different times as you state above), pour it into a large bowl and mix with cooking spray and salt to coat. Tasty results and you can reuse the bag and unpopped kernels. Also, if you find corn on the cob in farmers markets suitable for popping, you can do the same thing with the entire cob and it is quite the event! I sent this as gifts for Christmas and it was a riot getting feedback from folks.

    • Not CookingSpray March 17, 2014, 1:35 am

      really?! “let’s try this method to get away from chemical laden food, then spray it with chemicals!” really?! what is … i don’t even…

    • Al So March 17, 2014, 1:48 am

      if some one gave me a quarter cup of popcorn and a brown paper bag for xmas, i’d be like “gurrrrl, i got 35¢ worth of materials and 5 minutes of my own that i can spend on this scheisse. you obv need this more than i do.”


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