Microwave popcorn promises so much—a tasty, relatively healthy snack that's ready in minutes—yet it rarely delivers. Most of the time you'll end up with a scorched bagful or a bunch of stubborn un-popped kernels, but it doesn't have to be that way. With a few simple tricks, it's easy to get perfectly fluffy, tender-crisp popcorn every time.
Seriously, don't do it. Even the popcorn bags have a warning on them telling you not to. The popcorn setting on many microwaves has only a preset time and no humidity sensor, which means that the microwave can't tell when something's burning.
Since the power on microwaves tends to vary, you'll never really know what you'll end up with using the preset popcorn option—a deliciously fluffy bag or the aforementioned scorched popcorn.
So, how do you know when it's done then? Just listen. Even Orville Redenbacher recommends using sound rather than time. If there are more than two full seconds in-between pops, it's time to stop.
Be sure to check the expiration date on the package before you hit the Power button. If the kernels are old and dry, they won't pop.
Having a little moisture helps the popcorn kernels come out fluffy rather than tough. Microwave a cup of water for at least one minute to create a humid environment in your microwave, then quickly put in the bag of popcorn.
Let the microwave work its magic, but make sure to stand by so you can listen for the sound of when the pops slow down. Once there are about two seconds in-between pops, remove the bag, no matter what amount of time the directions give you.
Use a microwave-safe glass bowl and empty the kernels into it. Cover the bowl with a microwave-safe cover or dish (preferably ceramic, but the microwave-safe part is the most important). If you want to get real fancy, you can purchase a microwave-safe food cover that has little vents in it. That way, you won't have too much steam build up in the bowl.
The heat from the popping kernels will create moisture in the covered bowl, and you'll get a glorious bowl of fluffy white popcorn. Be sure to use oven mitts or a dishtowel when taking it out—the bowl and plate will be hot and steamy!
You can also add a little oil, butter, and salt at the bottom of the bowl before you pour in the kernels. That way, the popcorn can soak up the flavor while it cooks. If you want your popcorn to taste more like movie popcorn, use oil and some Flavacol.
Another nice thing about this method is that if there are any un-popped kernels remaining, you can return them to the microwave and they'll cook on the next go-round.
Keep in mind that if you favor the covered bowl method (which I do), you can buy popcorn kernels in bulk in lieu of microwave bags, thus saving a little dough. After all, farmers don't grow special "microwave only" corn.
Finally, if you have an iPhone, there's an app called Perfect Pop that lets you know when your microwave popcorn is ready. Just turn the app on and leave the phone near your microwave.
A "kernel widget" analyzes the sound of popping corn weighed against information gathered from several types of microwaves as well as different types of microwave popcorn. When everything sounds right, the app lets you know that it's time to stop poppin' and time to start noshin'.