Jeremy Stein - Journal

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How Not to Cook Popcorn

Tara bought some popcorn, and I decided to try to make a batch. Everyone else was upstairs; Tara was reading and the kids were sleeping. I’ve never made popcorn on a stovetop before. I read the instructions on the bag:

Put 1/4 cup of vegetable oil in a pan on medium-high heat.
Add one kernel.
Wait for it to pop.
Add the rest. (I’m paraphrasing here.)

So, I put in the oil and the kernel and waited. Well, I know that microwave popcorn can take a while to start popping, so I went to the study to work on the computer.

After a while, it dawned on me that I hadn’t heard that pop yet. I returned to the kitchen. The pot has a clear top, but I couldn’t see in it very well, so I started to lift the lid. Ah! I quickly replaced the lid. I couldn’t see in it well because it was filled with smoke. I turned off the burner and considered how to prevent setting off the smoke alarm.

The first thing that popped into my head (no pun intended) was that I should let the smoke out outside. Note to self: don’t always do the first thing that pops into your head. It was cold and snowy out, so I opened the storm door a crack, held the pot outside, and lifted off the lid. Being safety-conscious, and recalling my 7th grade Home Economics class, I tilted the lid away from my face.

Let’s pause here and talk a little bit about basic chemistry. Does anyone remember what is required for oxidation (aka combustion)? How about heat (smoking ember), fuel (1/4 cup vegetable oil) and oxygen? What do you think entered the pot as the the smoke went out? Let’s see if you can guess from the rest of the story…

Boom! The initial explosion blackened my hands with soot. I dropped the pot. (Really, really stupid.) It landed upside down over most of the oil and smothered the fire after a few seconds. (Really, really lucky.)

The storm door slamming shut in my initial retreat woke Anna, but she went back to sleep. Tara wasn’t happy that I’d ruined a good pot, but I did mostly salvage it with some scrubbing. Daniel missed out on a great chemistry experiment, but I bet I could reproduce it… (just kidding).

March 3, 2005 3 Comments.


  1. Tara replied:

    My wifely diagnosis of the REAL problem can be found in the first paragraph:
    “…so I went to the study to work on the computer…”

    March 14th, 2005 at 2:30 pm. Permalink.

  2. Kim replied:

    I just wanted to say I enjoyed reading your story about popcorn. Sooo funny!! Been there, done that. Thanks for the laughs :-)

    March 29th, 2005 at 6:31 am. Permalink.

  3. cass replied:

    I did the exact same thing one time, only it wasn’t my first time making popcorn on the stovetop. I was in the next room for a minute and when I came back it was smoking. I did the same thing you did. I went outside with the pot with the cover on it. As I opened the lid it burst into flames. Some of the oil came splashing out and hit me in the knee. I ended up in the emergency room with 2nd degree burns on a patch about the size of a silver dollar on my knee. THere is still a scar from my popcorn battle on my knee.;)

    October 18th, 2005 at 8:47 pm. Permalink.

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