Popcorn Button on The Microwave: Should You Use It?

Categorized as Microwave
making popcorn in the microwave with popcorn button

With the covid 19 pandemic shutting down our public spaces, Americans are looking to make their home a sanctuary. One of the ways we’re doing that is by replacing movie theaters with our living rooms.

To complete this new “home theater” experience, what is a better way to enjoy a Netflix or Hulu movie than with a big bowl of freshly popped popcorn?

And if you’re like most people, you’re probably making your popcorn in the microwave. It’s fast and easy. All you need to do is put a bag into the microwave, press that “popcorn” button, and wait for it to beep.

It’s reasonable to think that the best way to make popcorn in the microwave is by pressing the “popcorn button.” After all, why else would major microwave manufacturers include this button on their microwaves?

But what if I told you that the last thing you should do if you want to make good popcorn in the microwave is to use that “popcorn” button?

Why Is There a Popcorn Button The Microwave?

It’s a question that has been puzzling many for years: why is there a popcorn button on the microwave if every single bag of microwave popcorn begs us not to use it?

There are a few different theories out there as to why this button exists, but the simplest and most accurate answer is to sell more microwaves.

I mean, who doesn’t want a popcorn button on their microwave? It’s convenient as hell. People just need to push that one button, and they’re popping fresh popcorn seconds later. This is a great selling point for microwaves since everyone loves popcorn.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Your Microwave’s Popcorn Button

While the intention behind this button is good, the sad reality is this button is completely useless. Pushing this button results in nothing but a lot of unpopped kernels or, even worse, a bag of burnt popcorn

The problem is that the preset time for this button is almost always set too short or too long. The time that one brand of microwave popcorn takes to pop in one microwave may be different for another brand.

On top of that, the power levels of microwaves vary so widely from model to model and manufacturer to manufacturer. It can be a guessing game trying to figure out the right time and power level as no two bags of popcorn are exactly the same.

What this amounts to is a lot of wasted popcorn and scorched kernels.

So rather than taking the risk of an angry customer and getting poor reviews while they are not the ones who made this button, popcorn sellers will warn you against using it.

How Does The Popcorn Button Work?

Generally speaking, your microwave deploys one of two different methods once you smash that popcorn button. In less sophisticated models, the microwave essentially uses a preset time setting to guess how long it’ll take to pop a bag of popcorn.

In some microwaves, you may be able to make adjustments based on the weight of the bag to help find the “right” popping time.

More modern microwaves, however, have a humidity sensor to help gauge the popcorn’s progress.

The sensor detects the steam released as the kernels are popping and uses that information to help the microwave determine when the popping is almost done.

Once it’s deemed there’s not much popping taking place, the microwave starts a countdown to shut itself off.

While using a steam sensor to determine the progress of a bag of popcorn may sound like a great idea, the problem is there are so many factors that influence the final results. This cause different user to have different experiences.

Some users may find their bag of popcorn turns out to be burnt, while others may find it perfectly popped. Therefore, the only way to know if your sensor-based popcorn button really works or not is to try it yourself.

For my experiment, I used two different size bags of popcorn. The smaller bag had a recommended cooking time of 1 – 1½ minutes, and the larger bag had a recommended cooking time of 2–2½ minutes.

I wanted to see if there was a difference in the final product depending on the size of the bag. I also wanted to see if the popcorn setting on my microwave did its job.

Surprisingly, both bags cooked perfectly. There were no kernels left unpopped nor any burnt popcorn at all.

How Can You Make Better Popcorn in a Microwave Without Using The “Popcorn” Button?”

If your microwave doesn’t have a popcorn button, or if the popcorn button doesn’t seem to be working correctly, don’t worry – there’s still a way to make perfect popcorn.

You just need to listen. Listening to the pop is a time-tested method that’s been used to make perfect popcorn for years, and it’ll work wonderfully in any microwave.

When you’re popping the kernels, you should hear a fast “popping” sound that slows down gradually. You can stop microwaving as soon as you hear the popping slow down and be confident that you’ll get good results.

There are also other techniques that people use to make their microwave popcorn pop perfectly.

Some users swear by placing a cup of water in the microwave and preheating it for one minute on high before putting the bag of popcorn in. The preheated water should theoretically help distribute the heat evenly so that there are no unpopped kernels.

Another technique involves ditching the bag completely and popping the kernels in a microwave-safe glass bowl.

When using this technique, make sure the bowl is adequately covered to keep the steam inside. The steam is what helps make the popcorn pop.

The caveat is that you need to take extra care, always use oven mitts when handling the bowl out of the microwave because it will be very hot to the touch, and you could easily burn yourself.

If you’re not sure which method to use, just stick to the most proven method: listening. Popping popcorn by listening to the sound it makes is a time-tested method that will always work well.


It turns out that the “popcorn” button on microwaves is not always the best way to make popcorn. Most often than not, it is better to avoid it.

So if you want to make good popcorn in the microwave without using the “popcorn” button, what should you do? All you need to do is listen. When you hear the kernels pop slower and slower, stop the microwave.

You’re guaranteed to get perfect popcorn every time if you follow this simple tip.

By Rosie Elliott

I’m Rosie. I’m a professional chef with experience in Western, Mediterranean, and Italian cuisine. I’ve been cooking for over 15 years, and I have two daughters that keep me busy!