Movie-Theater Popcorn Is the Ultimate

You’ll Laugh, You’ll Cry, You’ll Kiss Your Waist Goodbye!

In junior high school, during physical education class, I learned a group-step dance to a Moog synthesizer song, “Popcorn,” by Hot Butter. It was 1972, and I was watching The Brady Bunch during its first run.

I am popcorn fiend. As a teenager, I would stand at the stove, shaking along with my Jiffy Pop Popcorn, as its foil bag blew up like my mother’s portable hair dryer. In college, I purchased a Stir Crazy Popcorn Popper that slowly stirred the kernels for a perfect bowl of popcorn, with none burnt.

Then, the late ’80s brought Dynasty, Calvin Klein Jeans, and music videos. We all wanted to look like Hall and Oates—or at least Madonna. I had read that she only snacked on air-popped popcorn in the evening, so I purchased an air popper—no oil; no butter; and alas, no taste.

Today, we have a variety of ways to prepare popcorn at home—from microwave (my least favorite) to a gourmet Cuisinart Easy Pop Popcorn Maker I saw at The Chef’s Gallery in Stillwater.

I still use my air popper while watching True Blood, The Hours (for the 15th time), the Star Wars Trilogy, and other DVD fests, but I add melted unsalted butter and a sprinkling of Baleine sea salt fine crystals.

Something much better than making popcorn at home is real movie-theater popcorn.

I’m one of the old-school types when it comes to watching movies. I prefer to view them on the big screen in a movie theater. The experience is much better than what you get at home.

I grew up almost living at the movie theaters in Grand Forks, North Dakota, on weekends. We only had four venues, but the movies gave me new ways to dream. It also taught me to judge a really good bag of popcorn.

Sometime during my puberty, movie- theater popcorn also went through a growing-up stage. Real butter was replaced by a buttery-flavored topping. The taste was tacky, and the flavor not as savory as real butter, but somehow, we all simply accepted this change.

Now that I live in the Twin Cities, I find we have too many movie theaters. I spend more time looking through the advertisements, finding show times, and Googling directions than I actually do watching the movie.

My first priority, of course, is the movie theater with the best popcorn. I love the big plexes in the burbs, but they use coconut oil for popping and the buttery-flavored topping. Now, I usually don’t complain about such things, but they can add a good deal of calories and fat to your diet.

In a 2009 article in USA Today, writer Nanci Hellmich stated that Regal’s small popcorn (11 cups) had 670 calories and 34 grams of saturated fat. AMC’s small popcorn (6 cups) had 370 calories and 20 grams of saturated fat. I’m not even going to mention the sodium count.

Over the years of Twin Cities movie-going, I’ve discovered that size really does matter—bag size, that is: AMC—small, 85 ounces/large, 170 ounces; Heights Theatre—small, 46 ounces/large, 130 ounces; Landmark Theatres (Uptown, Lagoon, and Edina)—small, 85 ounces/large, 170 ounces; and Riverview Theater—small, 46 ounces/large, 120 ounces.

Not that I’m a size queen, but: “Moment on the lips, lifetime on the hips.”

When it comes to taste, who wins?

The plexes use coconut oil for popping and buttery-flavored topping. From my research, this is pretty much hands-down across the land.

Landmark Theatres use Orville Redenbacher popcorn, popping it daily, and topping it with real butter at the request of patrons. They pop it with a corn/coconut oil blend that is lower in saturated fat than the pure coconut oil used at the plexes.

Not that I’m against coconut oil. Yes, it’s higher in saturated fat, but that also makes the popcorn taste better. It’s like when I make my Grandma’s fried chicken, and add a quarter-cup of bacon grease for better taste.

Both the Heights and Riverview serve my favorite movie-theater popcorn, Weaver Popcorn, which produces 30 percent of the world’s popcorn. Both use real butter for topping. The Riverview uses canola oil to cook the popcorn, and only melts a pound of butter at a time. It also offers a 50-cent discount for takeout.

When I’m really in the mood, I drive over to the Riverview, to pick up some to carry out.
John Michael Lerma is a local chef, author, “lifestyle guru,” and Food Network personality. His company Garden County Cooking offers cookbooks, cooking classes, consulting, private events, and culinary vacations to Italy. He also teaches food writing at The Loft Literary Center. Visit

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