Why the Second Bowl of Popcorn Pops Better in the Microwave

Popcorn Pops

Why the Second Bowl of Popcorn Pops Better in the Microwave (and How to Capitalize on It)

Have you ever wondered why the second bowl of popcorn pops better in the microwave? In this article, we will explore the factors that contribute to this phenomenon and how you can take advantage of them. From heat distribution and moisture content to susceptor technology and popcorn quality, each element plays a role in achieving optimal popping results. Join us as we uncover the secrets behind the perfect bowl of microwave popcorn.

Key Facts

  1. Heat distribution: Microwaves heat food by emitting electromagnetic waves that excite water molecules, generating heat. In the case of popcorn, the heat causes the moisture inside the kernel to turn into steam, which builds pressure until the kernel pops open. The heat distribution in the microwave can vary, and it is important to ensure even heating for optimal popcorn popping.
  2. Moisture content: The moisture content of the popcorn kernels plays a crucial role in the popping process. If the kernels are too dry, they may not pop properly. On the other hand, if they are too moist, they may become chewy or burn. It is recommended to store popcorn kernels in a cool, dry place to maintain their moisture content.
  3. Susceptor technology: Some microwave popcorn bags contain a susceptor, which is a material that absorbs microwave energy and converts it into heat. The susceptor helps to evenly distribute the heat and promote more efficient popping. However, not all microwave popcorn bags have a susceptor, and the presence of a susceptor does not necessarily guarantee better popping results.
  4. Popcorn quality: The quality of the popcorn kernels can also affect the popping results. Fresh, high-quality kernels tend to pop more evenly and produce fluffier popcorn. It is important to choose popcorn kernels from reputable brands and ensure they are stored properly to maintain their freshness.

Moisture Content

The moisture content of popcorn kernels is crucial for optimal popping. When heated, the water inside the kernels turns into steam, creating pressure that causes the kernel to burst open. The ideal moisture content for popcorn kernels is between 13 to 14.5 percent. Kernels with lower moisture content may not pop properly, while those with higher moisture content may pop too quickly and produce smaller, less fluffy popcorn.

The second bowl of popcorn may have more optimal moisture content due to the preheating process. Preheating the kernels in the oven before popping can increase their moisture content, making them more likely to pop fully and produce larger flakes. The preheating process allows the kernels to absorb some moisture, which contributes to better popping results.

Heat Distribution

Heat distribution plays a crucial role in popcorn popping. Microwaves distribute heat through radiation, which is the transfer of heat energy through empty space. The kernels in the microwave are heated by the radiation, causing them to pop. Variations in microwave design and power can affect the heat distribution and, consequently, the popping efficiency.

The second bowl of popcorn may benefit from improved heat distribution. This can lead to a higher percentage of kernels popping in the second bowl, as compared to the first bowl. The second bowl may have a better distribution of heat, allowing for more consistent popping and fewer unpopped kernels.

Kernel Conditioning

Kernel conditioning refers to the phenomenon where the first batch of popcorn in a microwave can condition the microwave for improved popping in subsequent batches. It is believed that the heat generated by the first batch of popcorn helps to create a more favorable environment for the kernels in the subsequent batches to pop more efficiently.

To capitalize on kernel conditioning, it is recommended to start with a small batch of popcorn for the first round. Allow the microwave to cool down for a few minutes after the first batch before starting the second batch. For subsequent batches, increase the size gradually to maximize the benefits of kernel conditioning.

It is important to note that kernel conditioning may not have a significant impact on the popping of all types of popcorn, as different brands and varieties may have different moisture levels and popping characteristics.

Temperature Regulation

Temperature plays a crucial role in popcorn popping. Popping occurs at about 177 °C, which is equivalent to a pressure of 135 psi inside the kernel. The water inside the kernel turns into steam when heated, creating high pressure inside the kernel. The pressure builds up until the pericarp (hull) of the kernel ruptures, allowing the steam to expand and turn the kernel inside out.

The first bowl of popcorn may not pop as well as the second bowl due to variations in the heating process. In a microwave, the temperature distribution may not be uniform, resulting in some kernels being heated more than others. The second bowl may benefit from residual heat in the microwave, leading to more consistent and efficient popping.

To regulate temperature for optimal popping, heat the kernels to a temperature slightly below the popping point, around 180°C. Ensure all kernels are thoroughly heated, right on the edge of popping. Use a short burst of intense heat to exceed 180°C and initiate popping. Control the temperature adjustment carefully to prevent burning or undercooking.

Resting Time

Resting time is crucial for popcorn kernels because it allows them to absorb moisture and heat evenly, resulting in better popping. The second bowl of popcorn in the microwave benefits from the resting time because the heat from the first bowl helps to preheat the microwave, creating a more consistent popping environment.

To maximize resting time, allow the popcorn kernels to rest in the microwave for a few minutes after popping the first bowl to ensure that the heat is evenly distributed. Avoid opening the microwave door immediately after popping the first bowl, as this can release the heat and disrupt the resting process. Shake the bag or container containing the popcorn kernels gently during the resting time to help distribute the heat and moisture more evenly.

If using a stovetop method, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for a minute before continuing to cook the remaining popcorn kernels. This resting time allows the oil to cool slightly and prevents burning.

Troubleshooting and Tips

Common Issues and Troubleshooting Methods

  • Insufficient moisture: Soak kernels in water for several hours or overnight to increase moisture content.
  • Stale popcorn: Popcorn that has dried out may not pop properly. Use fresh popcorn for best results.

Additional Tips

  • Use a microwave with a minimum power of 500 watts.
  • Set the power level to at least half power.
  • Cover the popcorn while microwaving to create a seal that allows steam to circulate.
  • Experiment with different oils to create a variety of flavors. Healthy and heat-tolerant oils like coconut, avocado, sunflower, olive oil, safflower, and canola are recommended.


Understanding the factors that contribute to the improved popping of the second bowl of popcorn in the microwave can help us achieve better results consistently. By ensuring even heat distribution, maintaining the moisture content of the kernels, considering the presence of a susceptor, and selecting high-quality popcorn, we can capitalize on these factors to enjoy perfectly popped, fluffy popcorn every time. So, next time you reach for a bag of microwave popcorn, remember these insights and elevate your popcorn-popping game.




Why does the second bowl of popcorn pop better in the microwave?

The second bowl of popcorn pops better in the microwave because the microwave has been preheated by the first bowl. This creates a more even distribution of heat, which results in more kernels popping.

How can I capitalize on this?

To capitalize on this, you can:

  • Use a smaller bowl for the first batch of popcorn. This will help to preheat the microwave more effectively.
  • Let the microwave rest for a few minutes between batches. This will allow the microwave to cool down slightly, which will help to prevent the popcorn from burning.
  • Shake the bag of popcorn between batches. This will help to distribute the heat more evenly.
  • Don’t overcook the popcorn. Overcooked popcorn will be tough and chewy.

What are some other tips for popping popcorn in the microwave?

Here are some other tips for popping popcorn in the microwave:

  • Use fresh popcorn kernels. Stale popcorn kernels will not pop as well.
  • Add a little bit of oil to the popcorn kernels. This will help to prevent the popcorn from burning.
  • Cover the popcorn with a paper towel. This will help to trap the steam and create a more even distribution of heat.
  • Microwave the popcorn in short bursts. This will help to prevent the popcorn from burning.