There are lots of ways to cook popcorn, but nearly all of them can cause popcorn to catch fire. Thankfully, popcorn fires are rare, and even when they do happen, they can usually be easily contained.
Most of the time popcorn fires can be prevented as they’re the result of inattentive people walking away from their popcorn while it cooks.
This guide will let you know whether popcorn is a fire hazard, which popcorn popper is the riskiest, and how to prevent popcorn from setting alight.
Is a Popcorn Popper a Fire Hazard?
If you cook popcorn in a popper as per the instructions, it’s unlikely to be a fire hazard. However, like all cooking appliances, there’s always a small chance that a fire will occur when using them.
So, let’s take a look at the most common popcorn poppers and how they work:
- Hot-air popper – hot air poppers circulate hot air to pop kernels. Burnt popcorn is possible with a hot air popper, especially if it’s overfilled or left to cook for too long. An electrical fault (which is rare) is a possible fire hazard too.
- Popcorn machine – popcorn machines are usually designed to look like the machines at movie theaters. They pop popcorn and keep it warm via an element. Popcorn machines can overheat and there have even been reports of an AMC machine doing just that.
- Microwave popper – microwave popcorn poppers are typically made from silicone or glass. A fire is most likely to occur when cooking popcorn this way if it is overcooked. Every microwave will cook popcorn at a different time. But as a general rule, it needs no more than 2 ½ to 3 minutes.
- Stovetop popcorn maker – cooking popcorn on the stove is perhaps one of the biggest fire risks. Just ask Jared Leto who caught his popcorn fire disaster on film. When you cook popcorn on the stove, you need to use oil or butter. If the pot gets too hot, the oil or butter will boil and set alight.
- Electric popcorn maker – you usually need to put oil in an electric popcorn maker to make the kernels pop. If the machine overheats, there is a chance that the oil will catch alight.
Is Microwave Popcorn a Fire Hazard?
Microwave popcorn is a fire hazard if it isn’t cooked properly.
Microwave popcorn comes in a paper bag that is cooked in the microwave. The bag can withstand hot temperatures for the few minutes it takes to pop the popcorn in the bag. But, if the microwave bag is left to cook for longer than this, there’s a risk that it will catch alight.
The most common reason why microwave popcorn catches fire is that it is left unattended. When cooking microwave popcorn, it’s recommended that you stay by its side and listen out for the popping. When the popping slows to 1 pop every 2 to 3 seconds, it’s time to take the popcorn out and eat it.
Are Popcorn Makers Safe?
Yes, popcorn makers are safe. All products sold in the US, including popcorn makers, go through rigorous safety testing before they can be sold. Consumers buying popcorn makers are also protected by product liability law.
Popcorn makers can be made from different materials, including stainless steel, plastic, silicone, aluminum, and glass. These are all safe to cook popcorn in.
However, if you have safety concerns, read user reviews online to see what others have to say about each type of popcorn maker. You could even check out our silicone popper safety guide.
And, when you have invested in a popcorn maker, it’s a good idea to routinely check for product recalls in case a problem has been identified with your popper.
How Hot Does a Hot Air Popcorn Popper Get?
Studies have found that 96% of popcorn kernels pop at 355°F. Hot air poppers try to eliminate the chance of unpopped kernels (old maids) as much as possible, which is why they typically reach 400°F.
The top temperature of each brand of hot air popcorn popper will differ. It’s best to check the product guide of your hot air popcorn popper to determine the exact temperature it reaches.
Why Did My Popcorn Catch Fire?
Some common reasons why your popcorn caught fire are:
- The wrong bag was used – popcorn bags contain susceptors that stop them from catching fire. A standard paper bag won’t contain susceptors so it’s likely it will go up in flames when put in the microwave.
- You used the wrong type of oil – popcorn is best cooked in oil with a high smoking point, such as peanut oil, canola oil, or sunflower oil. If you use an oil with a low smoke point, it’s more likely to catch fire.
- You used the wrong amount of oil – skimping on oil may save you some calories, but if you don’t use enough, you’ll burn the popcorn and your pan and this could result in flames.
- You overcooked it – popcorn takes just minutes to cook. Like all food, if you cook popcorn for too long, it will burn, make a horrible smell, and may even set alight.
- You walked away from the popcorn – leaving popcorn to do its own thing while you relax on the sofa is a big no-no. Unattended popcorn is much more likely to ignite than popcorn that’s carefully monitored.
- You used the popcorn setting on your microwave – many microwaves have a popcorn button that will cook the popcorn for the ‘right amount of time’. Only this length of time is usually too long, and your popcorn may overcook.
How To Stop Popcorn From Catching Fire
Our top tips for preventing popcorn from catching fire are:
- Always stay with the popcorn while it cooks.
- Use your ears and your nose. Reduced popping time means the popcorn is ready. A burning smell means it’s time to take the popcorn off the heat.
- Regularly check your popcorn maker for faults.
- Add popcorn flavorings and toppings after cooking the popcorn not before.
Most of the time, you haven’t got to worry about popcorn being a fire hazard. But there is always a small chance that popcorn will go up in flames. More often than not, this will be caused by an incorrect cooking technique or leaving popcorn unattended. For the perfect fire-free pop every time, always follow basic safety advice and use your common sense.
Next, check out the safe way to cook popcorn in the oven.