Can You Pop Popcorn in an Air Fryer? (Should You?)

By Jerrica Mah

Yes, you can pop popcorn in an air fryer, but should you? We answer that question and more…

Homemade popcorn is known as a relatively healthy, high-fiber snack. So, it makes sense for people to ask if you can pop popcorn in an air fryer. After all, air fryers are the go-to for cooking healthier versions of food, right?

As such, many people think, “Hey, let’s make movie nights a bit healthier and use the air fryer to pop plain popcorn kernels!” That’s a logical thought, but (unfortunately) it can be a dangerous one. 

While you can, technically, pop popcorn in an air fryer, it is NOT recommended. We’ll explain the reasons why below. 

There are also a few situations when using an air fryer to pop popcorn is reasonable. It those situations apply to you, we also tell you how to pop popcorn in your air fryer safely. 

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Is Popping Popcorn in an Air Fryer Safe?

spilled box of popcorn and air fryer

Using an air fryer to pop popcorn does come with a risk since kernels can fly up into the heating element. If they get caught, they can cause smoking or even a fire. It can be safe to pop small portions (for 1-2 people), which lessens the chance of the kernels getting stuck in the heating element. However, you should never leave an air fryer unattended while using it to pop popcorn.

If you want a great way to make healthier, more customizable popcorn, you’ll get better results using an air popper or the stovetop method. Those methods require little oil (if any) and allow you to add your favorite seasonings and try different flavors. You still get a healthy snack, easy snack, and tasty snack… without risking a fire!

Air Fry Popcorn Takes 3x as Long

In addition to the fire hazard, popcorn air fryer recipes take 3 times as long to pop popcorn as other methods. You can make microwave or air-popped popcorn in less than 3 minutes, and the stovetop doesn’t take much longer. Air fryers, however, often take 8-10 minutes for a small batch.

Air Fryers Only Make 1-2 Servings

In addition to taking 3x as long, air fryers can only make 1-2 servings safely. Trying to make any more than that at one time increases your risk of causing smoking or a fire. Microwave or air-popped popcorn makes 2.5+ servings in a third of the time. 

Reasons to Use an Air Fryer

air fryer and pile of popped popcorn

As you have read, there are 3 big reasons not to use an air fryer to cook popcorn. It can be dangerous, it takes longer, and it makes less. However, some people still opt for an air fryer popcorn recipe. 

Here are the reasons you might opt to use an air fryer to cook popcorn (ALL should apply):

  • You want a healthier alternative to microwave popcorn.
  • You don’t have an air popcorn maker.
  • You don’t want to use the stovetop method.
  • You only want 1-2 servings of popcorn.
  • You are willing to watch the air fryer until the popcorn is done in case of smoking or fire.

If all of the above apply to you, then using your air fryer to pop popcorn may be acceptable. Just be sure to take necessary safety precautions…

How to Safely Cook Popcorn in an Air Fryer

pitcher of spilled popcorn kernels and pile of popped popcorn

As we’ve explained, making popcorn in an air fryer is generally not recommended. You’re limited to making small batches and have to patiently stand by as the kernels pop. Plus, the risk of smoking and fire.

However, you can safely cook popcorn in an air fryer if precautions are taken. 

We’ll explain how step by step, but remember to never leave your air fryer unattended at any point. Also expect a lot of trial and error as every air fryer is different.

1. Line your air fryer basket (including the sides) with aluminum foil. This will prevent small kernels from slipping through the holes. 

2. Measure no more than 1/4 cup of unpopped kernels (2 servings worth). For your first batch, we recommend 1/8 cup (1 serving) to give it a try and see if the kernels or popcorn get stuck in the heating element. If it works with your air fryer, you can try a bit more next time.

3. Lightly coat the unpopped kernels with a high-heat oil (like coconut oil or avocado oil) or cooking spray.

4. Spread the kernels in a single layer on the bottom of the basket with plenty of space between kernels.

5. Turn your air fryer on at 400 degrees F and set a timer for 5 minutes to start. (Cooking time can vary significantly with different air fryers.)

6. Remove popped popcorn when the timer ends or when you stop hearing popping noises. Return any un-popped kernels to the air fryer for an additional 3 minutes.

7. Add melted butter, salt, seasoning, and any other desired toppings once you have all of the popped corn in your bowl.

Some people sprinkle ranch dressing mix on top! Or you can try our easy honey popcorn drizzle!

WARNING! Never leave your air fryer unattended. If you smell burning or see smoke, turn your air fryer off and let it cool before you try to remove any pieces stuck in your heating element. Some kernels may pop and fall behind your foil, too.

Can You Pop Popcorn in an Air Fryer Without Oil?

Yes, you can pop popcorn in an air fryer without oil. Simply skip step number 3 in the above instructions. You can drizzle melted butter, popcorn oil, or seasoning over the cooked popcorn to make the perfect air fryer popcorn for you.

Can You Make Microwave Popcorn in an Air Fryer?

You can NOT put a bag of microwave popcorn in an air fryer. It’s a serious fire hazard. However, you can tear open a bag of microwave popcorn and use the unpopped kernels with a different popping method. If using them in your air fryer, be sure to follow the above instructions and don’t pour in too many kernels.

But, if you have a working microwave, you’re better off just putting the bag in the microwave or using the kernels in a popcorn popper. As we’ve stressed, using an air fryer to pop popcorn should be more of a last resort. 

Want to Try a Honey Drizzle?

box of popcorn and honey drizzle

We have a honey popcorn drizzle recipe that is so easy to make and delicious! It does use a bit of butter, but the honey adds a healthy, sweet flavor to your popcorn.

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