A movie night wouldn’t be complete without popcorn. Yet, no matter how many times I make it, I always seem to pop too much or not enough, whether I’m making popcorn just for myself or a group of friends. 

You should pop about 3 tablespoons (36 grams or 1.2 oz) of unpopped popcorn kernels per person. Nevertheless, the amount of popcorn you’ll want to prepare will depend on different factors like popping method, personal taste, and appetite, as well as who you’re preparing popcorn for and why. 

In this article, I’ll give you all the things you need to consider to figure out how much popcorn you should prepare per person, including how much popped corn you actually get from your unpopped kernels. Whether you want a little snack or you’re getting ready for a big party, you’ll never run out of popcorn again. 

How Much Popcorn Do Kernels Produce?

People’s biggest mistake when making popcorn is either under or overestimating how much a difference there can be between popped and unpopped kernels.

As the kernels pop, they’ll increase in volume by up to four times. For example, you can expect 1 tablespoon of kernels to turn into a little over a cup of popcorn. 

I don’t expect you to count out individual kernels when you have a popcorn craving, so here’s a reference guide for you:

Unpopped KernelsPopped Corn
3 tbsp (36 g or 1.2 oz)5 cups (11.2 g or 0.39 oz)
¼ cup (48 g or 1.69 oz)7 cups (15.7 g or 0.55 oz)
½ cup (96 g or 3.38 oz)15 cups (33.6 g or 1.18 oz)
1 cup  (192 g or 6.7 oz)30 cups (67.2 g or 0.23 oz)

How Much Popcorn Do You Want?

While I could personally eat a barrel of popcorn if someone gave it to me, not everyone feels the same way.

When deciding how much popcorn to make, ask yourself how much popcorn you (and your possible guests) might want.  

Are you going to have other snacks? Do you tend to only want a handful or two of popcorn before you start getting tired? Are you going to be watching a movie, or are you making popcorn for a game night when people might be a little too distracted to eat? 

Only you can answer these questions. Maybe the typical 3 tbsp (36 g or 1.2 oz) serving size per person is enough for you, or you might need twice that, or half of it. For example, you won’t need 5 cups (11.2 g) of popcorn for every person at your party if you’re the only one who likes it.

If you’re still a little unsure, making a bit more popcorn than you think you’ll need might be your best bet. If you store it in a dry, airtight container, any leftovers you might have will keep just fine and shouldn’t get stale.

Consider the Age Group You’re Making the Popcorn For

Popcorn is a favorite snack for people of all ages. However, the age group you’re making popcorn for can still affect how much you’ll need.

  • If you’re making popcorn for kids, they’ll likely need a smaller serving size than an adult would. 
  • Teenagers can seem like bottomless pits, and if they’re the main group you’re making popcorn for, the regular serving size might not be even close to enough.
  • Adults may lean towards more “mature” snacks. If you have other food options, you may notice a bowl of popcorn lasting longer than it would a kids’ party.

Methods To Make Popcorn

If you’ve made microwave popcorn, you know the delicate calculations involved in making sure you get all your kernels popped. More often than not, you either have a handful of unpopped kernels rolling around the bottom of your bag, or you’ve burnt half your popcorn. 

If you’ve decided to measure out your kernels and skip the bagged popcorn route, you’ll still have to be careful to make sure all your kernels get popped without burning everything. It’s no use pouring out the exact amount of kernels you think you’ll need only to have some of them remain unpopped or burned. 


If you make your kernels on the stove, keep a close eye on it, and stick to medium heat, you likely won’t have to stray far from the 3 tbsp (36 g or 1.2 oz) per person serving size as you likely won’t have to deal with many burnt kernels. 

However, if you don’t think you can keep watch, or you might get distracted, you may want to add some extra kernels, just in case.

Hot Air Popcorn Machine

It’s generally pretty hard to burn your popcorn, so you can likely stick with the serving you want without adding extra kernels. Adding more kernels than you need and overfilling your popcorn machine is one of the only ways you’ll potentially burn your popcorn using this method. 


That’s right! You can make microwave popcorn from loose kernels. This is easily one of the fastest and most accessible ways to make popcorn, but it’s also the most complicated. 

Like with bags of microwave popcorn, when you pop measured out popcorn kernels in the microwave yourself, be careful to time your preparation just right so that you get every kernel popped without burning your carefully measured snack! 

While making perfect microwave popcorn isn’t impossible, if you’ve had trouble getting it just right with traditional pre-bagged microwave popcorn, you may want to add a little more unpopped corn than you might need. 

Final Thoughts

Popping your own popcorn is great! You can control how much you make. However, it’s not always easy to figure out how many kernels you need. 

The typical adult serving size is about 3 tbsp (36 g or 1.2 oz) of kernels which will turn into around 5 cups of popped corn. 

You should also consider who you’re making the popcorn for, what method you’re going to use, and how much popcorn you think you and your guests will actually want to eat so you never make the wrong amount of popcorn again.

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