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Crazy Good Spicy Italian Popcorn

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This homemade popcorn tossed with garlic butter, Parmesan, oregano, and red pepper flakes is adapted from Crazy Good Italian: Big Flavors, Small Plates by D.C. Chef and Top Chef All-Stars runner up Mike Isabella. It’s insanely addictive (yes, crazy good) and exemplifies Isabella’s self-described cooking style: one part old-world Italian, one part old-school Jersey, one part modern Mediterranean — all parts delicious. You have to try it!

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Crazy Good Spicy Italian Popcorn

Servings: About 12 cups
Prep Time: 5 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Total Time: 15 Minutes


  • 2½ tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup popcorn kernels
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt


  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a very large pan over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn, then cover with a tight fitting lid (alternatively, cover tightly with foil). Wait for the popcorn to start popping, then shake the pan gently every now and again to keep the kernels moving. When the popping slows to 2-3 seconds apart, remove the pan from the heat.
  2. Melt the butter in the microwave (be sure the bowl is big enough so that it won't bubble over). Add the garlic and microwave for 1 minute more. Pour the garlic butter through a fine meshed strainer into a small bowl; discard the garlic.
  3. In a mini food processor or spice grinder, grind the Parmigiano-Reggiano, red pepper flakes, oregano and salt until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
  4. Transfer the popcorn to a serving bowl. Pour the garlic butter over the popcorn and toss to coat. Sprinkle with the cheese mixture and toss again until the popcorn is evenly coated.

Gluten-Free Adaptable Note

To the best of my knowledge, all of the ingredients used in this recipe are gluten-free or widely available in gluten-free versions. There is hidden gluten in many foods; if you're following a gluten-free diet or cooking for someone with gluten allergies, always read the labels of your ingredients to verify that they are gluten-free.

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  • We no longer use oil to pop our popcorn. You can air pop it in a paper lunch bag or buy a air popper for microwave. Both work amazingly! Must try this recipe. Looks and sounds tasty! Thank you

    • — Catherine on February 20, 2021
    • Reply
  • I had some issues with the popcorn burning the first time I made it, which is why I gave it 4 rather than 5 stars. However, once you learn how to prevent burning, this popcorn is fantastic!

    First, make sure you do not use a heavy dutch oven such as le creuset, as it is too heavy to shake to prevent burning. Use a stainless steel or a similar lightweight pot instead.

    I also find it effective to heat the oil with one or two kernels first, and then wait for those to pop before putting the rest of the kernels in. This lets me know when the oil is hot enough to pop.

    Keep the lid on the pot while popping to retain heat, but keep a little crack so steam can escape and you do not end up with soggy popcorn.

    Finally, when the majority of the kernels have popped, take it off. It is better to have some kernels unpopped rather than wait for those to pop and risk burning the rest of the popcorn!

    • — Maddie on February 2, 2021
    • Reply
  • Yummy!

    I somehow stumbled upon this recipe (I read and use your site almost daily, but never saw this one).

    I had to modify things just a bit due to what we have on hand. I microwaved the butter, crushed red pepper that I smashed up, oregano, and garlic powder, then set that aside. Then I microwaved a bag of popcorn, tossed it all together with the freshly grated Parmigiano-Regiano.

    Very enjoyable!

  • Hello, Jen!

    Do you think there would a significant difference in using microwavable popcorn? Also, same question to using standard crumbled parmesan cheese that I currently have in the fridge? The recipe calls for the Regiano type but it’s like $19 per block at the store and that seems a bit steep for popcorn.

    Anyway, as usual I’m a big fan of all things Jenn Segal related:)

    • Hi Matty, I do think this would work with microwavable popcorn. You can use the standard parm you have in the fridge – – it will work but it will definitely have a different taste than the Parmigiano Reggiano. Hope that helps and that you enjoy!

      • Appreciate the reply.

  • I love this popcorn recipe! It’s perfect as a snack, with cocktails and maybe for dinner ;). The salt and spice are on the money.

  • I love this popcorn. I’m eating it for breakfast right now. I usually make microwave popcorn, so it took me a while to get around to giving it a try. I added a teaspoon or more of cumin. I blended the spice mixture in a pint jar on my blender because it was easier and caused less of a mess. I used grated Parmesan because that’s what I had. I popped it in olive oil. I dumped the popcorn into a very large metal bowl to make it easier to distribute the butter and spices. I seldom call anything too salty; I would say this is salty enough. I will make it again for guests. It’s better than potato or barbecue chips without the chemical voodoo. I can’t stop eating it.

    • 🙂
      Glad you’re enjoying it (and who said popcorn wasn’t a breakfast food?)!

  • Hi Jenn, I’d like to serve this at a cocktail party. How far in advance can you make this popcorn?

    • Hi Jane, I wouldn’t recommend making it in advance as it will get soggy. I guess you could pop the popcorn and make the Parm/spice mixture ahead and then, right before serving, melt the butter, combine and serve. Hope that helps!

  • This popcorn was amazing! I was having friends over for a movie night and it paired perfectly with the Italian Prosecco I served!!

  • Delicious! A nice variation with a little extra effort, wonderful flavors, a big hit!

  • hello Jenn i have just found your website and am loving it!! i am spreading the word in england!
    kind regards

    • — jo-ann hammond
    • Reply
    • Thank you, Jo-Ann!

  • Hi Jenn,
    Will a regular food processor work? Or does it need to be mini? Thanks!

    • Hi Rachael, A regular one should work — I just use a mini because it’s such a small amount.

  • This is a very nice recipe, because it’s pretty flexible.


  • Quick, easy and delightful snack with just the right amount of heat. Substituted Pecorino Romano for a bit of a sharper taste. May try adding some cumin powder next time.

  • I made this for a party to serve with cocktails and WOW was it good. We love spicy so next time I might even add more red pepper flakes, but the recipe is really perfect as is. Thanks Jenn!

  • I also found this a little too salty. I used 1 tsp of fleur de sel, and ground everything up using my immersion blender. Instead of straining the butter, I prepared it in a measuring cup, and then let it sit while I did everything else. By the time I was done, all the garlic had settled, and it was easy to just pour out the butter.

    I might play around with the recipe a bit more (love the garlic butter/parmesan parts) but it’s really not my favourite popcorn seasoning.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Lindsey. I reduced the salt in the recipe.

      • I’m the Jenn below who was first to review. Just wanted to say that the adjusted salt level is much better now! And since my mini food processor isn’t very effective, I decided to use my granite mortar and pestle to grind the oregano, salt, and pepper flakes, before adding the cheese. I found that adding the butter in small amounts then tossing after each addition, and then doing the same for the cheese mixture, really helped distribute everything evenly. Thanks!

  • Saw this featured in the newsletter and decided to try it out. Really tasty, good savoury flavours, but a little on the salty side. I even used a bit less than a teaspoon of regular table salt… could be that I added a wee bit more grated parmesan, or maybe that I didn’t mix the mixture in properly. I also didn’t strain the garlic but it wasn’t too strong. It was a little more work than I wanted to do for an after-dinner snack (grating the parmesan, cutting up garlic, using my mini processor… cleaning all of it) but in any case my husband deemed it a delicious snack and I would make it again. Thanks!

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