5 ways to prevent burning popcorn and getting buildings evacuated

Brooke Sjoberg

Popcorn is a notoriously easy snack to make, but it can pose a certain challenge to some and may trigger a smoke detector or two. On Tuesday, Oct. 16, the UT Tower was evacuated because burnt popcorn set off the fire alarm.

Despite the relative ease with which popped corn kernels can be prepared, this was not the first, second or even third time a building has been evacuated because someone burnt their popcorn. Sometimes the directions are inconsistent with the type of microwave being used or the person preparing the snack is not fully paying attention to their food.

Whatever the case may be, here’s five helpful tips to prevent an entire facility evacuation.

Listen to the pop

The most accurate way to judge whether or not popcorn is done is to count the number of seconds between pops. When there are more than five seconds between pops, it is time to pull the bag out of the microwave.

Psychology senior Samantha Brewer said she eats popcorn nearly every day and that all she does to keep it from burning is listen to it.

“I probably eat bagged popcorn every day of my life,” Brewer said. “I’m 21. That’s been my after school snack every day. I just put it in for two minutes and listen to it. When there’s no more popping, you’re supposed to take it out.”

Take the instructions with a grain of salt

Occasionally microwave popcorn brands will include instructions for how to prepare their products. There are many brands and models of microwaves on campus, so you can’t take these instructions at face value. Be careful of the wattage on each microwave as it ranges between models. Higher wattages will heat the popcorn faster, while lower wattages may take longer than the package suggests and cook the corn unevenly.

Neuroscience sophomore Ishana Syed said she has had this problem with making popcorn in the past. “I’ve burnt my popcorn because I followed the instructions,” Syed said. “They tell you to microwave it for too long. But yeah, it’s not that hard.”

Pay attention to the way things smell

If it smells like it is burning, then it is probably burning.

Don’t leave the popping corn unattended

When making a snack as finicky as popcorn, it is important to keep a close eye on what is happening in the microwave. It is nearly impossible to tell whether the popcorn is done when not in the room or out of hearing range.

Use common sense

Some microwaves are simply too hot to make popcorn at a responsible, measured pace. If the microwave is too hot, it all pops too fast to keep track of. If the microwave in the office or other shared space is known to burn popcorn, it may be best to find another microwave somewhere in the building. Another option is to jump ship and give in to the potato chips in the vending machine.

Advertising sophomore Christian Hernandez said he thinks popcorn is easy enough to make without getting a building evacuated.

“It’s just hitting a button and watching it,” Hernandez said. “But I guess common sense didn’t step in, and those are the consequences.”