Popcorn and movies have been going hand in hand for so long that for a lot of people they just can’t be separated. With home cinema systems popping up in every other home and TV screens becoming bigger and bigger, however, popcorn is getting left out of the movie-watching experience.
Unless you’ve got a popcorn machine at home! Home popcorn poppers aren’t new by any stretch of the imagination, but they are constantly improving and diversifying. In fact, there are types of popcorn makers today that a lot of people haven’t even heard of yet, including oil-free and fat-free hot air popcorn poppers.
With all the different kinds and sizes of home popcorn makers on the market right now, everyone can easily and affordably spice up their home movie-watching experience. And if you’re not a movie buff, home popcorn machines make great party appetizers that almost everyone enjoys. What’s more, home popcorn makers are also great presents for almost anyone since they are often not too expensive, they tend to be small and compact, and they produce delicious treats that most people love.
Since there is such a great diversity in models, types, and popping systems out there, however, we thought we’d write down a quick guide on finding and buying the best popcorn machine for your needs. We’ve looked through hundreds of models and researched all the different intricacies that make them work. We looked into hot air popcorn poppers that make healthy but still delicious popcorn and we didn’t skip the classical oil popcorn makers that retain everyone’s favored taste.
With the extensive amount of research we’ve amassed below, as well as our quick list of the best popcorn makers on the market right now, we hope to help you find the ideal popper for you and your family. First, let’s take a look at our Top 3 of popcorn poppers:
Top 3 Popcorn Makers:
Klarstein Volcano Popcorn Maker
For those on the lookout for a retro popcorn maker, the Klarstein Volcano is a great choice. It’s a powerful 300W popcorn machine with a stainless steel container. It also has an integrated heating system and a stirrer. This device with a classic 1950s design easily makes up to 60 liters per hour of both salty and sweet popcorn.
- Gorgeous retro design
- Stainless steel container
- Quick heating time
- Interior lightning keeps the popcorn warm
- The stainless steel pan doesn’t have an anti-stick coating
Ariete 2952 Retro Popcorn Maker
For fans of the retro classics, here’s another vintage popcorn machine, this time from Ariete. The reasons another retro-styled device enters our best popcorn maker list are two – because the Ariete 2952 is just that good and because it actually uses a very different cooking method from our previous entry. This Ariete popcorn maker cooks with a hot air system and needs no oil or fats. This mini popcorn machine produces ~60 grams of popcorn every 2 minutes and is very easy to dismantle and clean.
- Doesn’t need oils or fats
- Cool retro design
- Easy to clean
- Its small size makes it suitable only for a few people at a time
Severin PC3751 Popcorn Maker
A classical design from Severin, this affordable popcorn machine is ideal for a cozy family night of home movies. It’s simple and straightforward to use and it’s also easy to dismantle and clean. This popcorn machine isn’t powerful enough for big parties, but is great for making a nice bowl of popcorn for a couple of people.
- Good, stable design
- Affordable price
- Makes popcorn quite quickly
- Hot air system helps make non-fat popcorn
- Not powerful enough for big gatherings
How we picked the best popcorn makers?
Picking the best popcorn machine took us as much time as one would expect – a ton. With these nifty devices rising in popularity each year, and with more and more types emerging from new technologies, there are hundreds of models that look like they could find a spot in a “Best of” list.
Of course, few of them actually belong on such a list, so we had to find a way to distinguish the “worthy” from the “not-so-worthy”.
To do that, our first step was to prepare a set of criteria to abide to. You’d think that this would be as simple as saying “they should pop well”, but there were more things to consider.
As usual, “quality” was our first point of interest. It’s one thing for a popcorn popper to be able to pop some corn, but we needed it to be made out of high quality materials and have a practical, adequate design. The materials we looked for in popcorn makers were stainless steel, glass and silicone. Each of these three materials or any combination of them, could constitute a good popcorn maker.
The design of the popcorn maker is also in this criterion as it’s directly linked to the machine’s overall quality. A poor design can mean that too many un-popped kernels would drop off of the machine together with the popcorn. Bad design can also result in an impractically clumsy and unstable product. The design of the popcorn machine is also very relevant to its longevity. A design that makes disassembling the device too difficult means high risk of breaking. It also means that washing the machine is going to be much harder, thus increasing the risk that the customer will just stop using the popper.
Aside from quality, we also looked at the prices of popcorn makers. Non-commercial popcorn machines aren’t usually that expensive, but there’s still a noticeable fluctuation in their prices. And buying an overpriced product when you don’t need to is never a pleasant experience. Usually the higher price means higher quality, but that isn’t always so, especially in this niche.
Of course, we also focused our attention on the different types of home popcorn makers. We generally pushed microwave popcorn makers out of the list, not because they lack the quality, but because we were looking at “stand alone” devices. We will give microwave poppers their place under the spotlight as well, but not in the “Best of” list.
Instead, we chose to focus on hot air popcorn machines, stove top poppers, and round countertop popcorn makers. All three of these types work alone without the help of a microwave or a stove, and all three can make amazing popcorn. We’ll describe each type in detail below, but we won’t bother announcing one as better than the other, because they simply make different types of popcorn.
So, with the different types of machines in mind and with a focus on their quality and prices, we started delving through the thousands upon thousands of consumer reviews online. Looking at popcorn maker reviews felt as futile as you’d imagine – it took hours and at times it was more confusing than helpful. With different people having different tastes for popcorn, a lot of the reviews were purely subjective. Personal preferences, lack of context, trolling and dishonest reviews – all these made sifting through the different products quite challenging. There were even cases where the newer and more unique design of a popcorn maker result in negative reviews because some consumers had not found a way to operate it properly.
To try and manage all the chaos, however, we also peeked at some professional industry reviews. One should always be careful when looking at such reviews as they are often biased. Yet, if you know where to look, you can find a lot of useful information.
So, with all this research done, we had slowly but surely narrowed our search down to several different models. Picking the top 3 out of them was challenging, considering that we were entering a highly subjective part of the process. It’s hard to deem one product as “better” than another when you know that there are millions of people that would still choose the latter even if they had all the information at their disposal. Nevertheless, the choices were made and the Top 3 was formed. Hopefully, you’ll find your future home popcorn maker on that list, but if not – it should at the very least serve as a good baseline for your further research.
A quick breakdown of popcorn makers
Popcorn makers may be a diverse niche of products, but they all work on the same simple principle – heating up corn kernels at a desired temperature until the kernels “pop” and turn into popcorn. This can be done using oil, water, heat, or a combination of the three. Depending on how you’re delivering the heat, the kernels might also need to be kept moving. Stove top popcorn poppers need to be stirred or to have an automatic stirring arm in them, so the corn kernels don’t burn on the bottom of the popper. Microwave popcorn poppers, on the other hand, don’t need to be stirred because the heat is coming from all around the kernels and not just from below.
The classical popcorn most people know and love is made with oil and/or butter. These are used both to help the corn pop without sticking to the bottom of the popper, as well as to give it a lot of its taste. Some modern popcorn machines have moved away from oil, however, and are using hot air instead. These hot air popcorn makers simply heat up the kernels from all sides with hot air, while stirring them at a high speed. This allows for the popcorn to pop without the need for any unhealthy oil. It doesn’t mean that the popcorn needs to be tasteless, however, as most such hot air poppers usually allow you to add different kinds of flavors into the mix.
What kind of corn do you need for your home popcorn machine?
Just like there are multiple kinds of popcorn makers, there are different types of corn as well. However, this doesn’t mean that some corn works with some poppers and not with others – not at all. All popcorn can be made in all types of poppers. The two main and most popular types of popcorn are butterfly popcorn and mushroom popcorn.
Butterfly popcorn is named after the peculiar shape they get after being popped. They resemble a butterfly because they are stretched out like a butterfly’s wings. They are typically light and fragile.
Mushroom popcorn, on the other hand, is smaller and better concentrated. It feels more solid and doesn’t break too easily. Its circular shape resembles a mushroom.
Most modern popcorn makers can easily pop both types of popcorns, although the cooking style may vary.
How to prepare popcorn in a microwave popper
Microwave popcorn makers are great for people who have a microwave and want to make the classical tasting oiled popcorn without buying a separate, convoluted popping device. Usually made out of glass and silicone, microwave poppers are essentially just pitchers. You put the kernels in them together with some oil and butter, and you put them in the microwave. This is a much cleaner, healthier and tastier way to make popcorn in a microwave than using the premade paper bags that are sold in convenient stores. Your microwave may or may not have a popcorn setting, but it will be able to make perfect popcorn either way. Keep in mind that even if there is a popcorn setting on your microwave, it may burn your popcorn so you might need a couple of tries until you find the perfect setting.
How to use a stove top popcorn maker
Stove top popcorn poppers are essentially specialized pots. They contain and cook the popcorn in them at the desired temperature. They use oil or butter, and they stir the popcorn while it’s cooking. Stove top poppers are widely regarded as the best non-commercial way to achieve the perfect, classical popcorn taste. Usually made out of stainless steel, they are very quick and convenient to use. Depending on its size, a stove top popcorn maker can easily be used for large parties or just for a couple of people.
Compared to microwave poppers, stove top popcorn makers are harder to clean and more expensive, but they make up for that by giving you healthier and tastier popcorn.
Hot air popcorn makers are the modern household’s choice
One of the main reasons people give for not eating popcorn is that it’s unhealthy. And no one can argue against that – classical popcorn is made with a lot of oil and butter and is definitely not the healthiest food out there. That’s where hot air poppers come in, however.
These devices use no oil or butter, although they usually allow you to add whatever flavors you want. Instead of cooking popcorn in the traditional way, hot air poppers heat the popcorn by using, well – hot air. They heat it to a high degree while circling it with a fan system. When the popcorn starts popping in just a couple of minutes, it just shoots out from the top of the device and into your bowl. There are several downsides to these poppers, but none of them are too significant.
First of all, they tend to be a bit pricier than microwave or stove top poppers. By not using oil they also have a slightly different taste, even though you can regulate that by adding different flavors to the popcorn. Also, depending on their design, they can shoot more or less un-popped kernels together with the popped ones. Also, like stove top poppers, they can be more complicated to clean if their design makes it harder to dismantle them.
All in all, however, hot air popcorn makers produce a lot of delicious and healthy popcorn at a great speed and with little to no effort. Additionally, they are the preferred kids popcorn maker for parents, as they are safer for kids to use.
Round countertop popcorn makers and how they work
Round countertop poppers are similar to stove top poppers in that they cook the popcorn inside them with oil and butter. They create the classical, well-known taste of popcorn and are made out of stainless steel and glass most of the time. The key difference between them and the typical stove top popcorn maker is in their design. While the stove top popper resembles a specialized pot with a small bottom, the round countertop popper has a flat and wide pan-like bottom and a big, dome of a lid. The lid is often used as a glass bowl once the popcorn is done. In terms of taste, there isn’t too great of a difference between stove top poppers and round countertop popcorn makers. The taste can vary from model to model, but that’s it. As with stove top poppers, countertop ones can be easier or harder to clean, depending on their design.
Buying the perfect popcorn machine for you and your family depends on a lot of factors, most of which are subjective. Sure, you’ll need to make sure that whatever popcorn machine you purchase will have the quality that you need to use it reliably for a long time. You’ll also want it to cost as much as its quality suggests and not be overpriced by a couple dozen or a couple hundred pounds. Aside from those two objective factors, however, the rest is left to your preferences.
The first thing you’ll need to ask yourself is what kind of popcorn popper you want. Do you want a standard microwave popcorn pitch that will be as cheap and as easy to clean as possible? Or do you want something more specialized like a stove top or a round countertop popcorn machine? The latter two options will cost more and be more complicated to use and clean, but they will give you popcorn of the taste and quality you can expect from a commercial machine. Or, maybe, you want a hot air popcorn machine, one that will make you both delicious and healthy popcorn that you can eat with no remorse. Simply browsing popcorn reviews before figuring out what type you want will be mostly a waste of time.
The next question to ponder is how big you want your popper to be. Do you need it for just yourself and your special other? Or does it need to offer a volume enough for you two plus a couple of kids? Or, maybe, you need your future popcorn machine to have the power, speed and volume to handle 20-man parties? If you buy a popcorn maker of a high enough quality, chances are that it will be able to serve you for years to come. So, you’ll need to plan out for years ahead what size you need your machine to be.
These two questions are the main things you need to figure out first. After that, come certain auxiliary questions that can further make your choice shine. You can consider the design of your future popcorn machine – from the shape and style to its actual color. You’ll need to figure out where in your kitchen it will sit so that you know how it must look like. It’s easy to just say you want this or that retro-looking bright red popcorn machine, but if it sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of your modern white kitchen, you might not be too happy with your purchase.
Once you’ve figured out all your requirements, it’s time to start doing some research. By giving you our 3 picks for the best popcorn makers out there we might have saved you some time, but you should probably look at some more lists and models as well. As we said, which popper is better is a highly subjective question.
And if you don’t want to just spend several hours looking at consumer reviews like we did, you might want to narrow down your search to certain brands only. The best brands for popcorn machines we’d recommend include: Nostalgia, OBH, Klarstein, Cuisinart, Ariete, Presto, Taurus, Severin, Whirlypop, Emerio, and others.
Other information about popcorn makers
Popcorn has actually been around for thousands of years
There’s plenty of archeological evidence that people weren’t just eating corn for thousands of years – they were popping it too. Up to 6,700 years ago, the ancient inhabitants of modern day Peru were munching on popcorn, as far as we can tell. This much is evident by ancient cobs, stalks, tassels and husks that were recently unearthed at Paredones and Huaca Prieta, two ancient Peruvian coastal cities. And people then didn’t need stoves, microwaves or hot air poppers to do it too – they seem to have just thrown corn cobs into hot charcoal and wait for the kernels to pop. There’s also evidence that people then used to grind the popped corn into flour and use it for bread and other dishes.
This is especially fascinating when you consider that in those days corn wasn’t that big of a part of people’s diets yet. Corn was domesticated from wild grass in Mexico some 9,000 years ago, according to a study by Dolores Piperno, the curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. However, it only started becoming a major part of the South American people’s diet in the 12th century. That’s when the Inca Empire used maize cultivation to rise to prominence and expand across Peru. Yet, even thousands of years before that, people used to pop corn kernels, even though they didn’t have movies at the time.
There is a reason while popcorn pops but other corn products don’t
It all boils down to the body of the kernel itself. The popcorn kernel offers just the right amount of protection to the inside of the kernel. This allows it to gradually heat up and expand without burning to the core. If the shell was even a little thinner the kernel would have burned out. And if it was thicker, it would require an impractical amount of heat.
What kind of oil should you consider for your popcorn machine
There are a lot of different kinds of oil that can work great for homemade popcorn. That being said, not every oil is equal when it comes to popcorn. The first thing you should look for in popcorn oil is its burn point – you need it to be quite high. Popcorn is made at 232 degrees Celsius, so the oil should be able to reach that.
The next thing to keep in mind is that different oils give popcorn different taste. This is entirely subjective, of course, but after several tries you should be able to pinpoint which oil you like more and which – less. Here are the several types of oil we would recommend for homemade popcorn:
- Commercial popcorn oil. This isn’t as much of a type as it is a broad category. There are a lot of oils that are sold for commercial popcorn makers. Some of them are even mixes of several different oils. Yellow coloring and beta carotene are usually added in commercial popcorn oil for their tastier look. Most of them are also hydrogenated to extend their shelf life. If you are worried about trans-fats, stay away from partially hydrogenated commercial popcorn oils. Other than them, the other commercial popcorn oils are safe to use. Which isn’t to say that they are “healthy”, of course, but they are not too unhealthy and they are quite delicious.
- Peanut oil. This oil gives popcorn a rich and nutty flavor which some people love and others resent. It’s considered to be a more healthy option to most other oils. It is a monounsaturated fat and it has a long shelf life. Peanut allergies should be kept in mind with this oil, however.
- Sunflower oil. Coming from sunflower seeds, sunflower oil has a mild taste and contains a lot of vitamin E. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are commonly combined in this type of oil. It has a low saturated fat content but a rather short shelf life too.
- Soybean oil. This vegetable oil is extracted from the seeds of soybean plants. It has a very neutral taste so if that’s what you’re looking for, go for soybean oil – it works great with other types of seasoning. It’s also low on saturated fat, contains no trans-fat, and has its own natural antioxidants.
- Coconut oil. Widely regarded as the tastiest popcorn oil, coconut oil also has a very long shelf life. It is also a very clean cooking oil as it doesn’t create a lot of carbon when cooked with. It has a thick consistency, a sweet smell and a nutty flavor. It’s also not too cheap, unfortunately.
- Canola oil. For the healthy-minded among us, canola oil is regarded as the healthiest options, whether for popcorn or otherwise. It has low saturated and high monounsaturated fat content. It is also quite cheap and has a high burn point. It has a short shelf life, however, so don’t just let it stay unused.
- Corn oil. Because of its corn flavor, this oil is often used for popcorn. It’s less expensive than other vegetable oils and has a longer shelf life but is definitely not a very healthy choice.
Living with and using popcorn makers
The one main thing that needs to be said about how to maintain your popcorn maker is cleaning it properly. As with any other cooking tool, you need to keep all parts of your popcorn popper in a shining and clean shape at all times. This can be challenging with some models, as they can be hard to disassemble and have a lot of intricate and electronic parts. To make your life easier, we definitely recommend buying a popcorn popper that’s easy to dismantle and wash.
Aside from properly and safely washing your popcorn maker, however, there isn’t much else to say about it. That’s mostly so because all popcorn models are different and have their own sets of needs and requirements. So, read the instructions letter for letter, as boring as it is, and follow it mindfully.
Home popcorn makers are a great way to spice up a party, to make a home movie night more enjoyable, as well as to give a cool gift to a friend. With their wide range of models and tech choices, modern noncommercial popcorn makers pretty much offer something for everyone, including for the health-minded people.
With such great diversity, finding a popcorn maker that is best suited for your household and lifestyle can be challenging. It requires a lot of research and things to consider. Hopefully, our article has helped you at least a little bit. And even more so, hopefully, some of our picks for the best popcorn makers have caught your attention:
The Klasrstein Volcano is a great retro option for those that want to add some style to their homemade popcorn experience. More than just a pretty face, however, it also has 300 W worth of power, an integrated heating system, and a stainless steel container.
The Ariete 2952 is a cool retro popcorn machine that utilizes a hot air system that needs no oils or fats. It makes 60 grams of popcorn per 2 minutes and is very easy to dismantle, clean and maintain.
The Severin PC3751 is a nice and affordable option for pleasant family movie nights. It has a nice and sturdy design, it makes popcorn quite quickly, and its hot air system makes sure that you can eat as much as you want without consuming any oil.