The best popcorn maker
Even when you're staying in for movie night, you still want movie theater-quality snacks to satisfy your cravings. Popcorn is the obvious choice, and while you can get bags of microwave popcorn at the grocery store, they never taste quite as good as when you pop it yourself. With a handy popcorn maker in your kitchen, you can whip up batches of hot, fresh popcorn whenever it's time to binge-watch your favorite show. The right model makes it fast and easy, too, so you're ready to enjoy your popcorn before the opening credits start.
Keep reading our shopping guide to learn how to choose the best popcorn maker for your kitchen. We've also included some specific product recommendations, including our top pick from Cuisinart, which offers an extra-large capacity and a butter-warming tray to give every batch the perfect flavor.
Considerations when choosing popcorn makers
Popcorn maker type
Microwave poppers are designed for use in your microwave and are usually made of BPA-free silicone. You fill the microwave-safe chamber with kernels and add some oil (if desired) before putting it in your microwave for about three minutes. It's extremely easy to use, but you can wind up with a lot of unpopped kernels.
An electric stirrer is a countertop popcorn maker that features a base with a heating element and a lid that keeps the popped corn from exploding all over your kitchen. You add the kernels to the base, which has a metal strip that continually stirs the kernels while they're heating to make sure as many as possible pop. Some oil is usually required for the best results. An electric stirrer works pretty quickly, pops the majority of the kernels, and often has a large capacity -- but you have to keep an eye on it to make sure the popcorn doesn't burn.
A hand-crank stirrer is a specially designed pot for making popcorn on your stovetop. It features a crank that's connected to a rod inside that keeps the kernels moving during the popping process. The pot sits on the stove to heat the kernels, but it has a lid to keep the popcorn from bursting out. A han- crank stirrer usually requires more time and hands-on effort than other options, though you can easily add seasonings at the end of popping and use the crank to distribute them evenly throughout the popcorn.
An air popper features a chamber you put the kernels in, which then heats up to pop them. When they've popped, they're pushed out a chute at the front of the appliance. Because it uses forced air, an air popper doesn't require butter or oil, so you can make much healthier popcorn. The finished popcorn usually doesn't have much flavor.
Think of the size of the group you're normally popping corn for to determine how large a capacity your popcorn maker needs. If your movie nights usually consist of just you and a friend, a smaller model can work. If you have a large family or often host large groups, you want a popcorn maker with a 12-cup capacity or greater.
You don't want to have to wait around too long for your popcorn, so pay attention to how long it takes a model to pop a batch. Most models work quickly and can pop their full capacity in just three to four minutes. Air poppers can sometimes take even less time because they don't have to heat any oil first.
For any popcorn maker that requires oil, make sure it has a built-in stirring mechanism to keep the kernels moving during heating. Not only does a stirring system help ensure that as many kernels as possible are popped, it also prevents burned or scorched popcorn.
Many people enjoy tossing their homemade popcorn with melted butter to give it a similar taste to movie theater popcorn. Some electric popcorn makers have a built-in butter chamber where you can melt the butter and make sure it's spread evenly throughout the popcorn.
Electric popcorn makers feature a heating element to pop the kernels, and in some cases, the exterior of the appliance can get hot. Opt for a model with an exterior that stays cool during popping, so you don't have to worry about possible burns.
Some popcorn makers have measurement markings inside the area where you add the kernels. This way you know exactly how much popcorn you're making without having to get a measuring cup dirty.
Popcorn makers range from under $10 to $150. Those in the $10 and under range are usually microwave poppers, but you can find a good air popper, electric stirrer, or hand-crank model for between $15 and $60.
Q. What's the healthiest way to pop your own popcorn?
A. An air popper usually makes the healthiest popcorn because it doesn't require any butter or oil. Air-popped popcorn contains only 30 calories, zero grams of fat, and six grams of carbs per cup.
Q. What type of popcorn maker is best if I like to make caramel or cheese popcorn?
A. If you want to mix flavorings into your popcorn, a hand crank stirrer is usually your best bet. You can easily add whatever ingredients you like to flavor the popcorn and turn the crank to stir them in and make sure the popcorn is evenly coated.
Popcorn makers we recommend
Best of the best: Cuisinart EasyPop Hot Air Popcorn Maker
Our take: A top-rated, dependable popcorn maker that makes enough for large groups.
What we like: Can make up to 15 cups at a time, which is usually enough for about six people. Doesn't require any oil. Pops a batch in less than three minutes. Features a built-in cord wrap for easy storage. Includes a butter warming tray.
What we dislike: Unpopped kernels sometimes get shot out from the popper, so you have to keep a bowl beneath the chute just in case.
Best bang for your buck: Nordic Ware Microwave Popcorn Popper
Our take: A durable microwave popper that stands out among other models for its high-quality construction.
What we like: Doesn't require oil. Made of unbreakable gemstone and includes a plastic lid. Can be washed in the dishwasher. Can pop up to 12 cups at a time.
What we dislike: Gets extremely hot in the microwave, so it must be taken out with a potholder.
Choice 3: Presto PopLite Hot Air Popcorn Popper
Our take: Makes popcorn quickly and can be used with different popcorn kernel brands.
What we like: Suitable for use with both standard and gourmet popcorn kernels. Doesn't need oil or butter. Makes up to 18 cups of popcorn at a time. Only takes two and a half minutes to pop a batch.
What we dislike: Can sometimes burn kernels, so you have to keep an eye on it.
Jennifer Blair is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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