The 10 Best Popcorn Poppers

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This wiki has been updated 36 times since it was first published in April of 2015. Whether you're looking for a healthy snack to eat at the office or want to create a movie theater experience at home, there are plenty of reasons to get a popcorn maker. The machines on this list range from convenient microwavable units to commercial-grade poppers suitable for large events. No matter how much space you have or what your budget is, there's sure to be something here for you. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. Superior Hot and Fresh

2. Wabash Valley Farms Whirley-Pop

3. West Bend Stir Crazy

Editor's Notes

December 09, 2020:

If you're weary of the chemicals in microwave popcorn bags and want to be able to control your ingredients, from the popping corn itself to the butter or oil and seasonings, getting a popcorn popper can help you snack smarter.

We removed the Presto 04821 due to availability concerns and replaced it with the Presto PopLite, a similar hot air popper from the same company. It's simple to operate and has a classic aesthetic. We also replaced the Paramount Machine & Cart with the Paramount Red, a smaller option that should be a more convenient choice for most households, but still makes high-quality popcorn in a movie theater style.

We made sure to cover a wide variety of popcorn making techniques, capacities, and price points. One new addition, the Wabash Valley Farms Open Fire, is a camping popcorn maker with a long handle that can collapse for storage and transport. It can also be used over a backyard grill if you want to create a camping experience at home.

If you're going for a cinematic atmosphere, or if you're hosting a larger event, consider a theater popcorn machine like the Superior Hot and Fresh, Paramount Red, Great Northern Pop Heaven, or Great Northern Little Bambino. These models take up more space than other options on the list, but they make a lot of popcorn and it tends to come out hot, fluffy, and fresh.

Microwave models, like the Ecolution Micro-Pop and Great Northern Little Bambino, are less likely to result in the best texture. However, they are some of the most convenient options, so if you're looking for something for an office or dorm room and aren't seeking absolute popcorn perfection, they might be the right choice for you.

Somewhere in-between these two extremes, in terms of size, quality, and convenience, we have the Wabash Valley Farms Whirley-Pop, a stove-top model that's easy to use, though it does require a few minutes of stirring, and the West Bend Stir Crazy, an electric version that features motorized stirring and has a clear cover that doubles as a serving bowl. If you have the cabinet space, these are good options for a household that has popcorn often, but doesn't need to spend the money or space on a commercial-grade machine.

May 22, 2019:

Ditching the sticky microwavable popcorn bags helps you avoid all the chemicals and preservatives that come with them. However, there are a lot of different ways to do that, because there is a pretty great variety of popcorn poppers, and they use diverse mechanisms to give you that perfect movie night snack. If showmanship is just as important as the finished product, the Paramount Machine & Cart can't really be beat. With its cart and large graphics, it looks just like those that may have been used at carnivals and concession stands in the 1950s and 1960s, and is perfect for a retro-themed party. If you want something just as charming in design but a bit more compact, the Great Northern Little Bambino and the Great Northern Roosevelt will also bring the theater experience home. As for those times you just want an easy and healthy way to make popcorn for friends and family, the Presto 04821 is ideal. It uses hot air and no oil to pop kernels, making it one of the healthiest choices. Meanwhile, the Wabash Valley Farms Whirley-Pop 26007DS is a fun option that children will love. This classic stovetop model turns from red to yellow as your popcorn pops, acting not only as an easy device to know when your food is ready, but also an entertaining spectacle while you wait. If you're the only one in your home who really likes popcorn, or you often find yourself snacking solo and don't want to make so much popcorn that most will go stale, the Ecolution Micro-Pop and the HotPop Original are convenient. They're also microwavable models, so if you don't want to fuss with too many mechanisms and prefer just pressing that "popcorn" button, you can.

4. Paramount Red

5. Wabash Valley Farms Open Fire

6. Ecolution Micro-Pop

7. Great Northern Pop Heaven

8. Presto PopLite

9. Great Northern Little Bambino

10. HotPop Original

Keep It Popping

A popcorn popper is a machine dedicated to heating a large quantity of corn kernels quickly for mass consumption.

While eating popcorn at both movies and carnivals is part of the whole social excursion experience, there are still many options for consumers to enjoy the same classic flavor from a home popper without leaving the house or overpaying for a tasty snack at the theater.

A popcorn popper is a machine dedicated to heating a large quantity of corn kernels quickly for mass consumption. Most poppers are fully enclosed to retain heat with large storage areas for keeping freshly-popped kernels warm and ready to serve. An individual popcorn kernel has several parts, including a tough outer shell called the pericarp, a germ (seed embryo), and an endosperm, which contains trapped water. The kernel is made up of approximately twelve percent moisture that turns to steam when heated. When the kernel reaches a temperature of approximately 475 degrees Fahrenheit (256.1 degrees Celsius), the expansion of its steam forces its hull to explode outward, hence the popping noise and fluffy texture.

Commercial machines are large and heavy with high wattage for quickly yielding a lot of popcorn, making them ideal for use in public places like movie theaters, carnivals, or in shopping malls where long lines of customers are likely to form. Commercial poppers come in several styles. These include countertop machines, made from industrial-grade metal and glass, and wheeled concession carts offering a full range of mobility.

Domestic poppers fall into three major categories that include countertop, air poppers, and round stirring poppers. Countertop machines leverage the use of oil kettles to pop their kernels and they also come in classic designs reminiscent of carnival and movie theater concession stands. These machines are equipped with many accessories that include warming lights, trays, butter dispensers, measuring cups, and scoops. Many are made from aluminum, stainless steel, plastic, and glass.

Healthy and economical, hot air poppers have a clear directional chute to divert freshly-popped kernels into a serving bowl. These poppers do not use oil, they are taller than conventional tabletop models, and they take up less space in the kitchen.

A stirring popper is typically round with a bowl-shaped base and an automated stirring arm for ensuring that all the kernels are heated consistently. This minimizes the occurrence of unpopped kernels. Once popping is complete, the dome-shaped cover can double as a serving bowl.

Classic Flavor

One must consider the available kitchen space, desired output, the design of the machine, and the popping method. If you're particularly health-conscious, then an air popper will work nicely to keep fatty oils away. These are also lower in price and often easier to clean than some of their tabletop counterparts. Both air poppers and traditional oil kettle poppers will produce consistently fluffy popcorn. That said, if you consider yourself the creative type and wish to experiment with different seasonings or flavors, an air popper can certainly be a healthy alternative.

One must consider the available kitchen space, desired output, the design of the machine, and the popping method.

By contrast, if you'd like to give your kids that movie theater experience at home, then go for the nostalgic popper. These often have sturdy doors or windows made from plexiglass, so they are less likely to shatter. They also have large capacities with pull-out serving trays, which comes in handy if you have several people coming over to visit. Removable parts are often dishwasher safe, which can significantly cut down on your cleanup time.

Some classic tabletop poppers have stainless steel oil kettles with their own integrated stirring arms for the kernels, meaning that you don't have to limit yourself to a dedicated stirring popper, especially if you want something that looks like an antique to impress your party guests. However, this is strictly based on personal choice. There is nothing at all wrong with a dedicated stirring popper. One should also be certain the classic machine has a dependable warming light inside to keep freshly-popped kernels hot.

Origins Of A Popped Secret

Popcorn dates back at least eighty thousand years with the archaeological discovery of corn pollen underneath Mexico City. This pollen was nearly identical to modern popcorn pollen, providing the belief that the ancient cave people of Mexico prepared and heated popcorn using some of the same fundamental principles used today. The oldest ears of popcorn ever found were discovered in the Bat Cave of central New Mexico by anthropologist Herbert Dick and botanist Earle Smith in 1948 and 1950.

The pair found tiny cobs of popcorn in which each kernel was enclosed in its own husk.

The pair found tiny cobs of popcorn in which each kernel was enclosed in its own husk. This popcorn was carbon dated to be over five thousand years old and was extremely well preserved. In these times, it was believed that popcorn was prepared using a bowl containing sand and placing it over an open fire. The sand was used to heat the kernels while the prepared popcorn rose to the top from under the sand. Europeans later learned of popcorn from the Native Americans, who prepared it for both eating and decoration.

The very first commercial popcorn machine appeared in the late 19th century and was invented by Illinois candy store owner Charles Cretors who modified the design of a steam-powered roaster to produce oil-popped popcorn with uniform seasonings. Cretors took his invention to the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893 where it was introduced to the public.

Fast forward to the 1970s when National Presto Industries introduced one of the first home consumer poppers called the Popcorn Pumper, which leveraged hot air blown up through the kernels without the use of oil. Since that time, many different forms of specialized poppers have emerged on the market with classic styles and integrated stirring blades that allow for both consistent heating and the addition of seasonings to kernels before they pop.

Sheila O'Neill
Last updated by Sheila O'Neill

Sheila is a writer and editor living in sunny Southern California. She studied writing and film at State University of New York at Purchase, where she earned her bachelor of arts degree. After graduating, she worked as an assistant video editor at a small film company, then spent a few years doing freelance work, both as a writer and a video editor. During that time, she wrote screenplays and articles, and edited everything from short films to infomercials. An ardent lover of the English language, she can often be found listening to podcasts about etymology and correcting her friends’ grammar.

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