National Popcorn Day is Jan. 19, and what better way to celebrate than with a fresh, hot, buttery bucket of popcorn? But don’t think you have to head to the movie theater to enjoy your favorite salty, cinematic treat. You can create theater-worthy popcorn at home, no microwave required.
Intrigued? Here are six popcorn machines to add to your kitchen countertop appliance arsenal for the perfect bite every time.
Our Favorite Popcorn Machines:
What to Consider When Shopping for a Popcorn Machine
But before you start shopping, you’ll want to consider a few things, to ensure you only pick the perfect popcorn machine for your family.
Type of popcorn machine
There are a few different types of popcorn machines that you can purchase.
For our purposes, we’re not including stovetop popcorn poppers; while these traditional, stainless steel or aluminum popcorn makers come with lots of benefits, they’re not really what you’d consider a “machine.” You still have to stand around babysitting the popcorn despite the handy dandy stirring rod, shaking and monitoring it to guarantee you won’t end up with a pot of burnt kernels.
We’re also not including microwave poppers. We’re only looking at popcorn machines that can truly be considered “machines” in that they’ll pop your popcorn all on their own, with no extra appliances or heat sources required.
So, when we get into these types of popcorn makers, you really only have two options: theater-style popcorn poppers and air poppers.
Theater-style popcorn poppers use oil and butter, combined with your kernels in a receptacle, to heat the mixture until the popcorn pops, at which point the popcorn falls out of the receptacle and typically into a heated warming tray.
An air popper is butter and oil-free; instead, it uses hot air to circulate around the kernels, causing them to pop.
For the most traditional popcorn flavor, you might want to go with a theater-style popcorn popper. If, though, you want the option of cooking without any oil, an air popper might be the way to go.
Capacity is an important factor in your decision and possibly even more important than you think. Buy a popcorn maker that’s too small, and you end up having to make endless rounds of popcorn for your family, especially on movie night. Buy a popcorn maker that’s too big, and you might end up making far too much popcorn every time, leading to unnecessary waste.
How long do you have to wait for your popcorn? If you want popcorn fast, look for makers with fast cooking speeds as you shop around. If you don’t mind waiting a few minutes for your popcorn, then there are no worries; you can simply go with any maker.
Warm Decks and Lights
You may want to consider prioritizing a few extra features as you shop for a popcorn maker, one of which is either a warming deck or a light. Warming decks and lights are a popular feature with larger, high-quantity popcorn machines. They help keep your popcorn at the right temperature and texture, for longer, in case you’re not going to eat all of that popcorn right away.
Ease of Use
And, lastly, you want to look at ease of use. This includes, possibly most importantly, ease of cleaning. Some cinema-style popcorn machines include lots of little parts and hard-to-reach nooks and crannies, making it difficult to keep your machine clean (and, thus, safe to use). You want a machine that’s either easy to clean by hand or a machine with a cooking receptacle that comes apart and can be washed in your dishwasher.
Remember, the best popcorn makers are the ones you actually use!
Our 6 Favorite Popcorn Machines
So now that you know a little bit about what you should be looking for in a popcorn machine, here are some of our favorite options. These are sure to level up birthday parties, movie nights, and healthy snacks after school!
If you can trust anyone with your popcorn, it’s got to be Orville Redenbacher’s. This brand has been churning out delicious popcorn and popcorn-related products for decades.
The Presto air popper requires zero oil or fat, though you can use an included butter melter and measuring cup to heat up some butter for drizzling after the popping is finished. (And one great thing about air poppers that use no oil? There’s no oily, greasy mess to clean up.)
The popper can pop up to 18 cups of popcorn in fewer than 3 minutes.
This Cuisinart popcorn machine is unique, as it pops all of your popcorn up into a large dome, and then the dome snaps off of the maker for use as a handy bowl. Since this isn’t a hot air popcorn maker, you’ll add your butter or oil and salt directly into the base of the maker, along with your kernels, and then wait for the magic to happen.
A rotating arm on the base keeps things moving for fewer burnt kernels. For easy cleaning, just remove all of the dirty parts and throw them in the dishwasher.
But for a classic, cinema-style popcorn maker, look to this option from Cuisinart. The tall, rectangular maker is just like what you’d see at the concessions counter at your favorite theater.
Add your kernels and oil or butter to the elevated cooking receptacle. As the kernels pop, they fill the receptacle, and the cooked pieces spill out over the side and into the base of the cooker. To retrieve your popcorn, just open up the door and reach inside.
The one downside to this style of machine is that there’s no detachable bowl that you can use for eating. You’ll have to supply that yourself. Still, you can’t beat the vintage appeal, especially if you’re looking for a unique addition to your home theater or game room.
But for even more retro fun, you can upgrade further to this popcorn cart with a built-in popcorn maker. While the tabletop Cuisinart variant above requires some counter space, this free-standing popcorn cart on wheels features the same cooking mechanisms but on a larger scale. Plus, rather than forcing you to open a small door and reach inside to retrieve your fresh popcorn, the cart features a door that folds outward toward the floor for easier scooping (with an included scoop!).
Sure, it’s a bit of a splurge and definitely not something you’d use every day, but if you frequently host parties or groups of kids, or if you’re looking for a fun addition to your office, this popcorn cart is the way to go. It can hold up to 32 cups of popcorn to keep everyone happy!
Okay, so let’s say you don’t need quite that much popcorn, but you do need more than the small 18 cups that the Orville Redenbacher’s brand offers above, and you’d like to pop your popcorn actually in some oil or butter. If that’s the case, look no further than this popcorn machine from Hamilton Beach. It can pop 24 cups of popcorn in each batch and features a large, removable lid that acts as your snacking bowl when you’re done. Plus, a butter well allows you to add in extra popcorn flavorings and seasonings during the popping process.
The only downside? This option is a little heavier and larger than the others, meaning it’s going to take up more space in your pantry.
The thing we love most about this popcorn popper? It holds your kernels for you in a convenient storage bin on the back of the machine. Just add up to 16 ounces of kernels to the bin and leave them there for the next time you want to make popcorn. When you’re ready, tell the West Bend Air Crazy Popcorn machine whether you want one, two, three or four servings of popcorn, and it’ll measure out the appropriate amount of kernels.
Our next-favorite thing about this popcorn popper? It features a “Clean” function that pushes a rush of air through the machine, cleaning out any leftover kernels or crumbs for less cleaning for you to worry about later.
The only downside is that you will need to supply your own bowl and position it underneath the popper spout. Otherwise, this air popper is a perfect choice for those who air pop popcorn on a regular basis.
A Note on Microwave and Stovetop Poppers
We understand that not everyone will want an extra countertop kitchen appliance. If you don’t eat popcorn that often, or if you don’t have a lot of space in your kitchen or room in your budget, the above-listed electric popcorn machines might just not work for you.
So, if you do want a microwave popcorn maker, we recommend the very affordable Cuisinart Pop and Serve. The 10-cup, BPA-free, silicone bowl allows you to pop your popcorn in either a bit of oil or just straight, no oil required, and the result is a bowl of popcorn in about 4 minutes, straight from the microwave, no unpronounceable microwave popcorn ingredients required.
If you have your heart set on an old-fashioned stovetop popper, you can’t go wrong with the Original Whirley Pop, which is also very affordable and as easy to use as it comes. Just throw in your oil and a few kernels before placing the maker on your stove. When the kernels pop, you know your oil is heated, so you can add the rest of your kernels. Turn the handle to keep your kernels from burning as things really start popping.
What’s the Best Popcorn-Making Method for Me?
Depending on what you want most, you may want to pick one type of popcorn-making method over another. For example, if you just want convenience, easy cleaning and a fast process, and you’re not as concerned about taste, quantity or kernel quality, you might want to go with a dishwasher-safe microwave popcorn popper.
If, on the other hand, you want the healthiest popcorn possible, you’re going to want to go with an electric air popper; these are really the only popcorn machines that allow you to make large quantities of popcorn with no oil whatsoever required.
If you want the best-tasting popcorn with the fewest unpopped popcorn kernels, and you don’t mind working or waiting for it, the stovetop version might be exactly what you need.
However, if you want a large quantity of traditional popcorn, with lots of buttery, salty goodness, and you want it conveniently, with less work on your end, you’ll likely want to go with a cinema-style popcorn machine.
What’s Next? Toppings, Of Course!
Whatever method you end up using for making your popcorn, whatever popcorn machine or maker you opt for, for the best results, don’t be afraid to get a little creative with your toppings. Sure, everyone loves butter and salt on their popcorn, but if you eat popcorn regularly, try to mix things up every once in a while.
Add nutritional yeast to your popcorn butter for cheesy popcorn without the cheese. Add a mixture of cocoa powder, sugar, and cinnamon to coconut oil rather than butter for a sweet treat. Try adding Parmesan and pepper to your popcorn or garlic powder and chili powder for a little international flair. Don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty? Try a few teaspoons of peanut butter and honey, tossing to coat your popcorn (just make sure to let it dry a bit before you chow down).
There’s Never a Bad Time for Popcorn
Really. When have you ever turned down a fresh bowl of popcorn, after all? (We’re betting it’s never.) Level up your popcorn game this year and dump those bags of microwave popcorn in the trash where they belong.
Making your own popcorn with one of our six favorite popcorn popper machines guarantees a better pop every time.
You might also be interested in: The 12 Best Snack Subscription Boxes [For All You Foodies]
The 6 Best Popcorn Machines:
- Presto Orville Redenbacher’s Hot Air Popcorn Popper
- Cuisinart CPM-700 EasyPop Popcorn Maker
- Cuisinart CPM-28 Classic-Style Popcorn Maker
- Nostalgia Concession Vintage Popcorn Cart
- Hamilton Beach Electric Hot Oil Popcorn Maker
- West Bend Air Crazy Popcorn on Demand