Popcorn tends to bring on so many joyful memories — whether they involve gathering around a stove with your family, or munching buttery puffs at movies, circuses, or the state fair. And who amongst us couldn't use a bit of popcorn-induced happiness?
That's why we've rounded up some of the best-rated popcorn makers on the market, from traditional stovetop versions (which really have the power to transport you back in time), to electric air poppers.
Before you click to cart, consider a few important factors about how (and how often) you'll use a popcorn maker. The right one for you may depend on your family's snacking habits and of course the space you have to store the special appliance.
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As you can see from our "best of" breakdown, popcorn makers vary wildly by style. But they largely break down into the following three types.
Stovetop: The most traditional, it's essentially a pot, except it features a built-in stirring mechanisms for even cooking. Stovetop makers produce that old-timey kettle corn flavor that many people adore, and are great if you don't have electricity. But they can be more difficult to store and clean, which may make you pump the brakes when you're craving a bowl of popped kernels if you don't want to spend the time cleaning.
Electric: Electric versions have become very popular, quickly producing popcorn with the push of a button. Many are even air poppers, meaning they use hot air instead of oil to explode the kernels — a much healthier option. And some of the parts can be put in the dishwasher for easy cleaning. That said, they can be difficult to store and potentially more expensive, and anything electric is prone to breaking down.
Microwave: The alternative to zapping a pre-packed bag of popcorn, microwave popcorn bowls allow you to add as many kernels as you want (sometimes without butter if you choose), then pop and serve it — occasionally even store it — directly in the vessel. If collapsible, they also take up minimum space. But since they're generally made of food-safe plastics, they can produce off flavors and retain smells.
Materials are often dependent on the type of popper you choose. Stovetop popcorn poppers are made from stainless steel, while microwave poppers are generally plastic or silicone, and can often effect the price.
The materials do make a difference when it comes to the final popcorn product, too: Steel/aluminum has improved heat distribution, while silicone/plastic is lightweight, inexpensive, and practically impenetrable. Glass can be tricky to store and is prone to breakage, but doesn't retain off flavors or odors and tends to be more attractive.
Popcorn is great for feeding a family or a crowd, so you'd ideally want a popper that can produce mass quantities in one go, instead of having to make batch after batch.
That said, larger capacity poppers generally take up more space, which is something to consider if you don't have extra room in your kitchen. And not everyone requires more than a serving or two at a time, which is where our more diminutive poppers (see our "Best for Solo Snacking" pick) comes in.
This simple to use (just flick the on/off switch), consistent (1500 watts of power leave no kernel unpopped) and reasonably attractive machine (we like the shiny red option!) creates up to 10 cups of fluffy popcorn at a time, in under three minutes. The multi-purpose lid can be used as a measuring cup or for melting butter — which, incidentally, you can feel a tad less guilty about slathering on, since no oil is required to create a bowl-full of air-popped beauties in the first place. The chute and butter tray are removable and dishwasher safe, so you don't need to let deep cleaning a popcorn maker cut into your Netflix television binge nights.
Shelling out big bucks for all manner of single-use kitchen gadgets can really add up. Thankfully, the adorable, pastel-tinted Dash can be yours for just $20. This tiny-but-mighty appliance can air pop up to 16 cups and includes a built-in butter melting tray, which can be removed and easily cleaned in the dishwasher, as can the plastic popping shoot. No wonder it's one of Amazon's top sellers.
There's something comforting about turning back the clock to kinder, gentler times, before microwaves were a thing and we were required to patiently tend our popcorn on the top of the stove. The Whirley Pop is all sorts of retro adorable, while managing to streamline the process of making authentic kettle corn. Steam vents release moisture to create fluffier kernels, while the hand crank mechanism continuously stirs them up, to prevent burning and evenly distribute oil. And it makes 6 quarts at a time, twice as much as your standard microwaved bag. Sometimes, there's simply no improving on a classic.
Cuisinart continues to assert dominance in the popcorn maker realm, with a silicone bowl that is all about convenience. This maker boasts a 10-cup capacity, and you simply need pour your desired amount of kernels into the BPA-free vessel, add oil (or not, it works either way), zap for 3 to 5 minutes, enjoy straight from the bowl, then snap on the lid to store any leftovers. Pop, serve, and preserve.
Many electric machines are also de facto air poppers nowadays. But West End provides the motorized ease that popcorn-enthusiasts crave in electro-powered vessels, while still creating kernels coated with decadent oil- or butter-based goodness. Equipped with a stirring rod to avoid sticking and burning, along with a built-in butter well and heat-resistant handles and base, you can make 6 quarts of popcorn in under 4 minutes. And the domed lid can be flipped over and used as a serving bowl.
We're willing to bet your countertops are already cluttered with kitchen equipment. So save valuable real estate with the microwaveable Salbee (conveniently equipped with handles), which collapses into a flat circle small enough to stash in a drawer. Made from BPA-free, dishwasher-safe silicone, and available in 18 vibrant colors, you can even select one that suits your kitchen décor.
Now you can really bring the cinema experience to your living room. This snazzy countertop machine offers style and substance, with its vintage red and silver chrome finishes, and stainless steel, one-gallon capacity kettle, and built-in stirring system for consistent popping. A removable serving tray really sets it apart from the pack of similar popcorn makers, allowing you to snack and clean with ease.
Not everyone needs (we said needs, not wants) enough popcorn to feed an entire family. The Ecolution is perfectly sized and portioned for solitary snacking — or those times you just want to hoard your own bowl. This pint-sized cutie air pops its kernels via microwave, and is made from BPA-free, dishwasher safe borosilicate glass (which unlike silicone, doesn't absorb off-flavors and smells).
This story originally appeared on Allrecipes.