Knowing how to pop fresh popcorn can be a very useful skill to have in your kitchen repertoire. While you can pop popcorn in the microwave or using a specialty device, we learned from popping over 40 batches that nothing quite beats the taste and simplicity of the pot-on-the-stove method using regular cookware you already own.
But if popping popcorn is something you do every week for movie night, a faster and simpler method is probably a smart idea—whether it's using a stovetop popper, air popper, or microwavable popper. Those microwavable bags can also get the job done, but who needs fake butter and chemical-coated paper when it's just as easy to have the real thing?
To find out which of the best popcorn makers you should buy (and not just the best-selling popcorn poppers on Amazon) , we tested and compared 10 of the best against the stovetop method. Each time, the stovetop method excelled in our testing, but the microwavable Cuisinart Pop and Serve(available at Amazon for $12.99) was a close second. It's faster, safer, and can be used with or without oil. If you prefer an old-fashioned Whirley pop for camping or special occasions, the Franklin’s Gourmet Original Whirley Pop is the way to go—and you’ll have a lot of fun using it, too.
Here are the best popcorn makers we tested, ranked in order:
Cuisinart Pop and Serve
Hotpop Silicone Microwave Popcorn Marker
Franklin’s Gourmet Popcorn Original Whirley Pop
Colonel Popper Microwave Popcorn Maker
Great Northern Popcorn Company Original Stovetop Popcorn Popper
Cuisinart CPM-100MR Hot Air Popcorn Maker
Nordic Ware Microwave Popcorn Popper, 12-Cup
Presto 04821 Orville Redenbacher's Hot Air Popper
Lekue Microwave Popcorn Popper
West Bend Stir Crazy Electric Hot Oil Popcorn Popper
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This microwavable popcorn popper from Cuisinart might not look like anything special, but it consistently produced the best popcorn in the least time of all the products on this list. The Pop and Serve’s cheerful, cherry red silicone bowl is collapsible for easy storage, but unlike the other collapsible bowls I tested, it's thick and sturdy enough to hold its shape as a serving bowl. Its small handles are handy for removing from the microwave, too, when the base is still hot to the touch.
I was also impressed by the Pop and Serve’s wide, flat-bottomed construction that prevents kernels from piling up on top of each other, which can lead to unevenly popped popcorn. And unlike the lids that sit low in other microwavable poppers and have the potential to get vacuum-sealed shut, the Cuisinart's scalloped venting lid attaches directly on top, giving the popcorn plenty of room to pop. The popper worked well with and without oil, producing crunchier popcorn than the air popcorn poppers I tested—which makes it great for both health-conscious snackers and those who want to indulge.
If you like to make popcorn on the regular and want a quick, no-mess, no-fuss alternative to your stovetop method, we’re confident the Pop and Serve will serve you well. It’s dishwasher safe, too!
Gather round, folks, because it’s Whirley Pop time. While I found these old-fashioned devices too bulky to keep around my own kitchen, the Franklin’s Gourmet Popcorn Original Whirley Pop was the best of the bunch I tested, and it’s a good novelty purchase for popcorn addicts or families who enjoy the process of making popcorn, not just eating it. The Whirley Pop can also be used over a campfire, although there are also campfire-specific poppers sold with longer handles.
Thanks to this popper’s lightweight aluminum construction, it heated quickly and evenly, and the crank handle was easy to move. While there were a number of lightly burnt kernel shells at the bottom of the pot after popping was complete, the popcorn itself tasted fresh and was free from burnt spots. Because it requires oil, this Whirley Pop produces some very flavorful, crisp popcorn, but can’t achieve the oil-free results of air poppers or microwavable bowls. The package also comes with some popcorn kernels and flavor packets included to jump-start your fresh popcorn journey.
Hi, I’m Cassidy, Reviewed’s kitchen writer who happens to be a film critic on the side. Why is that relevant, you ask? Let’s just say I’ve spent a lot more money on movie-theater popcorn this year than your average American. Plus, I used to operate a novelty popcorn maker for my college movie club and lived with a friend who was addicted to her air popper, so I would confidently call myself a popcorn tasting connoisseur. Before testing, I wanted to know which method and device produced the crispiest, fluffiest kernels without burning (or requiring a ton of effort), and I suffered through smelling like popcorn for days to find out.
Because popcorn poppers are single-function tools, my testing methods were simple—I popped four batches of popcorn using each device, two with vegetable oil and two without. For those that weren’t compatible with oil, or alternatively needed oil to be used safely, I only made two batches. I followed all manual directions regarding time and temperature, and I used a measuring cup to scoop the same amount of kernels (one-half cup) for each batch. After the popcorn was popped, I evaluated the batch and took note of its texture and flavor, as well as the number of kernels left unpopped and any burning or suspicious non-popcorn smell coming from the popcorn or device itself. I added salt to one batch per product to see how it faired (okay, and because I wanted salty popcorn).
I also noted how difficult the product was to use, clean, and store, how much time it took to make one batch, and whether results were consistent across batches. These factors were often dependent on the type of product I was using—microwavable poppers will always be faster than stovetop ones, for example—and I also took that into consideration in the final scoring.
All of these devices were tested against a control method—a regular pot on my gas stove with a glass lid. I placed a half cup of kernels in a nonstick pot with one tablespoon of vegetable oil, put the lid on, and heated it through on medium-high until the popping slowed significantly, shaking the pot to toss the kernels periodically.
Electric (Air Poppers), Microwave, or Stovetop?
With so many different ways to pop the same kernels, it’s useful to know what to expect from each method so you can choose which is right for you. Most household electric popcorn makers are air popcorn poppers, meaning they blow hot air directly onto the kernels without any oil. While air poppers can be great for those trying to snack healthier, they’re often loud and cumbersome devices, and the kernels they produce are light and fluffy, lacking the crisp outer crunch that comes from contact with hot metal and oil in other methods. There are electric popcorn poppers that do work with oil, but they’re the most difficult to clean and store of all the options.
Microwavable popcorn makers, however, are the easiest to clean and store of the bunch. Most of the microwavable poppers we tested are made of near-identical collapsible silicone bowls with venting lids that rise as the popcorn pops within. These can be used with or without oil, depending on your desired outcome, and while they tend to leave more unpopped kernels than the other methods, the popcorn it makes comes out crisp. The risk of burning is high if you don’t set your microwave timer correctly, just like it is with the bagged stuff.
The classic, Whirley Pop stovetop devices are simply large aluminum pots with crank handles that disturb the kernels within, helping them pop quickly without burning. They can be used on most stovetops (not induction!) or over an open flame, such as a campfire. Because stovetop poppers require oil to operate safely, the kernels they produce are crisp and flavorful but clean up and storage can be a pain if you don’t have time and room to spare. If you want to feel like you’re popping popcorn for a Christmas market in 19th-century Paris or a camping trip through the great American wilderness, these are the products for you. If not, stick to shaking a regular pot on the stove.
A Note About Butter
Because of dairy butter’s low smoke point, none of these products are designed to be used with butter directly—and if you try to, you’ll just wind up burning something. We recommend you melt butter in the microwave or on the stovetop and toss it with finished kernels, or alternatively, cook with a different flavorful fat like coconut oil. Movie theater butter isn’t really butter, but typically butter-flavored oil. The more you know!
Other Popcorn Poppers We Tested
Hotpop Microwave Popcorn Popper
With a construction similar to the Colonel Popper and Lekue microwave poppers, the Hotpop is another collapsible silicone bowl that can pop popcorn quickly and is easy to clean. It comes in a variety of colors, has the same small handles as the Pop and Serve for safe removal from the microwave, is BPA free, and has a clear lid that rises as the popcorn pops. So why the lower score than the Pop and Serve? The bowl was too hot after each use for too long to comfortably hold or place in my lap, so I doubt I would ever use it as a serving bowl. The bowl is also made of a thin silicone that collapses readily, reducing some of its functionality. The Hotpop consistently makes good popcorn, but its design is keeping it from the top spot.
The colorful Colonel Popper is nearly identical to the Hotpop, and it performed like the same product in our testing, save for a faster cook time that caused me to burn the first batch (and feel less confident walking away from the microwave). Like the Hotpop, the thin silicone bowl collapses down to nothing when not in use, making it easy to store and transport, and it’s dishwasher safe—but also tends to get too hot to hold and use as a serving bowl. This is a fine, inexpensive product that can pop popcorn with or without oil, but I prefer the Cuisinart Pop and Serve.
Great Northern Popcorn Original Spinner Stovetop 6 1/2 Quart Popcorn Popper
This Whirley Pop from Great Northern Popcorn Company looks awfully similar to our favorite from Franklin’s Gourmet Popcorn, but lacks the black exterior finish—so it’s a truly old-timey-looking aluminum pot. While this popper still produced some great, flavorful popcorn, it was more inconsistent between batches than Franklin’s Gourmet, and after accidentally leaving it on the stove for a minute without anything in it, I burned the bottom so badly it was nearly impossible to clean. It also seems less likely to last the test of time than the other Whirley Pop models, and its significantly reduced price suggests that might be the case.
This electric air popper from Cuisinart produces some of the biggest, fluffiest kernels of popcorn I’ve ever seen—but that’s not necessarily a good thing. In testing, this air-popped popcorn lacked the crispness and satisfying crunch of popcorn made via other methods. And although it popped basically every kernel I gave it, it made a loud whirring noise and spread a lot of hot air into the room while doing so. Considering all this, plus its awkward shape and size for storage, I would choose other methods over this air popcorn popper almost every time.
This extremely fast, extremely ugly microwavable popper from Nordic Ware forgoes the popular collapsible silicone design in favor of a hard, plastic-like bowl. While this popcorn machine popped each batch quickly and without burning, the bowl was quite hot coming out of the microwave, with no separate handles for safe handling. The shape of the bowl is also not conducive to pouring if you want to move the popcorn into another container to mix or serve.
While this Orville Redenbacher-branded hot air popper from Presto produces kernels on par with the Cuisinart model, Presto’s design leaves much to be desired. Namely, this popper completely lacks an on/off switch, meaning it needs to be unplugged to be shut off. This is a huge inconvenience for some people, and I found it incredibly irritating to deal with throughout testing. It’s as loud as other air poppers, and also gave off a chemical smell during my first use. The only highlights are its speed and efficiency in popping kernels.
Despite looking just like the other silicone microwavable models, this popper had issues with consistency—some batches with oil had burnt areas, and some dry runs had lots of unpopped kernels. The Lekue also lacks the small handles that make it easy to take the other models out of the microwave. Combined with the collapsing and overheating issues of its thin silicone bowl, these inconsistencies knocked the Lekue popper far down our list.
I was hopeful that this electric, dome-shaped popcorn popper from West Bend would be a fun alternative to the air poppers and identical microwavable bowls on display, but my hopes were misplaced. This cumbersome, clunky, and downright difficult device was a pain to use, requiring you to literally flip the entire unit upside down to remove the bowl after the popcorn was popped. Because it allows you to melt butter directly into the popcorn as it pops through a grate on the top, flipping it upside down could result in butter on you and your table if you forget to put a small lid back on, a mistake I inevitably made during one of the batches.
Through the popping process, the Stir Crazy was startlingly loud and slow, with the first batch taking over six minutes to pop, and the clean-up was worse than I could have imagined. The resulting popcorn was no better than what I had made on the stove or in the microwave. Kids might enjoy watching popcorn pop in the dome, but their entertainment is sincerely not worth this hassle and potential hazard.
Cassidy covered all things cooking as the kitchen editor for Reviewed from 2018 to 2020. An experimental home chef with a healthy distrust of recipes, Cassidy lives by the "Ratatouille" philosophy that, with a few techniques and key tools, anyone can cook. She's produced in-depth reviews and guides on everything from meal kits to stand mixers and the right way to cook an egg.
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