Popcorn maker design
There are three types of popcorn popper styles: stovetop, big theater-style poppers, and air poppers that use electricity. Stovetop poppers are the most traditional kind of poppers and are convenient because they are small and easy to store and transport. The best kind of stovetop popper will work on every kind of stovetop, such as smooth and induction ranges. The large popcorn machines that resemble the ones at the theater are frequently designed to have a vintage appearance, so they serve as unique pieces of decor in addition to making large amounts of popcorn. Many people prefer these kinds of poppers because of the popcorn quality. The downside is that they are usually pretty expensive and take up a lot of space. Air poppers have become popular in recent years because they make healthier popcorn and can be used in student dorms. They are also easy to operate and clean.
Oil or air popping method
In addition to the three main popper designs, the popcorn makers use either hot air or oil to pop the corn. Oil is more traditional and gives the popcorn a richer taste that’s similar or identical to what you would buy at a movie theater. Many poppers allow for a variety of oils besides olive oil, like coconut oil, so you can have a health-friendly option. Popcorn popped with just air are very popular because they are all-natural and essentially calorie-free. You have control over seasonings like salt, butter, sugar, and so on, depending on your tastes. Many people still say that air-popped popcorn is blander even with seasonings, so if you really want that theater-style taste, oil poppers are the way to go.
Popcorn maker sizes range from as little as 15 cups per batch to 3 gallons. The large theater-style popcorn poppers are the machines that make as many as 3 gallons, so you can continue making batches for a big crowd and never feel like you might run out of popcorn. Many of these theater-style machines do allow you to make smaller batches in the kettle if you want to, so you do not have to wait to use your popper until you have a lot of people over. Stovetop poppers and air poppers typically make a smaller amount (in the 15-18 cups/batch range) and are better-suited for smaller gatherings or families of 2-4 people. The smaller stovetop and air poppers are also more convenient if you have limited storage space. Air poppers in particular are popular with college students, who do not always have access to stovetops.
After knowing how much popcorn a popper can make, your next concern is likely to be how fast the popper makes that amount. Most poppers are very fast and can make their full capacity in 3-4 minutes, with the larger poppers taking longer. This makes poppers comparable or even faster than using a microwave, and the popcorn is of a higher quality, like what you would find at a fair or movie theater. Some smaller air poppers (designed for 4-6 people) are extremely fast because you do not need to heat any oil first; these makers can take under 3 minutes.
Many popcorn makers (especially air poppers) come with a measuring cup that also doubles as a butter melter. You can measure out the exact amount of unpopped kernels that you need, and then set the cup on top of the popper (or in the designated spot) to melt a pat of butter. Melting the butter and seasoning your corn this way is very convenient, and results in richer flavors, which is especially important for air-popped corn, which is often criticized as being bland.
The construction of a popcorn maker is very important because they are exposed to extremely hot temperatures, hot oil, and so on. The cheaper popcorn poppers, which include many air-poppers, are often made of plastic with plastic gears. The problem with this construction is that the plastic is prone to warping and even melting if you use the machine a lot. The best stovetop poppers will be made of stainless steel or aluminum. Stainless steel is the prefered metal because it holds heat more consistently and is easier to just wipe clean. Many stovetop poppers include stainless steel cranks with wooden handles to move the popcorn in the kettle.
Presto, which was originally called Northwestern Steel and Iron Works, was founded in 1905. They manufactured industrial-size pressure canners, and later began creating home-canning products. When Presto made the pressure cooker in 1941, the brand became extremely popular. Their success continued to grow, and in 1978, Presto made one of the world’s first air popcorn poppers. In 1994, Presto created another popper, the PowerPop, that used microwave heat to pop more kernels than any other microwave popper. The PowerPop was convenient, affordable, and could be used with or without oil so people could choose.
Great Northern specializes in products that bring back memories of old-timey fairs. Their popcorn poppers are perfect for gatherings like weddings, family reunions, graduations, and for those who are fortunate enough to have home theaters. Great Northern also sells hot dog rollers, snow cone machines, cotton candy makers, and other concession equipment. Their popcorn machines are sold by distributors like Amazon, Wayfair, and Sears.
Lindy’s is a unique brand because all their products are manufactured by the Amish, so they have no website or email. Their stainless steel kitchen accessories (which include stovetop poppers) are sold by Lindy’s Stainless Steel, the chosen dealer for the products. In addition to poppers, Lindy’s makes mugs, bowls, jugs, and utensils. The stainless steel is famous for its affordability and scratch-resistant durability.
Since 1911, the West Bend brand has been offering electric kitchen appliances like blenders, bread makers, coffee makers, and more. They are originally an aluminum company and halted production of their appliances for the World War II effort, but went back into business after the war and became very popular. They have a wide range of popcorn makers including oil poppers like the Stir Crazy, air poppers, and compact theater-style popcorn machines.
Two other well-known popcorn brand are Wabash Valley Farms and Nostalgia. Wabash, established in Indiana, originally started out selling popcorn to movie theaters and other places where concessions were needed. When they started selling bags of kernels right to customers, they searched for a popper that would do the Wabash popcorn justice. The Whirley-Pop Stovetop popcorn popper matched the profile, and after buying the company, Wabash continues to sell the popper. The Nostalgia Electrics brand prides itself on its vintage design and quality. They sell old-fashioned, theater-style popcorn makers as as ice cream makers, cotton candy machines, and more.
The need for an on/off button is nearly exclusive to air poppers because they have to be plugged in. Without an on/off button, you just plug in the popper to start heating it, and have to unplug it to turn it off. Having the button option not only save energy, but it’s safer. It’s a lot harder to remember to unplug the entire machine after you’ve gotten your popcorn, while having that clearly-labeled on/off button reminds you to turn off the popper.
Tilt-out popcorn door
Having a tilt-out popcorn door for the large, theater-style popcorn makers is extremely convenient. Since these machines make so much popcorn, you need access to the popcorn without spilling it everywhere, or having to awkwardly reach inside the machine through a window. With the tilt-out door, you just pull it open like a drawer and scoop out your popcorn. Many popcorn makers with this feature also put in the effort to embellish the drawer and handle, so it gives the popper a retro and stylish appeal.
Fewer unpopped kernels
Having “old maids” (unpopped kernels) is a problem that all poppers (air, stovetop, and theater) have. However, there are many popcorn makers that include special features designed to prevent old maids and pop more popcorn, so you don’t have to deal with a pile of kernels at the bottom of your bowl. Poppers that have domes, like air poppers, with steep side walls help keep the kernels centered on the cooking surface so they all heat up and pop evenly and quickly. Built-in stirring systems on theater-style poppers are also extremely useful, because they keep kernels moving in the oil. This prevents kernels sticking and burning, and you do not have to stand and manually turn the corn. You usually have to pay a bit more for a machine with automatic stirring, but not a significant amount more since people expect theater-style machines to have this feature.
Uses a microwave
One of the more innovative popcorn maker designs comes from Presto. This popper combines the speed and convenience microwave popcorn with the higher-quality corn made by stovetop poppers. You put the unpopped kernels in a paper base with oil and cover with a lid. In 2-2 ½ minutes, the popcorn is finished. The disadvantage of this kind of popper is that you have to use a different paper cup every time, so it generates a lot of trash. However, it is a great alternative to bagged popcorn and is a lot more affordable than most stovetop poppers. Its design also leaves virtually no unpopped kernels.