With many homes now enjoying films on high definition, flat-screen TVs equipped with soundbars they are only one step away from recreating the cinema experience, freshly popped popcorn! Rather than faffing about with a pan or spending lots of money on microwave packets, the easiest way to get the perfectly cooked film snack is with a popcorn maker.
The first specialised popcorn makers for home use were covered pots with an integrated stirring blade to prevent kernels burning on the bottom of the pan. Then, in the late 1970s, popcorn makers were introduced that used hot air blowing through the kernels. Hot air ‘poppers’ cook without oil and are also usually quicker than pan-frying. Finally, new kitchen technology led to the introduction of specialized plastic cooking vessels for heating popcorn in microwave ovens. We have examples of all the different types of popcorn maker in our list, below.
Popcorn continues to grow in popularity as a healthy snack, especially for people with dietary restrictions. Air-popped corn is high in antioxidants and dietary fibre, and is salt- and sugar-free. And, it’s low in calories: a cupful (about 250g) of popped corn is only 30 calories.
Buying loose kernels is not only cheaper than pre-packaged, microwave-popcorn packets but it also gives you total control over how much salt or butter you add so it can be as healthy or tasty as you want it to be. You will also be able to choose your portion size, rather than being restricted to a specific number of packets.
Best Hot Air Popcorn Makers
Babz Popcorn Maker
The Babz machine is a basic, hot-air popper. Features are limited to an on/off switch and a transparent lid that doubles as a measuring scoop; the casing is red plastic. It is power-rated at 1.2kW and will pop enough kernels for two people in about three minutes. When turned on, popping begins after about 45 seconds and popcorn flows out of the cover into your collection bowl (not supplied). The Babz is a low-cost machine that will do the job.
Russell Hobbs 24630 Popcorn Maker
The 24630 is a hot-air popcorn maker from an established brand. This is a full-sized machine, standing over 11 inches tall and capable of producing 12 cups of finished popcorn in one run, which takes about two minutes. The power rating is 1,290 watts. Its plastic lid doubles as a kernel-measuring scoop and is designed to direct popped corn downwards into your serving bowl as it expands and emerges from the machine.
The manufacturer advises that it should be rested for 15 minutes between ‘runs’ since the unit can become very hot but this warning applies to all hot-air machines and children should be supervised when the machine is in use. Reviewers report good results achieved quickly; the Russell Hobbs 24630 is a highly recommended popcorn maker.
Party Time EK1524R Popcorn Maker
This is a nicely designed hot-air popcorn maker, available in three colours: red; pink, or purple. Suitable for a family kitchen, it is over 310cm high and consumes 1200 watts of power. There is a two-part lid: a small, measuring cup pivots within the dome-shaped cover. The cup is filled with kernels and then flipped over to deliver the corn into the heating chamber. One full cup holds about 70g of kernels – enough to fill a good-sized bowl with finished popcorn. The casing is plastic and the internal heating chamber is aluminium. Users report excellent results in less than three minutes.
We note this machine is available under different brand names so potential buyers may want to check for ‘deals’ under other names as well as Party Time.
Best Microwave Popcorn Makers
Joseph Joseph M-Cuisine Popcorn Maker
These cups are not a machine with an integral heat-source but rather specialised containers for cooking popcorn in a microwave oven. The cups are made of silicone and available in orange and grey in a set of two; each cup makes a single serving of popcorn. Kernels are added to a cup up to the measuring line and the cup’s sides are folded over to contain the corn as it heats. When the corn pops and expands, the sides open to indicate that cooking is complete.
Cooking times will vary from microwave to microwave but, typically, these cups will produce popcorn in two to three minutes. The downside is the limited capacity (one reviewer described an oven full of popped corn after he added kernels beyond the measuring line) but these Joseph Joseph cups offer a handy approach to home-popcorn, they’re dishwasher safe and they look great.
Lekue Popcorn Maker
Like the Joseph Joseph cups reviewed above, this is a silicone, microwavable container rather than a machine. We like its large capacity (2.8 litres of cooked popcorn) and its flexibility: its diameter is 20 cm but it can be squashed flat for easy storage. Kernels are placed in the bottom of the bowl and covered with a plastic lid which ‘floats’ upwards on the pile of popcorn as it cooks.
Cooking times will vary with the power of the microwave but the manufacturer indicates 2 to 4 minutes in an 800 watt oven. In practice, some reviewers have suggested ‘dialling back’ the microwave to discourage any burning of the cooked corn. Overall, though, this piece of kit gains very good user reviews and we recommend it for its size and convenience.
Best Pan Popcorn Maker
Halogen Home Popcorn Maker by J.M.Posner
J.M.Posner’s ‘Halogen’ machine combines a non-stick pan with a heating element and motorised stirring rod, that helps prevent burning and ensures that all kernels are popped. The particular advantage of this design is that butter or oil and salt or spices can be added to the pan along with the uncooked kernels (unlike hot-air poppers where any additions go on after the popcorn has been removed to a serving bowl). The machine is family-sized, standing 24cm high, with a waist-diameter of 36cm and the dome-shaped cover inverts to provide a large serving bowl.
The pan is easily wiped clean but the housing and dome are plastic that might require some care in handling. Reviewers report just five minutes cooking time for a 150g load of kernels and generally excellent results.