If you’re trying to figure out the best popcorn machines, then you’ve probably seen the crappy lists online. They compare a bunch of home popcorn machines and even when you read the whole thing, you still have no idea which one to buy.
Because they’re assuming that you know which type of popcorn machine to buy and just want to compare different models.
This list is going to be different.
I’m going to lay it all out for you and help you choose a home popcorn machine that you will love forever even if you have no idea the type you should get.
I’m completely qualified to do this because we have an obsessive love of popcorn (we buy it in 50 lb bags from Amazon and have movie nights at least once a week). We’ve tried and tested a wide variety of machines from uber-expensive and complicated to cheap and easy. We LOVE homemade popcorn more than just about anything else.
It also helps that I’m a budgeting and home management expert that focuses on teaching easy home routines to the toughest cases of chronic disorganization.
If you want to do this right, you need to do this in steps.
You know the old saying?
You can get any two of these three things…fast, cheap or good… but not all 3.
This saying is VERY accurate in popcorn machines. So to start, we need to figure out what you care about most.
Step 1: Decide what you care about most.
Option 1: You Care Most About Aesthetics.
You want something you can show off.
If you’re building an epic media room or home theater and dream of having a popcorn machine ready and waiting to make theater-style popcorn for movie night, then your best bet for aesthetics is…
Old fashioned Popcorn Cart Machines – $200- $250
Great Northern Popcorn Company pretty much owns this space. They have a red popcorn machine or a black popcorn machine with a vintage look. Expect to pay about $225- $250.
While Great Northern is the best vintage popcorn machine, they have lots of dupes ( knock off brands that imitate a popular brand) on Amazon, like this one with 4.5 stars that are easily comparable. But the well made dupes are only saving you about $20 on a $250 product so I’d prefer the reliability of the original rather than to risk a dupe.
Hint: Amazon prices above tend to be lower, but if you go directly to the Great Northern Site you can check out a vintage movie theater popcorn machine in fun colors like teal and pink.
These old fashioned popcorn carts are easy to use, you can keep the cart and the supplies (like a handy measuring cup) in the media room directly in the storage compartment of the cart, and you’ll only spend a minute prepping before the movie to get your popcorn ready. This is an easy-to-clean design, there’s no need for sinks, etc.
They have storage below the cart for oil and popcorn and seasoning. You can buy plastic buckets to serve the popcorn in like these but fair warning – they suck. They’ll fade quickly and they’re a pain to wash. Stick with paper popcorn bags to serve (you can also use paper lunch bags for a cheaper and larger option.)
Plan to buy pre-packaged convenience packs of oil/popcorn/salt for this machine. You can DIY it yourself, but then it’s a pain to measure cups of popcorn, and oil etc. without a sink around to wash your hands and cups. When you DIY it -this becomes the less fun option of popcorn machines.
Maintenance on all popcorn machines (not just this one) are insanely easy. You technically should wipe down the kettle with a damp cloth every time you use it. The kettle comes out easily on the Great Northern machine to make this easy. Most people don’t actually wipe it down every time but you should give it a good wipe every once in a while. Don’t ever wash it with soap and water.
Things to know: Buying pre packaged containers of popcorn is the least cost efficient way to do this of all of the popcorn machines… but still a massive savings versus buying microwave popcorn bags or buying it in a movie theater.
In a year doing weekly movie nights once a week, we spent $99/year using this machine versus the machine we use now (a combination of a Whirley Pop and a silicone popcorn maker) costs us $68 a year (note: that the popcorn we use now is specialty, which is WAY better than what you buy in those packets).
And the worst part? Is that the Whirley Pop (4,680 calories a year) tastes significantly better.
This will be identical to movie theater popcorn, salty and really buttery, not crunchy… but slightly chewy.
Tabletop Version: They also make table top versions of this machine, but I’d skip unless you have a counter you put it on. You can still expect it to cost around $200 but you lose the storage of the cart and the ability to move it easily. Plus, you’ll need to buy or make something for it to sit on.
It looks really awesome and the popcorn is identical to movie theater popcorn. If budget isn’t an issue, and you don’t care about the extra calories and you’re looking to level up your media room, I think this is a great choice.
But for most people, keep reading because we can do better.
Option 2: You Care Most About Taste –
Whirly Pop – $30
If you want the best popcorn in the world, then there’s really only one option.
You need a Whirley Pop, which is a stovetop popcorn popper with a special vented lid and a popcorn mixer built into the pot top.
Years ago, our friend taught us how to make popcorn low and slow in the Whirley Pop. These stovetop popcorn makers make insanely crunchy popcorn and THAT is how our entire family went from thinking popcorn is a thing you buy at the movie theater to “popcorn is life”.
When it’s done right, it should have this snap when you pinch it. That’s from the low and slow method below.
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It’s insanely crunchy and salty and “healthy by accident”. Meaning, it’s not trying to be healthy… it just happens to be.
In order to make popcorn like this, you need a Whirley Pop.
Then follow these steps:
- Put the Whirley Pop on a burner (cold or off)
- Add 12 oz of popcorn and 2 oz of olive oil.
- Turn the burner to the 4th notch and heat (you may have to adjust higher or lower as you do some trial and error- once you get your sweet spot- mark it so you remember it)
- Use the handle on the Whirley Pop to swirl the hot oil and popcorn together.
- Leave it for about 10 minutes to 15 minutes, it’ll start making popping sounds as the kernels pop after about 15 minutes.
- After it starts popping, swirl the handle to mix every minute or so until the popping slows to every two seconds.
- Empty the Whirley Pop into a large metal bowl (our friend who taught us this swears this distributes the salt better and I agree, though I have no idea why)
- Sprinkle with salt and mix it in.
The only way we’ve been able to get this insane flavor, taste, and snap is with the Whirley Pop, nothing else comes close.
Fun fact: we leave leftover popcorn right in the bowl to eat the next day. We don’t even put a top on it (though we needed to once we got cats, who also think popcorn is life).
The good news is…
- This method is pretty cheap (Whirley Pops are about $30).
- You can buy popcorn in bulk (red popcorn, blue popcorn, and Lady Finger popcorn are my favorites… but Lady Finger is so small that it needs a different set of directions… comment below if you need those).
- Popcorn is pretty healthy.
This method uses relatively small amounts of olive oil and a little salt. It’s way healthier than microwave popcorn, movie theater popcorn, or the convenience packs of popcorn that you use in the media room popcorn machine (discussed above).
The downside of the Whirley Pop is…
- You just can’t make enough popcorn in one batch.
- It takes 20-30 minutes to make the popcorn and it’s so freaking good that you’re going to want a second batch, which takes another 30 minutes and then you have to interrupt the movie.
- You can work around that by making multiple batches before the movie, but we’re still talking about an hour of semi-active work for two batches of popcorn which isn’t exactly realistic for most people.
Option 3: You Care Most About Calories or Convenience.
Then we bring you to the fastest, easy way to pop popcorn. It takes way less time than your other options. It also makes healthy popcorn, with the lowest calories. This is the ultimate of microwave popcorn makers and it’s the one we use and LOVE. The silicone popcorn maker. The easiest of the microwave poppers.
Here’s how it works…
- Fill the bowl to the inside line with kernels.
- Add the tiniest dash of olive oil (you can measure it if you want, it’s about a teaspoon or you can just wing it).
- Microwave it for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
This popcorn will not have the snap, but it’s extremely low in calories. You can add a spray of olive oil (we use a Misto bottle or just some olive oil cooking spray) and you can top with salt or popcorn seasoning (the best ones are sour cream and chives, cheddar, or Chocolate Donut by Flavor God).
If you have a media room and you have the space to add a microwave, this is a great option and an easy upgrade. Then you’ll have popcorn in minutes right in the media room.
Option 4: What about Tabletop Air Poppers Popcorn Machines?
They’re not worth the storage space in my opinion, especially if you’re dealing with small kitchens without much space. I’d rather use the gadget space for Airfryers, Instant pots, and crock pots. The taste is similar to the microwave silicone popcorn maker, but you need a larger gadget and more complicated steps (having to even get it out, etc).
If you want this anyway, the best rated electric popcorn makers is Presto 04821 Orville Redenbacher’s Hot Air Popper
Which should you buy?
I would 1000% recommend going with the Whirley Pop and the microwave silicone popcorn maker. We’ve used them both for YEARS now, but at one time or another, we’ve tried all of the above and you literally can’t go wrong with the whirley pop/silicone popcorn maker. .
For special occasions or movie nights: when you have the extra time, use the Whirley Pop. It takes a little longer, but this will be the BEST popcorn you’ve ever had. You’ll never go back.
Need it fast: Use the microwave silicone popcorn maker. It’s quick, easy and it makes delicious popcorn (without the crunchy snap).
Best of both worlds: combine them: If you use the Whirley Pop for a movie, you can also make a batch in the microwave silicone popcorn maker and mix the two together for a double batch. (This is a good option for 4 ravenous people).
Step 2: Other Things You Need to Know
You can make single servings without a machine.
You can make one serving of popcorn in a brown paper lunch bag in the microwave with a bit of oil.
Need Instructions? You can find them here…
It’s not worth it to us because it would take so much longer to make a bag for everyone and we’re heavy popcorn eaters. We want more popcorn, not less.
You can bulk-order popcorn.
Amish Popcorn Company is the best. You can start by trying a sampler pack. This way you can try smaller bags of the different popcorn varieties (they taste way different) and get an idea of the ones you like best. Once you know what you like, then you can buy a bulk order of your favorite.
Cost Comparison For Specialty Popcorn vs Yellow Popcorn.
The world of popcorn is so much better once you get beyond those bags of yellow popcorn you buy from Walmart.
A 45 oz container of Orville Redinbachers yellow popcorn costs about $7.15 here (insert eye roll to inflation here). So 50 lbs of that would run you about $192
Buying your favorite specialty flavor from Amish Popcorn Company in 50 pounds bulk (like this) runs about $90…
And the 50 pounds lasts you well over a year. So you spend less than half and get much better tasting popcorn.
Store Your Popcorn in An Airtight Storage Container.
Obviously, we’re really serious about our popcorn. Over time, popcorn kernels can lose the moisture inside that make them pop. This large air tight storage container with a scoop is an easy storage solution which keeps that from happening and keeps your kernels ready to pop.
Another super important lesson we learned…
Do not let a 50 pound bag of popcorn sit open in your pantry if you have pets.
For Cats: A bulk bag of popcorn looks like a giant bag of cat litter and you may not see or realize what’s happened until it’s too late. Don’t ask me how I know. Just trust me on that. The rolling storage container and scoop is the best $30 investment ever.
For Dogs: Unpopped kernels are a choking hazard, which can also cause dental and intestinal issues. If you have a curious dog who is into everything, this could be a dangerous (not to mention an expensive) issue.
Bulk Olive Oil
You can also grab olive oil in bulk (if you have a Costco or Sam’s Club Membership, they have better prices than Amazon). Besides cooking the popcorn in olive oil, we also use it in these Misto Oil sprayers to give your popcorn a quick spray. A little oil makes for a delicious but not overpowering flavor.
Kind of like a healthy version of movie theater butter.
Best Popcorn Seasonings
Honestly salt wins for my absolute favorite popcorn seasoning. Sometimes I add both salt and pepper. But, there are a few other seasonings I like too. Cheddar Cheese and Sour Cream and Onion and this Chocolate Donut seasoning (which is miraculously low in calories) by Flavor God.
If you want something more like a dessert popcorn and don’t mind the splurge in calories try cocoa powder and confectionary sugar.