What's the best popcorn popper?

How to be the best consumer you can be.
March 27 2008 7:49 AM

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What's the best popcorn popper?

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Popability: 3 (out of 10)
Usability: 3 (out of 10)
Taste: 4 (out of 10)
Total: 10 (out of 30)

Progressive Microwave Popcorn Popper

Progressive Microwave Popcorn Popper, $12.99 This product promises to combine the ease of microwave popcorn with the healthiness of a hot-air popper. You place the kernels on the heating circle at the bottom of the popper using a built-in measuring cup and stick it in the microwave for a few minutes. When it's done, you've got a nice batch of popcorn in a built-in bowl—and at $12.99, it's the cheapest popper I could find. Ease, healthiness, and affordability—we should have a winner here.

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Except it just doesn't pop the corn. The Progressive produced popcorn that was simultaneously burned and undercooked—about one-third of the kernels didn't pop. The kernels that did pop popped small and tasted almost stale. The Progressive is dishwasher-safe—but if you never use it, it will never need cleaning.

Popability: 1 (out of 10)
Usability: 6 (out of 10)
Taste: 5 (out of 10)
Total:12 (out of 30)

Toastess International Hot Air Popper

Toastess International Hot Air Popper, $24.99 This squat little hot-air popper is easy to store even in a cramped kitchen. Like the West Bend, it features a butter warmer, which doubles as a scoop for measuring out the corn. Setup was a cinch: Put the popcorn in the base, put the lid on, and you're ready to go. In just three minutes, I had a piping-hot bowl of popcorn. A little too fast, perhaps, because once again the popcorn was ready before the butter melted. The taste of the popcorn was just OK—it wasn't as fluffy and light as I would have liked, and I kept biting down on half-popped and unpopped kernels. The Toastess is not dishwasher-friendly and lacked an on/off switch, a feature I'd gladly pay a little extra for—my kindergarten teacher taught me never to turn off an appliance by yanking its electrical cord out of the wall.

Popability: 6 (out of 10)
Taste: 6 (out of 10)
Usability: 4 (out of 10)
Total: 16 (out of 30)

Cuisinart Popcorn Popper

Cuisinart Popcorn Popper, $59.95 This is one good-looking popcorn popper. The basic design is similar to the West Bend, but it's more 21st-century—it looks more like one of Cuisinart's food processors than a popcorn popper. Alas, despite its sleek design, this machine somehow manages to make popping corn complicated. It required too much assembly, particularly given its steep price—I didn't want to pay this much more for an on/off switch.

The popcorn was ready in about four minutes. Because this is an upside-down popper—the popcorn pops from the bottom up into an overturned bowl—it was hard to determine that the popping was complete. I probably left it on a little too long, as some of the kernels tasted a tad charred. The rest were a bit soggy from the oil, though I used the recommended amount. I think that if I got to know the Cuisinart, we could make some tasty popcorn together. But I'm not sure you should have to work at your relationship with your popcorn popper.

Popability: 7 (out of 10)
Usability: 6 (out of 10)
Taste: 6 (out of 10)
Total: 19 (out of 30)

Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper

Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper, $19.99 This old-timey popcorn popper, which uses oil, doesn't require an electrical outlet. You just put it on your stove (it's safe for both electric and gas) and crank the handle slowly while the kernels pop. I confess I thought it looked a little goofy at first—is this a popcorn popper or a hurdy-gurdy?—but this little popper surprised me. It took only three minutes to pop the corn and left just a half-dozen old maids, though there were a good many half-popped kernels. The popcorn was crunchy and tasty. The Whirley-Pop has its downsides, however. It's not dishwasher-friendly, and there was a little burn mark on the bottom of mine after just one use. It would be fun to use with little kids—this is how they made popcorn before there were microwaves!—but it also seems a little dangerous to have children so near a hot stove.