National Popcorn Day is Jan. 19, and what better time to indulge in a bowl of freshly popped popcorn and a Netflix marathon? Microwave popcorn has raised health alarms over its butter flavoring and potentially carcinogenic nonstick coating for years, and those gourmet, flavored, pre-popped bags can get pricey. The healthiest and most cost-effective way to enjoy popcorn is simply to make it at home and flavor it with any number of salty or sweet concoctions. Cheapism.com's top picks for popcorn poppers are all less than $30. They include air-popped, stovetop, and electric poppers (the last two types require a bit of oil). Whichever you prefer, making popcorn at home with one of these machines is tasty, cheap, and easy.
Best Popcorn Poppers Under $30
The Whirley Pop ($20 on Amazon) is an old-fashioned aluminum stovetop popcorn popper. Add a bit of oil and crank the handle to make 6 quarts of fluffy popcorn in just a few minutes. Some consumers who have posted reviews on retail sites say this little machine makes popcorn that's even better than the stuff sold at movie theater concession stands.
The Presto PopLite ($25 on Amazon) air pops fast, reviewers say, and promises virtually no unpopped kernels. It does have to be plugged in to work and unplugged when the popping is done (there's no on/off switch), but the machine otherwise gets almost all positive reviews on sites such as Amazon. A half-cup of kernels dumped into the machine makes about 18 cups of popcorn in just a few minutes -- enough for a family of snackers on movie night.
The West Bend Stir Crazy ($30 on Amazon) is a cross between an air popper and an oil popper. Plug it in and a motorized stirring arm pops 6 quarts of popcorn from a quarter-cup of kernels. The plastic top does double duty as a serving bowl -- just flip the machine over when the popping is done. On Amazon and the Walmart website, some reviewers complain that the popcorn can be a little soggy, because the dome holds in humidity, but many other reviewers praise the flavor this machine provides.
The truly cheapest way to make popcorn at home is to use what's already in the pots and pans cabinet. No popcorn machine is required when you simply throw kernels in a saucepan with a little oil on the stove, with instructions from the food blog Simply Recipes. Cover, heat just so, and voilà -- pennies and mere minutes spent, and nearly every kernel popped.