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Popcorn Poppers Features

Stovetop Popcorn Poppers.

Stovetop popcorn poppers have two pieces: a lid with a handle and stirring arm, and a thin metal (usually aluminum) pot-like base. The oil and popcorn kernels go into the pot, the lid goes on, and you stir over heat until the popcorn is done.
The Wabash Valley Farms Whirley Pop (starting at $20) makes up to six quarts at a pop with one to three tablespoons of oil; the specs say that over time you can reduce the oil to a mere teaspoon. A similar model, the Cook N Home Aluminum Popcorn Popper Stovetop (starting at $18), makes up to 6.5 quarts and also comes in a stainless steel version with a clad bottom that costs about $12 more. Both the Whirley Pop and Cook N Home have steam vents in the lid, which insures crunchy results. If the old-fashioned hand-crank approach doesnít grab you, the West Bend Stir Crazy Popcorn Maker (starting at $25) is an option. This popcorn machine is a plug-in with a motorized stirring arm that also uses a spot of oil on its popping plate. It makes up to six quarts of popcorn in five minutes and its dome-shaped lid doubles as a bowl. Thereís also a small container at the top for melting butter while the popper does its thing.

Oil Popcorn Poppers.

Good low-cost oil popcorn poppers are easy to find in the frugal consumerís price range. Oil popcorn poppers may be hand-operated or electric powered; either way, they require some oil on the cooking surface and a stirring arm to keep the kernels moving so they donít stick and burn. Health-conscious consumers may want to keep in mind that although with oil popcorn poppers you are paying more calories upfront with the oil, the alternative can be quite dry and may induce snackers to pour on butter or flavoring after the fact, which adds plenty of calories on its own. Oil popped popcorn tends to have more flavor right out of the machine, and it holds salt better. All the oil popcorn poppers we researched let you add a variety of oil and flavorings; coconut, corn, canola, vegetable, olive, or any other liquid fat will do. Whether air- or oil popped, some users claim the best results come from using premium kernels -- but read the ownerís manual to see what the manufacturer recommends.

Hot Air Poppers.

Cheap air poppers range in price from about $17 to $30 and their features are nearly identical. Air poppers require a power source (i.e., electricity) but no cooking oil. Just toss the recommended amount of popcorn kernels into a small cylinder, put on the lid, and wait to catch the hot popcorn in a large bowl as it blows out the chute. The Presto PopLite Hot Air Corn Popper (starting at $20) churns out up to 18 cups of popped kernels in less than three minutes. Like most other air poppers, the Presto PopLite comes with a measuring cup for the kernels that sits atop the lid and can be used to melt butter as the kernels pop. The West Bend Air Crazy Corn Popper (starting at $25) is another air popper that some users report enjoys a second life as a small coffee roaster.

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Popcorn Poppers Safety.

Although a watched pot never boils, a watched popcorn maker is a necessity, especially in the low-priced end of the market. Many cheap air poppers and electric oil poppers lack an automatic shut-off feature -- the Kalorik PCM28276 Hot-Air Popcorn Maker (starting at $19) being an exception -- so whoever is in charge must be vigilant. When the last kernels are just about ready to explode, turn off the popcorn maker or pull out the plug; the West Bend Air Crazy features an on/off switch but the Presto PopLite and West Bend Stir Crazy do not. None of the stovetop popcorn makers let you walk away from the stove; you must keep stirring until the popping stops. Although higher-end popcorn makers may allow for less focused attention, the entire process doesnít take very long so it probably isnít worth any extra cash for those few minutes of freedom. And when kids are involved, always make sure thereís adult supervision; stoves get hot and electric sockets can be shocking.

Popcorn Makers Clean-Up.

The more complicated a popcorn maker is, the harder it is to clean effectively. Cheap air poppers, like the Presto PopLite, only need a wipe down after each use. Stray pieces of popcorn can be brushed out but the plastic cover may need some soapy water, especially if you melt butter in the measuring cup. A quick wipe down for stovetop popcorn makers usually works despite the oil thatís required. The manufacturerís specs for the Wabash Valley Farms Whirley Pop, for example, say no further cleaning is necessary if itís used at least once a week. Cleaning the West Bend Stir Crazy is a bit more complicated. The plastic dome gets a soapy wash, the stirring rod must be unscrewed and washed, and the popper base also gets a swipe from a damp, soapy cloth or sponge: each piece must then be dried. The Cuisinart CPM-900 (starting at $40) is an electric oil popper like the West Bend Stir Crazy, but the popping base, stirring arm, and plastic popping cover are all dishwasher-safe.

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