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Cheap Popcorn Poppers Buying Guide

For several years now health experts and scientists have cautioned consumers about the dangers of microwave popcorn. In 2007, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association recommended reducing the amount of diacetyl used in butter flavorings in the aftermath of several lawsuits linking the chemical to lung disease.

While microwave popcorn may seem to be an easy way to satisfy your popcorn craving, take note: microwave popcorn contains more calories and chemicals than its air popped and oil popped counterparts, doesnít save much time, and is far more expensive over the long haul. Most cheap popcorn makers pop a batch of kernels at least as fast as a microwave, and the per ounce cost of regular or premium kernels is about half that of the microwave varieties.

What, then, is the best route to enjoying the high-fiber, low-fat joys of popcorn? If health is your top concern, cheap air popcorn poppers would be the best buy because the corn is popped without oil, butter, or salt. If that sounds a bit dry, and you donít mind some fat in your diet, a oil popped popcorn machine produce a snack with slightly more calories and slightly more flavor (i.e., you can even add flavoring to the oil). Of course, with either method you can up the taste and calorie ante by adding melted butter or margarine, grated cheese or chocolate, sugar or honey, or whatever once the popping is complete.

The home popcorn-popping market is largely divided into professional-style poppers, hot-air poppers, and oil and stovetop poppers. As might be expected, the professional-style models cost the most, ranging from about $75 for an off-the-shelf unit to more than $1,000 for an antique reproduction commercial-style home popper. These high-end machines are large and relatively complicated, and include electric components and require specific oil temperatures. Electricity-powered hot-air and oil-pop popcorn poppers are smaller and simpler machines than the upscale models and range in price from about $17 to $60. Stovetop popcorn poppers max out at about $20; they have no electrical parts and the aluminum used in their bases is often quite thin, which helps the popcorn heat evenly and quickly. You wonít be sacrificing taste or quality by going the low-end route, however. We found decidedly mixed reviews for pricier popcorn poppers in which consumers gripe about the consistency of the popcorn and the number of unpopped kernels.

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Many companies make popcorn poppers, including the big kitchen appliance companies such as Cuisinart, Toastmaster, and Waring. But the best popcorn poppers are the simplest. In this segment of the market youíll find good inexpensive popcorn machines from companies such as Presto and West Bend and other specialized producers you might not have heard of. What you get with the best popcorn machines is a unit that pops the corn kernels evenly -- without burning or leaving too many unpopped -- and yields a light, fluffy, and crunchy end product. Good cheap popcorn poppers are also user friendly; that is, no hassle to operate and easy to clean, without too many parts or complicated deconstruction steps before you can wipe them down or quickly wash them out.

Our research into the low-priced segment of the market turned up several good popcorn machines. In the best bucket we put the stovetop Wabash Valley Farms Whirley Pop (starting at $20) and the Presto PopLite Hot Air Corn Popper (starting at $20); both offer consistent, delicious results with virtually no kernels left behind, according to scores of reviewers. In the good bucket we placed the West Bend Air Crazy Corn Popper (starting at $25), which receives mostly positive user reviews for the evenness of the popping but a few dings for its design. We deposited the Kalorik PCM28276 Hot-Air Popcorn Maker (starting at $19) in our donít bother bucket because consumers complain about that a design feature that interferes with the popping action.

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