The 3 Best Popcorn Makers of 2023, Tested & Reviewed

Electric Popcorn Makers: A Quick Performance Rundown
Product Name Time First Kernel Popped Time Last Kernel Popped Percentage Unpopped
Presto Poplite Air Popper  1:25  2:25  2.2%
Dash Hot Air Air Popper  1:45  2:45  4.1%
Cuisinart Easy Pop Air Popper  1:45  4:45  5.6%
West Bend StirCrazy Stirring Popper  2:49  3:57  0%
Dash SmartStore Stirring Popper  4:08  5:54 1 kernel
Cuisinart Easy Pop Stirring Popper 5:05 6:47 1 kernel

Stirring popcorn makers more closely mimic cooking popcorn on the stovetop. They have a nonstick heating base with a stirring arm and require cooking oil to pop. When you turn it on, the hot plate starts heating and the stirring arm moves the popcorn kernels and cooking oil around the base until the entire batch is popped. They tend to leave very few unpopped kernels, and the popcorn tends to be crisper, though they’re slower than air poppers. 

Air Poppers Were (Mostly) Efficient

Serious Eats / Jesse Raub


Quick, and with very few unpopped kernels, the Presto Poplite Air Popper and Dash Hot Air Popcorn Maker were extremely efficient. With our winning air poppers, the popcorn immediately blew up a chute and out into a serving bowl, there was also no need to babysit each model to prevent burning. The Presto finished full batches in just under two-and-a-half minutes with 2% unpopped kernels, while the Dash was about 20 seconds slower and averaged 4% unpopped kernels. We also tested the Cuisinart Easy Pop Air Popper, but it was twice as slow and had 5.6% unpopped kernels—more than the other two makers. 

The Best Stir Poppers Made Crisper Popcorn

Stirrer popcorn makers made crisper popcorn, but they also risked trapping too much steam, which made the popcorn soggy after a while.

Serious Eats / Jesse Raub


Both the West Bend Stir Crazy Popcorn Maker and Dash SmartStore made the crispest popcorn we tasted. Each piece of popcorn from these models had a nice crackle and, as a bonus, neither of these models left any unpopped kernels. They were considerably slower than the top-performing air poppers, though. While the West Bend finished batches in just under four minutes, the Dash stirring popcorn maker took almost six. And then there was the Cuisinart EasyPop Stirrer—its last kernels popped after almost seven minutes, taking so long that the bottom layer of popcorn started to burn. With that much time under the lid, the popcorn began to steam and became chewy—and popcorn from the West Bend and Dash makers would likely have suffered the same fate if we hadn’t flipped the bowls over just after the last kernels popped. 

Speed Was the Most Important Factor for Flavor and Texture

The best air poppers were fast and made light, fluffy popcorn.

Serious Eats / Jesse Raub


Popcorn relies on the moisture inside each kernel being heated until it becomes steam, which then causes it to pop open. The fastest popcorn makers made bigger, fluffier, tastier popcorn. All three of our winners showcased a nice corn-forward flavor profile. The air-popped kernels from the Presto and Dash models were fluffy and light and finished full batches in under three minutes. The West Bend stirrer (which had the highest wattage of any stirring model we tested) produced crisp, crackly pieces in just under four minutes. Slower popcorn makers made denser, starchier, and blander-tasting popcorn, but it was still enjoyable (as long as you weren’t eating from the Cuisinart’s burnt batch). Salted batches scored slightly better than plain ones in the flavor category, but once you added butter, the subtleties between each batch were less apparent. 

Butter Warmers Weren’t Very Effective

Serious Eats / Jesse Raub


None of the models we tested were able to melt butter straight from the fridge in the time that it took to pop, and only the butter warmer from the Presto was able to pour melted butter without it dribbling. The West Bend and Dash stirring poppers suggested adding butter to the top vent to melt over your popcorn while it stirred, but their manuals said you could only do so after the corn finished popping. Putting butter on the vents allowed steam to build up, causing the popcorn to be soggy from butter and chewy from the steam. On the Dash model, the butter melted into the popcorn while it was popping, but the stirring arm couldn’t distribute it very well. So while most models included a butter warmer feature, we still think you’re better off melting some in the microwave or on the stovetop instead. 

It Was a Pain to Clean Stir Poppers

The combination lid/bowl on stir poppers was often greasy, and some models trapped kernel fragments in their ridges.

Serious Eats / Jesse Raub


Stirring popcorn makers use oil (like stovetop popcorn makers) to transfer heat to the kernels more efficiently than just the hot plate alone, but popping in oil also leaves their bowls (and bases) greasy. The Dash stirring popcorn maker had some deep ridges around the vent holes where half-popped kernels got stuck, forcing us to dig around and fish them out before taking the bowls to the sink. While the hotplates on the West Bend and Dash poppers were nonstick, they’re also attached to the heating element, so you couldn’t submerge them in water. Both manufacturers suggested wiping them clean with a rag, and while that worked just fine, the burnt oil in the Cuisinart model needed a good scrubbing to get clean. Thankfully, that model’s nonstick plate was removable from the base (and was dishwasher-safe).

In contrast, air poppers were a breeze to clean. Without any oil involved, all it took was wiping them off with a dishrag after they cooled down. If you do use the butter warmer, those were easy to hand-wash with warm, soapy water.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Popcorn Maker

Serious Eats / Jesse Raub


The best popcorn makers are fast, popping full batches of popcorn in under three minutes for air poppers and under four minutes for stirring poppers. They’re also efficient, with very few unpopped kernels. They popped big, puffy popcorn without any burnt pieces and, finally, were easy to clean up afterwards. 

The Best Popcorn Makers

Amazon


What we liked: The Presto popped the fastest, and it also produced big, fluffy, tasty popcorn. It routinely had a low percentage of unpopped kernels (around 2% compared to the 4 to 5.6% of the other air poppers). We appreciated the design details of this popper, too: the butter warmer poured neatly, the plastic pieces were sturdy and all fit together well, and the cord wrap secured the lid to the base (so the top wouldn’t fall off when grabbing it out of the cupboard). Overall, it was a great popcorn maker that was easy to use and easy to clean—what more can you ask for?

What we didn’t like: Our biggest gripe is that it doesn’t have a power button and it just turns on automatically when you plug it in. It felt weird to shut it off by yanking the cord out of the wall. 

Price at time of publish: $30.

Key Specs

  • Materials: Plastic
  • Weight: 2 lbs
  • Dimensions: 6 x 9 x 13.75 inches
  • Capacity: 100 grams (1/2 cup) of popcorn kernels
  • Features: Butter warmer, cord wrap 
  • Care instructions: Wipe clean with a damp cloth

Serious Eats / Jesse Raub


Dash Hot Air Popcorn Maker

Amazon


What we liked: Only slightly slower (and with a few more unpopped kernels) than our top pick, the Dash air popper was another great option. We liked how the lid had notches that fastened it to the base, which was more secure than the other air poppers we tested. We also appreciated its power button, making it easy to turn it off when the batch was finished. 

What we didn’t like: It’s both slower and less efficient than our top pick, and its lid design also piled up popcorn on one side of the bowl so that it would overflow if you didn’t turn the bowl to catch the rest. 

Price at time of publish: $25.

Key Specs

  • Materials: Plastic
  • Weight: 2.2 lbs
  • Dimensions: 8.4 x 4.8 x 13.5 inches
  • Capacity: 100 grams (1/2 cup) of popcorn kernels
  • Features: Butter warmer, on/off switch
  • Care instructions: Wipe clean with a damp cloth

Serious Eats / Jesse Raub


West Bend Stir Crazy Popcorn Machine

Amazon


What we liked: This popper made the crispest popcorn we tasted, and it was also the fastest of all the stirring models. It had a 100% pop rate in our testing (okay, there was one single unpopped kernel one time) and converting the lid into a serving bowl was convenient (if a little awkward to flip). If you prefer crackle to your corn over big puffy pieces, this is a great option. 

What we didn’t like: It was tough to clean.  The bowl got oily after each batch, and it took some elbow grease (and dish soap) to remove it fully. It was also tricky to clean the hot plate, since you can’t submerge the base. We found that wiping it down with a paper towel was adequate, but if a batch ever burns it would be tough to scrub without getting it wet. You also have to be quick at the end of a cycle—even with vents, the popcorn is at risk of steaming or burning (or both) if you don’t turn it off and flip the popcorn into the bowl. 

Price at time of publish: $33.

Key Specs

  • Materials: Plastic, nonstick aluminum hot plate
  • Weight: 3.35 lbs
  • Dimensions: 11.5 x 11.7 x 7.5 inches
  • Capacity: 100 grams (1/2 cup) of popcorn kernels, 6 quarts of popped corn
  • Features: Butter warmer, lid converts into serving bowl
  • Care instructions: Wipe cooking base clean with damp cloth; dishwasher-safe bowl

Serious Eats / Jesse Raub


The Competition

  • Cuisinart Easy Pop Air Popper: This air popper was slower than the competition and left a slightly higher percentage of unpopped kernels. 
  • Dash SmartStore: Nearly two minutes slower than the West Bend stirring popper, this model made denser and blander popcorn. 
  • Cuisinart EasyPop Stirrer: The slowest model we tested meant that the top half of the popcorn steamed inside the lid while the bottom portion burnt. It was the only model that produced inedible popcorn.

FAQS

Is an air popper worth it?

Air poppers are relatively inexpensive, fast, and efficient. They’re a convenient way to make consistent popcorn with very little cleanup. Because the hot air pops the corn so quickly, air poppers tend to produce big, fluffy popcorn. 

Can you use butter with an electric popcorn maker?

Many electric popcorn makers come with a butter warmer built in, but most aren’t up to the task of melting butter straight from the fridge—and they’re not great at pouring, either. Instead, we recommend melting butter in the microwave or on the stovetop and then drizzling it over a finished batch for better results. 

Is there a popcorn maker that doesn’t use oil?

Air poppers rely on a high-temperature fan to pop popcorn, and don’t use any oil. Popcorn pops when the remaining moisture in a kernel heats up to the steam point, causing it to explode outwards, and air poppers work by heating the kernels directly. 

Why is my popcorn chewy in a popcorn machine?

Popcorn can get chewy if it spends too much time steaming. Electric stirring popcorn makers have vents that help prevent steam from building up in the bowl, but you should immediately turn them off when a batch has finished and flip the popcorn out into a bowl. Air poppers blow popped popcorn into a serving bowl right way, preventing it from being in contact with any steam. 

 

Reference

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