Everyone loves tucking into a giant box of popcorn watching a film at the cinema but sometimes, it’s not quite as tasty as it looks. A popcorn maker means you can enjoy hot, delicious treats whenever you want in the comfort of your own home. And you can crunch as loud as you like without anyone complaining.
Unlike pre-packed popcorn, the homemade version can be a healthy snack too, as it’s made without any fat or salt – unless you choose to add it. Machines use heat from the microwave, stove or an electric source to pop kernels ready for eating.
Air poppers are the healthiest way to make popcorn as no oil or butter is needed, although traditionalists may prefer one that heats the corn kernels with oil or butter. These work with vegetable or sunflower oil and use a stirring system to stop the corn from burning. Be aware they can be a little more difficult to clean than air poppers.
How we tested
We lined up some box sets and got popping. We made several batches of popcorn with each machine to check its speed, whether we were left with teeth-cracking unpopped kernels and of course, how tasty the final product was.
We also considered how easy the machine was to clean, whether it showered our kitchen in popcorn and the verdicts of our expert popcorn-eating junior testers.
The best popcorn makers for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Lakeland electric popcorn maker with bowl: £29.99, Lakeland.co.uk
- Best for home cinemas – American Originals cinema style popcorn maker: £79.99, Argos.co.uk
- Best for making single bowls – Salter EK2902 fat-free electric hot air popcorn maker: £25.47, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for kids – Elgento E26009 carnival 1200W popcorn cart maker: £34.99, Robertdyas.co.uk
- Best for use in the microwave – Chef’n poptop popcorn maker: £25.99, Cookserveenjoy.com
- Best for gourmets –Joe & Seph’s Popcorn maker starter kit: £39, Qvcuk.com
- Best for the cinema experience – VonShef retro popcorn maker: £34.99, Vonhaus.com
- Best budget buy –American Originals popcorn maker: £21.99, Argos.co.uk
Lakeland electric popcorn maker with bowl
This brilliantly simple electric popcorn machine uses hot air to make 60g of popcorn in just under three minutes. It’s a great family option as it comes with a large transparent bowl that can be taken straight from machine to sofa so everyone can dig in. This also solves the common problem of popcorn flying all over the kitchen as the bowl’s big enough to catch even the liveliest strays. We liked the fact both the bowl and lid are transparent so we could watch the progress of our popcorn too.
It’s fairly easy to clean by hand after use and the bright red colour really appealed to our youngest testers, who declared the popcorn far tastier than anything they had ever eaten in the cinema. If you really want to treat your tastebuds, team it with the Joe & Seph’s make your own gourmet popcorn kit (£25, Joandsephs.co.uk).
American Originals cinema style popcorn maker
Best: For home cinemas
If you’re lucky enough to have a home cinema or even just a spare corner of your living room, this professional-quality machine is a must-buy. Bigger than every other machine we tested, it’s also the only one that made our list that used oil alongside the heating for a not-quite-so virtuous treat and the final popcorn was easily some of the best we tasted.
The model has a stainless steel heat chamber and an integrated stirring system so you won’t need to watch over it (though we found it impossible to tear ourselves away once the popping started). There’s also a kernel and oil spoon in the box, plus a popcorn food tray and four buckets for an authentic cinema experience. Its sleek red and silver exterior looks the part too. Our only complaint was it took a little more cleaning after use than the air poppers, but it was a small price to pay for the top-notch taste.
Salter K2902 fat-free electric hot air popcorn maker
Best: For making single bowls
Unlike most of the popcorn makers we tested, this Salter model swaps a distinctive red for a more grown-up matte silver exterior, so you can leave it on show in any kitchen. It won’t take up much room if you want to stash it in a cupboard either. There are also non-slip feet to make it easy to operate and a spout to shoot popcorn straight into the bowl after a couple of minutes. We did find the odd un-popped kernel tended to escape from this before the popcorn was ready.
Though it’s possible to make ten cups of popcorn at once with this machine, we especially liked the fact it came with an integrated measuring cup that made enough for just one bowl. This made it really easy to whizz up a snack when watching TV alone without messing around measuring portions or cooking more than was needed.
Elgento E26009 carnival 1200W popcorn cart maker
Best: For kids
Freshly made popcorn is delicious, but half of the fun is in making it. Children will love this red vintage cart that looks straight from the fairground and was our junior testers favourite by a long stretch. It looks far too good to hide away in a cupboard so would be great left out on show in your favourite movie-watching room.
With a 1200W heating element and simple flick switch operation even the kids can manage by themselves, it works perfectly too. Popcorn took less than three minutes to make and was perfectly light and fluffy. It dispenses straight into a bowl for grab-and-go convenience, though we did find some popcorn always missed the bowl. Still, this has much more child-appeal than most popcorn machines so would make a great present for a movie-loving family.
Chef’n Poptop popcorn maker
Best: For use in the microwave
If you’re short on cupboard space for storing an electric popcorn maker, this dinky microwaveable version is the perfect alternative.
It’s made of BPA-free, high heat-resistant silicone and fits around five tablespoons of kernels in the bottom before it’s closed then popped (sorry…) in the microwave. As the popcorn cooks, the bowl unfolds and is filled with a steaming snack within two or three minutes. It’s worth waiting an extra minute before taking out of the microwave as the bowl does get extremely hot, but then it’s easy to lift straight out with the easy-grip handles on each side. We found the popcorn tasted even better with a quick drizzle of olive oil before popping too, which can’t be added with most electric machines. We also loved the fact the whole bowl goes straight in the dishwasher afterwards ready for next time.
Joe & Seph’s Popcorn maker starter kit
Best: For gourmets
There’s not much that Joe & Seph’s don’t know about popcorn. Aiming to make the best-tasting popcorn in the world, the family business produces over 40 flavours of popcorn by hand in London. Now we can all get the chance to be popcorn experts too with this all-in-one kit to get you gorging in no time.
It comes with an electric air-popping machine that shoots hot, freshly made popcorn straight into a transparent bowl in around two and a half minutes. This makes for easy eating and is also much better at containing the popcorn than the machines where a bowl needs positioning under a spout.
Handily, this kit also comes with a tin of kernels and delicious salted caramel sauce so you can start whizzing up gourmet creations straight after opening and ditch inferior cinema popcorn for good.
VonShef retro popcorn maker
Best: For the cinema experience
This was one of our favourite-looking machines, with a glossy 1950’s-style and a chunky look that had our mini testers excited before it had even started popping. The lid doubles as a measuring scoop so it’s easy to throw in the kernels and get started, and the popcorn was delicious too. It has quite a large spout so we did find some popcorn fired into the farthest corners of our kitchen but that caused great amusement all round so isn’t necessarily a downside. We also loved the fact six movie-style popcorn boxes are included so you could really feel like you were at the cinema when you settled down in front of a film. Just be warned, the machine comes in a plain brown box so if you’re planning on giving it as a present, you may want to swap it for something a little more appealing.
American Originals popcorn maker
Best: Budget buy
Fat-free snacks are all very well but nothing beats a bowl of hot buttery popcorn in front of a film for a real weekend treat. This dinky red machine comes in a brightly-coloured movie-style box the kids will love, and it’s an absolute doddle to use. There’s a measuring cup included and one cup of kernels makes a decent-sized bowl of popcorn in less than three minutes. We also loved watching the kernels explode in the transparent domed lid, which was easier to clean than the squarer lids on some machines. However, be ready to catch the popcorn when it’s ready as it can whizz out of the spout at speed.
As an added bonus, the lid doubles up as a bowl for melting butter so you can then pour liquid gold straight over the popcorn when it’s ready if you fancy. Though don’t worry – the plain popcorn is tasty enough if you prefer it without.