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Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper, $22.39 at Amazon.com
Pros: Easy to use and clean. Stores easily. Makes delicious popcorn. Comes with a 25-year warranty on all mechanical parts. Manufactured (mostly) and assembled in the U.S.A. (Lid assembly pieces are made in China; Pot is manufactured here in the States as per Wabash Valley Farms customer service.)
Cons: Uses oil, which can add calories. No way to melt butter in pot.

Big Girl loves popcorn. LOVES it. She doesn’t get it very often because I have completely stopped using microwave popcorn. The reason: The chemical that coats the bags — perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) — is a likely carcinogen and will actually be phased out of all microwave popcorn bags completely by 2015. In my way of thinking if something is so dangerous that it’s being phased out, why should I take the chance of using it today, but I digress as usual. (You can read more about PFOA here.) My other alternative — making stovetop popcorn — didn’t work. It was sort of a pain. Popcorn made in a regular pot, in my opinion, always came out chewy and gross. Too much steam, I think.

Anyway, this holiday season I went in search of a popcorn machine with a few criteria:

  • It had to be plastic-free
  • It had to be simple to use and clean
  • It had to be compact so it could be stowed away in my regular pots and pans drawer
  • It had to be made anywhere EXCEPT China

I found what I was looking for with the Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper. The unit comes in two pieces: an aluminum pot and a vented lid that has a stirring mechanism. The mechanism is connected to what looks like an upside down T shaped wire that extends from one side of the pot to the other. When you turn the crank, the wire spins, moving the popcorn so it doesn’t burn.

Before using it the first time, the instructions said to season the pot by heating a tablespoon of oil, letting it cool, and wiping it out. When it was time to actually pop popcorn, we followed the directions, adding one to three tablespoons (we added two) in addition to 1/2 cup of popcorn. The process was extremely easy and fun. We heated the pot on medium-high using an electric stove. (FYI: The directions say it works equally as well on a gas range.) As soon as we placed the pot on the stove, we started turning the handle. Soon after, the popcorn started popping. The entire process was done within three minutes — it was actually faster than using microwave popcorn, I think!

When the popcorn was done, we emptied it by lifting up what I call the pour flap and spilling it into a bowl. I was pleasantly surprised to see that every kernel popped, and none of the popcorn was burned. And how did it taste? The steam vents at the top of the lid let just enough steam out and kept just enough in so the popcorn was light, fluffy, and extremely tasty. (Note: We used Trader Joe’s Organic Popcorn kernels.)

Cleanup was a snap. Once the pot cooled down, I took a paper towel and wiped the pot as well as the lid and stirring mechanism. The manufacturer recommends wiping it out either every time or every four or five uses. You can also clean it with warm, soapy water, but the paper towel seemed to work fine for us.

My one complaint is that there’s no way to melt butter other than using the microwave or a separate pot on the stove. (And keep in mind that the manufacturer specifically notes that you should not use butter to pop corn since it can discolor the pot.) Butter aside, I would highly recommend the Whirley-Pop unit to anyone who is a popcorn fanatic or just likes making popcorn more than once or twice a year.

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