In our minimalist quest to out-organize each other, single-use kitchen gadgets have become appliance non-grata. Melon ballers, cherry-pitters, avocado slicers: They’re all banished to the trash or Goodwill donation bin. Except… except for That One Thing. Some of us have a final holdout, a kitchen doodad we sentimentally cannot toss. Mine is a popcorn air popper.
Like my colleague Allison Shoemaker and her egg cooker, I champion this single-use appliance that will take up space in your kitchen but also marginally improve your life. My particular air-popper came into my life a year ago when my boyfriend and I spotted it at a thrift store. Price tag: $4.50. He remembered previously owning an air popper, and assured me it was a great investment. Four dollars and change!
We do make popcorn regularly and, without a microwave, this requires a Dutch oven, hot oil, and constant vigilance to prevent burning kernels. Not so with the air popper. This speedy little machine just plugs in, heats up, and goes until the popcorn is done. No potential for burning, no splattering oil. I’m told the oil-free part also makes the popcorn healthier, but I try to slather it in enough melted butter to negate that.
Home air-popper technology must not have evolved much since the late ’70s when it debuted, because my model and those for sale on Amazon all look roughly similar to the early versions. Pour in half a cup of corn kernels, place a bowl beneath its spout, and three minutes later, popcorn. An electric element generates heat, a fan blows the heat upward over the kernels, and a spout dispenses the popped kernels into a bowl. (My new washing machine has what appears to be 49 settings, which combine to form about 18,000 bewildering laundry-cycle permutations, so perhaps I’m just overly soothed by the air popper’s simplicity.)
Not only is the method simple, but I prefer the taste and texture of popcorn from the air popper. The Dutch oven method worked but usually resulted in a handful of un-popped kernels and/or a few scorched ones. The air popper ensures all the kernels are completely popped but not one is burnt, and it lends them a light-as-air texture that’s compulsively crunchy.
Is an air popper worth $18? Only you can decide that. But if you see a used one for $4.50, I strongly encourage you to buy it.