No butter or oil needed
Very few unpopped kernels
Built-in measuring cup
Easy to clean
Not too bulky
No on/off switch
Plastic top warps easily
Some kernels escape when it’s warming up
Doesn’t melt butter well
If you think bags of microwave popcorn leave something to be desired, you might be looking at an electric popcorn maker like the Presto Orville Redenbacher Hot Air Popper. This particular product is appealing to many, as it makes popcorn using hot air alone—no butter or oil needed. Then, once the popcorn is ready, you can dress it up with whatever seasonings you prefer. To see if the Presto Orville Redenbacher Hot Air Popper is truly better than microwave popcorn, we put it to the test using it to whip up snacks on movie night and create tasty dessert popcorn for a party. Read on to see our full thoughts on its performance.
Design: Straightforward, but not without flaws
In a world where many kitchen appliances are incredibly high-tech and complicated, the Presto Hot Air Popper is surprisingly simple. When we took it out of the box, we were surprised at how easy it was to assemble. In addition to the base, there’s a plastic dome that goes on top and a dual measuring scoop/butter melter. The power cable can even be wrapped around a little knob on the back of the unit. That’s all there is to it, making the machine easy to clean and store.
Upon reading the instructions, we did notice a few details that proved to be frustrating during use, though. For one, there’s no on/off switch on the machine. Instead, as soon as you plug it in, it starts popping, and you have to unplug it to turn it off. This isn’t a huge deal, but it could be inconvenient if your outlet isn’t readily accessible.
In a world where many kitchen appliances are incredibly high-tech and complicated, the Presto Hot Air Popper is surprisingly simple.
The second—and more pressing—design flaw has to do with the plastic dome. When we read the instructions, we were surprised to see how carefully you have to treat the cover piece. Here’s what it says:
“Carefully remove the cover, pour the remaining popcorn into the bowl, and immediately place the cover back on the unit.
NOTE: The cover is made of a costly material which absorbs heat without melting. When heated, it does soften and may change shape temporarily if left on the counter to cool, which may make it difficult to place back on the popper base.”
So basically, if you forget to put the cover back on after use, it can warp and render the machine useless. To err on the side of caution, we opted to just leave the cover in place until it cooled down—after all, there were only ever one or two pieces of popcorn left in the popping chamber (more on that in a minute).
As you may have guessed, the plastic cover isn’t dishwasher safe, but we found that it’s easy to clean with a sponge and soapy water. It doesn’t generally get that dirty, anyway, as there’s no oil used in the process.
Performance: Easy and efficient
We loved how easy it was to use the Presto Hot Air Popper. On movie night, we made our first batch of popcorn, and to do so, we simply measured out ½ cup kernels in the scoop, then poured them into the popping chamber. The instructions and the scoop itself warn not to overfill the popping chamber, so you really are limited to making ½ cup at a time, but it yields a really large bowl of popcorn (18 cups, according to the manufacturer) that’s enough to share with two or three people.
Next, we placed a pad of butter in the scoop, then put it in place on top of the plastic cover. From there, all we had to do was turn the machine on and let it work its magic. Essentially, the popping chamber blows hot air up on the kernels—kind of like a blow dryer—causing them to jump around. Luckily, we had already put a glass bowl under the unit’s chute, because a few rogue kernels came flying out unpopped as the machine was warming up. We found that you can simply toss them back up the chute into the chamber, but be careful if you do this, as the kernels are hot.
If you forget to put the cover back on after use, it can warp and render the machine useless.
Within a minute, the kernels began popping, quickly flowing out of the chute into our bowl. When the popping slowed down, we unplugged the machine and a few straggling kernels popped themselves even after it was turned off. The whole process took around two or three minutes total, and we were really impressed that there were just a small number of unpopped kernels at the end—less than 10 by our count. The popcorn tasted fresh and crunchy, unlike bagged microwave popcorn, which can tend to be stale or soggy.
The only letdown was that our pad of butter was only partially melted. The instructions do say that you should use softened butter, otherwise this may happen. On subsequent uses, we simply put our butter in a bowl and melted it in the microwave to save some time.
What’s great about this hot air popper is that you can make truly “naked” popcorn with no butter or oil—ideal if you’re making dessert popcorn. We used the Presto Popper to whip up a big batch of caramel-covered popcorn to bring to a party, and it made the process quick and easy.
Price: A great deal
At full price, the Presto Orville Redenbacher Hot Air Popper is around $40, but it’s frequently on sale for even less. The popper is so easy and straightforward to use that we think it’s a great value, even at full price.
Competition: Simpler and more complex options
Original Salbree Microwave Popcorn Popper: If you’re hard-pressed for storage space, you may want to consider the $16 Salbree Microwave Popcorn Popper. This silicone bowl folds down into an easy-to-store form, and it makes batches of oil-free popcorn in the microwave in under two minutes. In a comparison test, it did leave quite a few more kernels unpopped, though.
West Bend Stir Crazy Deluxe Popcorn Popper: If you have a home theater and want to treat yourself to a fancier popcorn maker, the West Bend Stir Crazy Deluxe will make you feel like you’re at the movies. This $60 gadget includes a stirring rod to ensure every last kernel gets popped and it has a built-in butter melter. Just make sure you work quickly, as it’s easy to burn your popcorn at the last second.
A good middle-of-the-road option.
If you’re looking for an affordable popcorn maker to use on family movie nights, you can’t go wrong with the Presto Orville Redenbacher Hot Air Popper. While the design has a few quirks, the overall experience is easy from start to finish, and the popcorn is fresh, crunchy, and healthy (until you drown it in butter, anyway).
- Product Name Orville Redenbacher Hot Air Popper
- Product Brand Presto
- SKU 04821
- Price $37.99
- Weight 2.27 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 9.25 x 5.81 x 13.12 in.
- Material Plastic
- Output 18 cups
- Warranty 1 year