11 Ways To Pop Popcorn, Ranked Worst To Best

Whether in search of a healthy snack or looking for the perfect accompaniment to your at-home movie night, there's really nothing like the crunchy taste of popcorn. No matter how many fancy alternatives movie theaters offer, and no matter the kind of candy or snacks found at convenience stores, there is simply no replacing that wonderful, tasty, and not-too-filling snack of popcorn. Up front, it couldn't be simpler. It is simply corn kernels popped after exposure to prolonged high heat. That's it. How many other vegetables can you magically transform from a dinner side dish to a cinematic must-have snack?

Whether you like it drenched in butter, tossed with caramel, touched with a hint of salt, or completely nude and nutritious, there is a kind of popcorn out there for you. However, beyond all the flavors and topping options, which method of cooking popcorn is the best? Each method brings with it unique benefits, allowing you to customize not only what you put on top of the popcorn, but how you prepare the popcorn as well. To help with your next movie night, here is a rundown of the ways you can make popcorn at home, from the worst to the best.

11. Heat gun

If you were raised on cartoons like us, you've probably seen an animated gag of a character popping corn with a hair dryer. Maybe it's a little less practical than the old grilled cheese with an iron method of cooking, but it's still humorous. Well, enough people realize that you'll pretty much never have enough continuous heat from a hair dryer to realistically popcorn kernels, which is why people over on TikTok, Facebook, and other social media platforms decided to crank it up a notch and bust out the heat gun.

Can you pop corn with a heat gun? Absolutely? Of course, you're just as liable as setting something on fire or burning yourself — it is impractical. It falls just shy of frying eggs on top of your car's radiator, but at least the radiator method would do it quickly. This is one of the things that you might want to do if you're so bored out of your mind that you want to see if you can actually pop corn with the random heat gun you bought for a single project 10 years ago but has been sitting in the garage ever since. Outside of this, it's not necessary. So, in short, if you're someone who regularly uses TikTok, you absolutely can pop corn with a heat gun, but, as the classic line in Jurassic Park goes, "scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

10. Corn on the cob

You might find one of these at Trader Joe's or at other choice grocery stores. You'll come across a random corn on the cob that looks much smaller than the sweet corn you find in the produce section of the store. It's wrapped in air-tight plastic wrap and, upon further inspection, you find it is designed to be popped. Maybe that instantly makes your eyebrows perk up. After all, you've always wondered if you could actually take corn on the cob and turn it into popcorn. Perhaps you actually pick it up and toss it into the shopping card, along with those other random Trader Joe's goodies you can't buy anywhere else (we get it, those peanut butter-filled pretzel nuggets dipped in chocolate are dangerously delicious).

The reality of the situation, though, is this is more of a novelty than anything else. It will never replace your go-to method of popping corn. Yes, it can be fun to see it work, and if you have young kids, it might be a nice way to entertain them (especially if you don't mind their faces glued to the glass of your radiation-pumping microwave). But really, after that first experimental run-through, going with that corn-on-the-cob method loses its luster. It's like knowing how a magic trick is performed. After that first time, it is interesting. But the second time (and every other time thereafter), it's just boring.

9. Slow cooker

Have you ever looked at an appliance and wondered whether it could do something it really wasn't designed to do? Maybe you're a college student and you're trying to get creative when there are limited options for cooking when cramped into an undersized dorm room. Suddenly, that coffee maker turns into a soup producer and ramen cooker. Perhaps the dorm doesn't allow microwaves because they zap too much energy, so instead you have an undersized slow cooker taking up space. Well, you are craving popcorn one night, so you begin eyeballing the slow cooker, wondering to yourself whether it is possible to actually turn those dry, hard corn kernels into popcorn.

The short answer is yes, a slow cooker can be used to make popcorn. Emphasize the word "slow." It's going to take you a while to make popcorn. We're talking close to half an hour. So don't use this if you want instant popped corn. If you have some time to kill, or a few tasks to run before starting your home movie and you want to set the popcorn and forget it, the slow cooker is a fine option, and you don't need oil or salt or anything. It's just that 30 minutes is a long time to wait for some popped corn.

8. Jiffy Pop

This thing is more fun than it is functional. If you're not familiar with the Jiffy Pop, you can purchase it at the grocery store and it looks like an aluminum pan with a metal wire handle. You place it on a stovetop, and as the popcorn pops, the aluminum foil top begins to rise. It's fun to watch — as long as you don't burn the inside to ash.

We will give a tip of the cap to this bit of Americana. The classic Jiffy Pop has been around for, well it seems like forever. Would you believe the Jiffy Pop was created by an industrialist inventor? It's true. Back in 1958, Frederick Mennen invented the Jiffy Pop inside of his home in Long Beach, Indiana. After this invention, he founded the company Mennen Food Products Inc., which he later sold to American Home Productions Corporation, and as part of the deal, he headed the food division of the company. This popcorn method is fun, but there are more practical ways to do so.

7. Air Poppers

The air popper is a good way to pop healthy popcorn. It uses heat and air to pop popcorn and easily deposit it into a larger bowl. The only issue with the air popper is that you have to go out and buy an air popper. If you absolutely love popcorn and love this method, it's a fine option to use, but it does mean another appliance that'll take up space in the kitchen, and there is another healthy popcorn method that is just as easy and doesn't take up added space.

There is no shortage to the kinds of air poppers out there. Some air poppers are only slightly larger than a coffee grinder, with a plastic cured top that directs the popped corn into an awaiting bowl. You'll likely get some spillage here, but it's not the worst thing in the world (especially if you have a dog eagerly waiting near the countertop, as they will take care of any rogue corn). Other devices are much larger and have the bowl built right into the device. Far easier in terms of setting it and forgetting it as it pops, but it takes up much more space.

6. Whirley Pop

This is like the stovetop method of popping but on steroids. You have a special container used specifically for popping corn, and it has a great lid/handle feature on top, so instead of popcorn possibly spilling out of the top, you can just turn the Whirley Pop over and a metal flap on the lid will open, making it a sinch to pour out popped popcorn (while keeping the remaining popcorn warm). Really, the only reason this isn't higher on the list is that it's such a large pot that takes up space in the kitchen and, realistically, you won't use it for anything else. The handle alone sticks out, which can make it awkward in putting it into storage. The taste is superior to air poppers, but the Whirley Pop is just so much larger to the point of it being difficult to store.

We will say, if you love popcorn, it is something you eat on a regular basis, and you have the free kitchen space for the device, it is worth purchasing this. It's not terribly expensive and it is super easy to use. But, if you don't have the space or don't eat enough popcorn to invest in an actual device, there are other options that work just as well as the Whirley Pop.

5. Popcorn machine

Okay, so here's the thing about this. In terms of movie-theater-grade popcorn flavor, the popcorn machine is the way to go. It's right at the top. But the negative, and it is a big one, is you need a popcorn machine. Like, where are you going to put that thing? There are smaller versions that, sure, are counter-friendly, but they are still rather large, and it's not like you can just move them. Chances are, there is a local bar or restaurant that has a popcorn machine on standby, offering you complimentary popcorn as you wait for the rest of your food. That popcorn has probably been sitting in the button of the machine since it was popped at the beginning of the day, and yet that cold, slightly stale popcorn still tastes good (especially when the salty snack is combined with a frosty beverage).

It proves just how delicious a fresh batch of popcorn can be. So if you have a movie theater room in your house, absolutely go with a popcorn machine. But if not, this just isn't all that practical to have. It's why we're putting it right in the middle.

4. Microwaving (not store-bought)

When you want the healthiest, fastest method of popping popcorn, this is the way to go. Take a brown paper bag (yes, the kind you used to lug your school lunch in back in the day), add some unpopped popcorn kernels, and place it in the microwave. Make sure to fold the top over a few times so you're not blasting kernels all over the place, and use the microwave's auto popcorn feature to take over. This way, you're not using any oil, salt, or butter. You can then add whatever you might like when the popping has finished.

Don't have a brown paper bag, or don't feel like using one every single time you feel like popping corn? Not to worry, as there is another method. You can instead use a microwave-safe bowl and place a lid over top. However, don't secure the lid. You will want to just place the lid on top. This allows hot air to flow out of the container, which prevents burning and other issues. Similar to popping corn on the stovetop, the kernels popping the top may lift up, which means you might have a few kernels to pick up when you're done with the current popping batch. But in terms of easy, environmentally friendly, and cheap, it's hard to beat this form of making popped corn.

3. Microwaveable popcorn

When it comes to popcorn at home, the majority of us probably think of microwavable popcorn. There's a reason why it takes up a massive chunk of space at many grocery stores. You can get massive boxes of all kinds of flavors. Some are loaded with more butter than a Wisconsin dairy farm, while others have little more than a sprinkling of salt. Perhaps you even have a specific brand you are a fan of over others. Heck, microwavable popcorn has become such a staple of the American diet that there is a specific shortcut to cooking it built right into just about every microwave built in the last decade. We've seen microwaves that don't have numerical punch screens any longer, but they absolutely have a button for your favorite bag of popcorn.

When it comes to ease of use and quickness in preparation, you're not going to find anything else out there that is as tasty and as easy as microwavable popcorn. Sure, there is the occasional time when you might forget to fully open the folds and, in turn, end up with a half-popped, half-burnt mess (is there anything as disappointing as sitting in the other room and smelling the waft of burnt popcorn?). The only reason this isn't at the top of the list is there are two other options that give you more control over the flavor of your popped corn.

2. Stove top

No other kind of popcorn will give you the kind of flavor you get from stove-top popcorn. Just oil, unpopped kernels, and a pan. And when it is all popped and you've dumped the steaming hot contents into a large bowl, you can toss butter back into the pan and melt it down into liquid gold. You have full and total control over your stove-top popcorn. You can even switch up the cooking oil if you want some new flavors, like trying sesame seed oil. It gives an almost Asian-fusion taste to your popcorn.

In our experience, the best way to fully make sure you have your popped corn fully coated in butter, and not just the spiral of kernels in the middle of the bowl, pour the freshly doused corn back into the popping pan, secure the lid, and shake. Not enough room? Use a larger bowl with a lid and toss the kernels around. This ensures the butter is more evenly spread out. You can also add whatever salt, garlic, or specialty popcorn seasoning you want at this point to give a good, even coating.

1. Wok popcorn

Okay, we lied. We said no other kind of popcorn gets the same kind of flavor as stove-top. Technically, cooking popcorn with a wok is very similar to a stovetop, as you will still be cooking it on the stove, but the beauty of a wok is you're able to improve the popped corn's access to oil levels, which does improve the flavor slightly. Plus, the shape of the wok is perfect, as the popped corn will begin to expand up and out away from the oil, which naturally allows the unpopped corn to settle on the bottom. It is a bit more labor intensive than all the other methods, but when you want the cream of the crop in terms of taste, wok popped popcorn is 100% the way to go.

It is a good idea to have some kind of a lid on hand as you begin experimenting with a wok, just so you can learn the best temperature control of the stove. But once you perform a bit of fine-tuning, chances are you'll never return to any other kind of popcorn preparation. It's just that delicious (although we wouldn't fault you for grabbing the occasional bag of microwavable popcorn. After all, sometimes you just don't feel like busting out the wok).