When making popcorn there are a number of ways to skin the proverbial cat. You can do it in the microwave, in an electric popcorn machine, perhaps one of the smaller capacity air popper popcorn machines, or you can go for the traditional stovetop technique, which many say gives the best taste. The two popcorn machines reviewed in this article, the 'Whirley Pop' and the 'Stainless Steel' are both 6 quart stove tops which set out to do exactly the same job in exactly the same way. I set them head to head and my review tells you which one is the better buy. I'll deal first with the Whirley Pop 6-Quart Hand-Cranked Stove Top Popcorn Popper which retails at around $22-25 dollars.
I kept this pricing in mind in providing this review. When a popcorn machine is this cheap, you have to limit your expectations and your criticism, and only pull the product up if it has clear faults -- which in my view this one does. First, the plus points.
The Whirley Pop does produce popcorn that tastes just like grandma used to make. For this reason alone, this product will do its bit to ensure the continuing popularity of stove top popcorn machines in the face of competition from modern electric popcorn machines. The Whirley Pop works extremely quickly, producing 6 quarts of popcorn in 3 minutes. This is staggeringly fast popcorn production. So what is wrong with this machine? Well, I think the problem stems from the fact that in order to keep the price down, too many corners had to be cut on design and materials. The bottom of the pan is very thin and the aluminum showed some warping after reheating and cooling.
The stirring mechanism on the top of the popcorn machine did not run smoothly. I did a bit of internet research and I found a number of reviews that pulled the product up on this point. Some reviewers reported that the stirring mechanism seized up once in a while, and others said it packed up all together.
You'll also find that even if you do use the stirring mechanism as instructed, you still have to time it just right to pop most of the kernels without burning any. To be fair, all stove tops are likely to burn the popcorn if you don't keep an eye on things, which leads many to opt for electric popcorn machines such as the West Bend Stir 82306X Stir Crazy 6-Quart Popcorn Popper, which has automatic cut off after a certain time to guard against burning. However, in my view, you lose out on taste when you move away from the stove tops. In summary, if traditional tasting popcorn is what you are after then the Whirley Pop will produce it, but I am not sure for how long, since it suffers from poor build quality and materials. Now we come to the Stainless Steel Stove Top Popcorn Popper, which can be yours for around $35, making it around 40% more expensive than the Whirley Pop 6-Quart. The question is, is it worth it? The short answer is, 'yes' and I'll get right to the long answer in the rest of this article.
As with all 6-quart capacity popcorn machines, the Stainless Steel Stove Top is designed to feed the whole family, which it does in about 4 minutes, making it a little slower than the Whirley Pop 6-Quart, but hey, only by a minute. Being made of stainless steel, with sturdy stay-cool wood handles, this is a popcorn machine designed to last the distance, which is of course reflected in the price. The cranking rod mechanism works smoothly to ensure that all the kernels get popped, but as I have already mentioned, keep an eye on things since all stove tops can burn your popcorn if let them at it for too long and don't crank when you are supposed to (refer to the instructions for precise guidance). The Stainless Steel Stove Top also has a butter drip cup that melts butter evenly onto the popcorn, and the end result tastes wonderful -- just like grandma used to make. Both our stove tops deliver on taste, but in contrast with the Whirley Pop, the Stainless Steel Stove Top is a popcorn machine that will go on giving that taste for years and years. So what about the down sides, surely there must be some? Well yes, there is one.
The Stainless Steel Stove Top is not the easiest to clean around the cranking stirrer part of the product. The same can be said for the Whirley Pop. I can see that after a while, oil is going to collect around both cranking mechanisms, and depending on how particular you are about your kitchenware being perfectly clean, this is going to be more or less of a issue. I can live with it, but others may which to opt for a machine that is easier to clean, such as a modern electric popcorn machine like the West Bend Stir 82306X, even if these means losing out on a bit on taste. In summary, if you want the best traditional tasting popcorn, which in my view only a stove top will give you, and you want a machine that is built to last, then go for the Stainless Steel Stove Top Popcorn Popper. It will stay in service far longer than the cheaper Whirley Pop.
As my father used to say, 'buy cheap, buy twice'.
© Stephen Turner 2006. Stephen has set up http://www.machinepopcorn.co.uk where you'll find popcorn machine information, advice, articles, discussion and specially chosen links. This article may be reproduced provided this resource box is displayed below the article.