While many people frown at getting an appliance that has just one purpose, many owners of stand-alone poppers are self-described popcorn fanatics who get plenty of use out of their units. Two options for stand-alone units are the Presto PopLite Hot Air Corn Popper (Est. $20) , also known as the Orville Redenbacher's Hot Air Popper 04821 (Est. $30) , and the West Bend 82306 6 Qt. Stir Crazy Corn Popper (Est. $30) .
While owners of both say they are thrilled they can control their ingredients with these machines, the Presto PopLite provides an extra benefit, especially for people counting calories, because it cooks without oil. The downside is that it produces drier popcorn, which one critic describes derisively as tasting like Styrofoam. Still, because the popcorn is cooked without oil, one owner says she feels less guilty about adding butter to her finished product. However, users need to work a little harder to evenly distribute their seasonings since they cannot be added until the PopLite finishes popping. One user holds a can of olive oil spray in one hand and salt in the other and alternately spritzes and shakes the popcorn as it is popping out of the chute. Another owner puts the popcorn in a bag with seasonings and shakes it all up.
The West Bend Stir Crazy popper receives rave reviews for the great-tasting popcorn it produces no matter what brand of popcorn is used. The popper needs a little oil and has a rotating arm that turns slowly keeping the kernels moving to prevent them from sticking and burning. Users say the popcorn needs to be monitored, which is easy to do since the popper has a transparent lid. As soon as all of the kernels have popped, the unit needs to be unplugged so that it doesn't scorch the snack.
Both machines have design issues. Some Presto PopLite owners say that the cover warps over time. The cover is made of a special material designed to absorb heat without melting. But, temperature does have an impact. So to retain the lid's shape, it needs to cool off on top of the base. Meanwhile, West Bend Stir Crazy users complain that their popper's rotating arm scrapes its nonstick base. But, owners suggest loosening the central bolt a bit and bending the arms slightly to easily solve the problem. Neither popper has an on/off button -- a minor inconvenience for most.