Popcorn Machine Guide

If you’ve reached this guide, chances are you’re either looking to buy a popcorn machine, use a popcorn machine, repair a popcorn machine, or clean a popcorn machine.  I’ve developed a guide and divided it up in sections, each one addressing a specific issue.

As a heads up to anyone reading, the Amazon links below are referral/affiliate links.  What that means is that if you happen to buy something from Amazon through one my links, I will get a small referral bonus.  All of the document below though are my own thoughts and words, the referrals are just there to help me operate this website.  So if you need to buy anything through Amazon, I would appreciate it if you’d support me, it costs you nothing and can make a big difference to me.  If not, no big deal, thanks for visiting my website and I hope all this information helps.

How to use a popcorn machine

If it’s your first time using a popcorn machine, your first question probably is “how do I use this thing to make some popcorn?”  The first step is to make sure you’ve got the proper ingredients.  In order to make popcorn, you need these things:

  • raw unpopped popcorn
  • cooking oil, typically coconut or sometimes sunflower
  • seasoning salt for flavor (unless you really like unflavored popcorn)

Every machine is a little bit different, but I’ll describe how it works on my Paragon popcorn machine (4 oz) that I have at home.  The first step is to turn on the machine and start the kettle warming up.  This usually takes like 3 or 4 minutes on my Paragon but it might be faster or slower on other models.  After the kettle has warmed up (typically on mine I determine it’s warmed up when steam starts to rise out of it, but yours might be different), add the appropriate oil to the kettle.  For my 4 oz machine, I add in 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil.  I think the ratio is typically 1 tablespoon for every 2 oz kettle size that the machine has.  So if the machine had an 8 oz kettle, you would use 4 tablespoons of oil.

Adding the Popcorn

Once I’ve added in the cooking oil, next is to add in the popcorn.  On my 4 oz model, I put in 1/2 cup of unpopped popcorn to the kettle.  That would double to one cup on an 8 oz machine.  I have put more than 1/2 cup in at one time when I wanted to make a bigger single batch (but not make multiple batches).  This still works ok but you’ll get more unpopped kernels, which is undesirable.

After the popcorn is added, it’s time to add the seasoning salt.  This can vary based upon how much you prefer on your popcorn.  I typically add in around 1/2 a tablespoon, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less.  How potent your salt is makes a difference as well, you’ll probably have to make a few batches before you get it completely right.  Took me a few batches to get mine right.

Cooking Time!

Once the seasoning is in, it’s time to close the lid of the kettle and shut the door of the machine.  It will generally take a couple minutes, but eventually you’ll start to hear the popcorn pop and start to pop of the sides of the kettle.  This popping will continue for a couple minutes as the popcorn gradually all pops out of the kettle.  When the popping stops, it’s time to turn off the kettle and stirrer, then dump the contents of the kettle into the bottom of the machine (usually this a bunch of popcorn + unpopped kernels often called old maids or duds).

Once the kettle is dumped and then reswung back up into position, it’s time to scoop out the popcorn and eat!  If you have an old maid drawer, you can get rid of some of the unpopped kernels by moving them into the holes in the bottom of the machine.  I’d recommend keeping some permanent containers on hand, it makes things a lot more fun.  I prefer these from Amazon:

Reusable retro plastic popcorn buckets

Some people prefer the throw away boxes, which can also be cool.  You can get those also from Amazon here:

Open top popcorn box pack

Hope this will make your home theater movie night even better!

Best Popcorn Machine

If you’re buying a popcorn machine, it’s likely you’re doing it for one of two reasons.  Either you’re buying to be used in a commercial environment like a school concessions stand or you’re buying it for your home theater.  I’ve divided up my buying guide to feature the best machines from both categories.

Why the separation?  Typically your commercial machines are going to be bigger, more expensive, and generally pop way more popcorn at one time than you’d ever need in a home environment.  Home theater popcorn machines are usually smaller, cheaper, and make enough popcorn for 2 to 6 people per batch, depending on their size.  The same manufacturers make both, typically the home ones are a little more aesthetically pleasing than the commercial ones as well.

Best popcorn machine for Commercial Use

There are probably a couple good options here, it kind of depends on your budget and how much you’re going to use it.  The best option overall is the Paragon Classic Popcorn machine.  It’s a heavy duty machine made for some serious popping of popcorn.  It comes in 3 different sizes, 14, 16, and 20 ounces.  However, it is important to note that only the 14 oz size comes with a standard 110v outlet, the others have a higher power requirement that requires a 30 amp circuit in order to run.  How much can they pop?  Well:

  • the 14 oz can pop 240 one oz servings per hour
  • the 16 oz can pop 295 one oz servings per hour
  • and finally the 20 oz can pop 400 one oz servings per hour

If you’re serving a lot of popcorn, these machines can quickly pay for themselves multiple times over.  There are some cheaper options but honestly going with a quality manufacturer who has been around a long time and has good service and parts is worth a ton.  If your machine breaks and the parts are only available via mail a couple weeks later, how much money is that going to cost you?  A lot more than you saving some money up front on a cheaper machine.

I have a link through my Amazon affiliate below:

Paragon Classic Popcorn Machine

Hopefully this helps in your quest for your school or other business.

Best popcorn machine for home theater

For a home theater, you don’t need nearly as big of a machine as the Paragon Classic.  There are actually a couple good options at the home theater level, since machine up time isn’t that big of a deal at home.  I’ve made some recommendations below.  As a frame of reference, I currently own this popper that I bought from Amazon:

Paragon Cineplex Popcorn Machine

It’s a pretty good machine, I’ve used it a lot over the past few years.  Never had one issue with it, which is part of the reason I’m high on Paragon popcorn machines (and judging from reviews, almost everyone else is too).

My top pick for best popcorn machine for home theater is

Paragon Theater Pop 4 oz

It’s basically a sibling of the one I own, just with different cosmetics.  Most people won’t want the copper look I have, and I believe this is the most popular of the 4 oz machines they have.  It has a few very important features:

  • old maid drawer so all the unpopper kernels have a place to go
  • warming element to heat the popcorn after it’s popped (it heats the floor of the machine)
  • 50w R20 bulb to light up the popcorn (and also provides additional heat)
  • High quality aluminum kettle that won’t rust like some of the cheap machines

popcorn machine light
popcorn machine light

Build Quality

The thing is built like a tank.  I’m very impressed with the quality of mine.  It’s probably one of the most well built items in my game room.  It makes 92 one oz batches of popcorn an hour, so plenty for a home.  I remember way back when debating about whether I need a 6 oz or 4 oz machine, most owners said that 4 oz would be plenty for a home and they were right.  The only reason I could see owning a 6 oz machine would be if you have a really large family and want to make fewer batches.

If you don’t want to spend that much money on a popcorn machine, then the Great Northern Popcorn Company makes some good machines that are very highly rated.  They’re a lot cheaper than the Paragon machines and are rated almost as highly.  I wouldn’t buy any popcorn machine from Amazon unless it has at least 4 stars, just in case you are looking at other options.  Some of the other options may look great but the reviews tell a different story.

popcorn machine warming floor
popcorn machine warming floor

The Great Northern popcorn machine is very similar to the Paragon above except it has a bigger 8 oz kettle (I should note that even though it’s 8 oz, you can make smaller batches in it).  It features the same warming floor and old maid drawer that the Paragon has.  However, it does only have a 30 warranty on consumable parts like the kettle, so if you like longer warranties you may want to look elsewhere.  The machine is available through Amazon here:

Great Northern Popcorn Red Matinee Movie Theater Style 8 oz. Ounce Antique Popcorn Machine

Hopefully this helps in your quest for the best home theater popcorn machine.

Popcorn for machine

When buying popcorn for your machine, you have a few different options, and it kind of depends on how much you use it and how picky you are.  The first option is to go down to your local store and buy some popcorn in a package.  Some people really like popcorn this way, some people don’t.  I personally can’t tell the difference between popcorn too much unless it’s old, then it’s definitely noticeable to me.  If you’re buying for a commercial establishment, that obviously isn’t going to work, too expensive to do that.

The second option is to buy a big bag if you’re using a commercial machine.  Paragon offers 50 pound bags of popcorn, which should be around 800 one oz servings (depending on old maids).  Total overkill for home use, they also offer 12.5 pound bags for 200 servings, which might work for home if you ate popcorn a ton or needed it for parties.  It’s available through Amazon here:

Paragon Bulk Bag Yellow Corn

The third option is to buy smaller premium bags online, which can be cheaper than a store but not be overkill like the Paragon bulk bags.  For instance, Jolly Time offers a nice pack through Amazon below:

Jolly Time Premium Popcorn, Yellow Kernel

Popcorn machine supplies

Besides just the popcorn itself, there are a few other things you need to pop popcorn.  The first thing you need to have is a cooking oil.  Most people use the stuff the theaters use, which is coconut oil.  Amazon carries some butter flavored stuff made especially for popcorn here:

Butter flavored coconut oil

The one thing to note about coconut oil is that it isn’t actually a liquid.  It kind of surprised me when I first opened my first jar of coconut oil that I had to scoop it out.  If you need a big tub for commercial use, Amazon also carries that here:

Paragon coconut oil, 1 gallon

The other major thing you need is seasoning.  That means you need Flavacol seasoning salt, the industry standard in popcorn seasoning.  Almost everyone uses this stuff, although there are plenty of alternatives that might be ok, I would just go with the standard.  It’s available from Amazon here:

Flavocol Seasoning Salt

With those items, you’ve now got enough supplies to cook a ton of popcorn.  The only other thing you might consider is butter, which some people like on their popcorn.  I don’t currently have any recommendations for that due to the fact that I normally don’t put butter on my popcorn.  If you’re a commercial place, you’ll have to buy one of those larger heated butter dispensers that you can dispense through a spout.

Popcorn machine accessories

There are a couple accessories you should consider.  Most popcorn machines come with a basic scoop.  If you’re using it a bunch, you might consider investing in a better scoop like this one from Benchmark:

Benchmark popcorn scoop

This scoop has holes in to let old maids fall through.  This is pretty nice compared to the usual scoop which puts a lot of the old maids in your bag.  Nothing is worse that accidentally chomping down on an unpopped kernel, so it’s a cheap price to pay to save your teeth.

The only other thing that might be worth considering is a dredge for dispensing flavored salt.  I personally haven’t used one so I can’t speak to their effectiveness but a lot of people like them for this.  Plus they’re dirt cheap.  🙂

Winware Stainless Steel Dredges

How to clean a popcorn machine

Cleaning your popcorn machine is pretty easy to difficult, depending on what model you have.  I would always recommend consulting your manual before doing anything.  Some models have kettles that can be washed, others if they touch water will start to rust.  Make sure you use the correct cleaning supplies for your kettle.  Due to that, I’m not going to make any specific recommendations for cleaning that.  Typically I wipe mine down after it’s cooled down but the oil hasn’t stiffened up yet.  I use a rag and then can pretty easily get the excess off the kettle.  DO NOT TOUCH THE KETTLE WHEN IT IS ON OR HOT!!!  It gets extremely hot and you’ll hurt yourself.

Cleaning the glass is a much easier proposition.  Cleaning the glass is typically done with Windex or some other glass cleaner (non-ammonia).  Don’t use Windex if you have plexiglass though, evidently it will cloud it over time.  Sometimes having a little steam will help you clean the insides a little better, as an FYI.