Unitasker Wednesday: Hot Air Popcorn Popper

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

This is one of those unitaskers that at one point had a convenience value, but doesn’t really have that any longer. Say, “hello,” to a relic of the distant past, the Hot Air Popcorn Popper:

You’ve always been able to pop fresh kernels of popcorn over a burner on your stovetop. A heavy bottom pan splashed with a shot of oil, some kernels, the burner set to a medium-high heat, a nice-fitting pan lid, and in a few minutes you have freshly popped popcorn.

But the stovetop isn’t even the easiest method for popping this treat. Grab a brown paper lunch sack (I prefer the compostable, biodegradable ones), pour in some fresh kernels to cover the bottom of the bag, fold the top of the bag over a few times, set the bag on its side in the microwave, and microwave it on high for about two minutes. That’s it. You don’t even need to use oil with this popping method and you avoid all the chemicals found in store-bought microwave popcorn pouches. Best of all, there aren’t any parts or pans to clean up afterward or appliances to return to pantry shelves, just toss the empty bag in your compost or recycling bin.

Farewell, Hot Air Popcorn Popper. You served us well, but it’s time to free up some space in the pantry.

84 Comments for “Unitasker Wednesday: Hot Air Popcorn Popper”

  1. posted by JessA on

    Oh Erin, I feel convicted with this unitasker! I still have my popper from my college days, it got me through so many exams, papers etc. How can I ever part with it?

    But it’s so true, it’s sat on the shelf in my basement for years and has not seen the light of day in so long. This is something I should let go.

    In the meantime, I think I’ll go clean out a junk drawer as penance!

  2. posted by Margaret on

    Thank you for this post, Erin! I don’t have a stove or microwave, and was considering my next appliance. We used one of these all the time in the 80s when the kids were at home. I’d still have it but it was the ex’s. I cook healthy meals with a rice-cooker, electric wok and single burner, but this would be grand for an inexpensive snack. I don’t remember a plastic taste but we used very good popcorn and put real butter on it.

  3. posted by Julia Bloom on

    Wow! Provocative post :) Our family of four also does not have a microwave, and we use our hot-air popper at least weekly. I’ve tried the stovetop method once or twice with varying success, but your post inspires me to keep trying! (I’ve eyed up that popper with thoughts of purging more than once.)

    I love your blog, btw – and my house is a more calming place partly thanks to you!

  4. posted by Anna on

    Score so far: Popper positive, 39; popper negative, 6; popper neutral, 6.

    FWIW, the pan on the stove works for me. Popcorn doesn’t burn if you keep shaking the pan.

  5. posted by Xiro on

    When it comes to these types of items it is depends how often it is used, it is one of the best ways to cook popcorn and personally I rarely use such an item or would just find another means of cooking popcorn the couple times a year I do, I rather not have an item I hardly use around when there are other ways to cook said food.

    If you use it even once a week, you are going to want it.

  6. posted by Dinah Gray on

    I think for most people the air popper is an un-nessasary gadget, but I actually went looking for a popper the other week. I usually pop my popcorn on the stove in a pot with no problems. I reason why I went looking for one was to make packing material for boxes I send out. I tend to mail a fair number of packages a year and popcorn makes great bio-degradable material to keep the items safe. If it was not for the amount of popcorn I am using to both eat and for packaging, I wouldn’t own one.

  7. posted by Dinah Gray on

    I have used the bag in the microwave method. It works, although this is actually how I once caught a trash can on fire. I put a little oil in the bag and put a napkin under the bag so that the oil would not get through the bag an onto the microwave. I cooked it for the time I always do, took it out of the microwave, I picked it up by the napkin on the bottom and tossed the napkin and while eating the popcorn, the trash can caught on fire and had to be put out. It did not seem like the napkin was that hot when I picked it up, but apparently it was enough. So a word of caution. I would treat the popcorn bag or napkin that may be under it just like a match you just blew out and not put it in the trash until you know it’s not hot.

  8. posted by Dinah Gray on

    I once heard that you can roast un-roasted coffee beans in the oil type poppers and get coffee cheaper that way.

  9. posted by Dinah Gray on

    I think the reason why the paper bags are catching on fire has to do with the amount of water in popcorn. My dad use to fix microwaves and he would put a cup of water in with foods that had didn’t have much water in them. I can’t remember his explanation as to why since I was probably 12 when he explained it to me. I want to say it creates a hot spot, but I could be wrong. Perhaps someone who knows a little science on her should explain it. I will have to ask my dad next time I see him.

    I don’t know what those prepackaged bags of microwave popcorn have in them that prevents them from catching on fire, but apparently the regular paper bag doesn’t have it.

  10. posted by Christine on

    I HAVE uncluttered my microwave. And I am longing for a hot air popper like we used to have when I was a kid. A FINE appliance!

  11. posted by Andrea on

    My mom had a special conical bowl for popping kernels in the microwave. They turned out great and didn’t burn. Finally after many years it broke, but it was great. I can’t find any pictures, but it seems like there are other bowl made for the same purpose… I’d much rather have a special bowl than an entire machine. Plus you can put other things in the bowl, so there you go- multitasker!

  12. posted by deb on

    Not a unitasker as it’s also a dog treat dispenser. The kernels fly out of the bowl occasionally when I use it, the dog LOVES it and comes running when I get it out.

  13. posted by Kathleen on

    I use a hotair popcorn maker to roast coffee and use a whirlypop to make popcorn. (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obi.....tterer-20/

    There we go – Two unitaskers! I love them both and use them several times/week. The microwave – I almost never use, and if it weren’t installed on the wall I would just get rid of it

    I don’t recommend roasting coffee and making popcorn in the same machine, btw, unless you favor coffee-flavored popcorn.

  14. posted by maxie on

    Well, I’m going to pile on and vote for a hot-air popper. We get enough popcorn on the cob from our CSA every year to keep our air popper working all year.

  15. posted by Lisa on

    Also love my hot air popper! We use it frequently. I have many fewer unpopped kernals than the paper bag method and less mess (I’ve had bags open in the microwave). My kids each took one with them to college as well.

  16. posted by Nora on

    Love my air popper. Not using oil makes it healthier. Got mine on sale at BB&B more than a decade ago for $7. Definitely worth it.

  17. posted by purpleBee on

    This is one unitasker I also have. It’s more useful to me than other kitchen electric unitaskers I’ve avoided – like a coffee maker

  18. posted by handstand on

    Love my air popper. Would love to find a second one for the lunchroom at work.

  19. posted by travis on

    Ahh yes, for many years I’ve ignorantly thought it was a “special” balance of heat and air that made popcorn possible. Then once I just tossed it in my pot with oil and viola – SUPER cheap popcorn ($2/lb of kernels) and really not much mess. And no need for the $40 poppers :-)

    BTW – If I had a microwave, this might be a good use for it.

  20. posted by Alex on

    NOT A UNITASKER! You can use a popcorn popper to roast your own coffee beans! That’s two tasks!

  21. posted by Jodi on

    I would give up my microwave, blender, the coffee maker, my mixer, my toaster and my dishwasher in exchange for my air popper – if it ever came to that.

    Maybe a unitasker, but it’s one that gets use EVERY DAY in my house.

  22. posted by Jodi on

    Besides – it’s going to be expensive to buy all those brown paper bags, not to mention the un-eco-friendliness of that option!

  23. posted by Jodi on


    My microwave heats unevenly. Our air popper died and we bought microwave popcorn as a temporary fill-in, and the packages burned. No flames, but we did have black paper and gray smoke.

  24. posted by Gypsie on

    My hubby is allergic to the chemicals in microwave popcorn and we use our air popper all the time! There is virtually no clean up! In fact, the twin girls that babysit for me love our popper too. When they come over, the first thing they ask is if they can make popcorn.

  25. posted by Jules on

    My Father in law just got us a popper for Christmas. We live in a fairly small condo and try to keep our stuff to a minimum and we only eat popcorn maybe once a year. Sigh.

  26. posted by Organizational Specialist on

    I love to have a clean organized space and fully understand the desire to eliminate as much as possible in order to have an organized kitchen. But I also love seeing how much joy comes from the simple act of my husband pulling out the hot air popper and using his seasoning salts to create a warm/cozy snack for the whole family. I think there is something to be said for creating family traditions even if it is using a “relic of the past”.

  27. posted by ErinG on

    I think this is the first time I’ve had to disagree as well. I have had my air popper for probably 15 years, and we still use it a couple of times a week. My kids and I love popcorn as a snack, and we love snuggling in together to watch a movie with a nice bowl of popcorn. I love the air popper because it pops virtually all of the kernals, doesn’t require any oil at all, and it works in minutes. I decluttered many small kitchen appliances last year, but the popper is in a place of honor on a shelf above the counter.

  28. posted by Zach on

    I have to disagree on this one. My small kids love helping pour the kernels in then turning the bowl as their treat comes pouring out. If I count it as a brief entertainment for my kids…I guess it’s not really a unitasker anymore.

  29. posted by halley on

    I don’t have a microwave. Hate them. Love popcorn. Used to have an airpopper buy it got repurposed as a coffee roaster. Now have a hand crank (twirly pop?) That I can use on the stove. I realize it’s a unitasker, but I use it weekly. And I am not strong enough to shake the pot w/ lid like my partner does so it’s accessible to me.

  30. posted by Holly: The Domestic Dork on

    I would defend the hot air popper, if I had ever purchased one that didn’t die within a year or two. We switched to a no-oil, microwave bowl method. The bowl cost less than ten bucks, makes a large batch of popcorn that tastes just as good as the air-popped, and is dishwasher safe.

  31. posted by Laura on

    I used a hot air popper for many years. Then my boyfriend started making popcorn the “old fashioned way” – on the stovetop in a pot with oil. Very tasty. I also have a microwave popcorn bowl and that works alright too, though I find it too easy to burn popcorn in the microwave. I don’t care for the pre-packaged microwave popcorn. The DIY bag method yielded inconsistent results and is a bag-waster as well (hence the purchase of the microwave bowl).

    I still have the old hot air popper, but I haven’t used it in years. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthy, it just means I’m not as concerned about “healthifying” my popcorn as I was in the past. (My one concession is that I no longer buy movie theater popcorn – it never tastes as good as it smells, and the oil they pop it in and the “buttery topping” available to top it with are unhealthy.)

  32. posted by amilyshurtz on

    I am really conscious about my health, yeah I do agree that some chemicals can harm our body system. It’s better to do the other way around. Health is Wealth.

  33. posted by krat on

    I have to belatedly add my vote- this is one unitasker that won’t leave my house. It’s my boyfriend’s and I dread the day this one dies. I hope they sell these forever.

  34. posted by another Elizabeth on

    Excuse me for commenting so late on this.

    We too love our hot air popper that we’ve had for about 25 years. It fits (just) on a bottom shelf in a cupboard at the back of the kitchen. We were devastated when it suddenly and inexplicably (well, not really, it IS 25 years old) stopped working. My husband took it apart and saw that a fan had fallen off. He glued it back to its shaft and the popper works perfectly well again.

    But many thanks to the earlier Elizabeth for the tip about using an ungreased cast-iron lidded pot. Talk about multi-tasking! Shaking it from time to time would replace any visits to the gym for weight training.

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