After graduating from college, but before moving to New York City, I worked for six months on a farm in Vermont. I didn’t learn anything about succession planting, sustainable soil, or grafting heirloom apples, but I did learn that the Whirley Pop is the world’s best popcorn popper.
The Whirley Pop is an unassuming aluminum pan with a wooden crank, and here’s how it works: First, you put in popcorn kernels and (optional) oil. Place it on the stove top at medium heat. Then, you turn the crank for less than three minutes, or until it becomes difficult to turn, and you end up with the lightest, fluffiest, most fully realized popcorn pillows imaginable.
Reader, I know what you’re thinking. Microwave popcorn is fine, right? Well, yes, if (1) you have a microwave, and (2) you’re totally fine with whatever “natural and artificial flavor” chemicals yield that inimitable faux-butter flavor (even the diacetyl-free versions). Maybe you’ve invested in a plug-in Air Popper, which my mother bought when I was a kid and tended to clog, burn, and leave the kernels with a hot, mechanical aftertaste.
For purists who aren’t after a burnt or fake-butter flavor, though, the Whirley Pop gets it right every time (other similar poppers don’t have nearly as many glowing reviews). Unless you completely overload the pan with kernels — a half cup of kernels is ideal and yields about six quarts (the size of two standard microwave bags) — it is pretty much impossible to burn, thanks to two long rotating tines that whisk around as you diligently turn the crank. When I’m feeling really abstemious, I don’t use any oil, which is almost as delicious as when I’m feeling very Ina Garten and want to empty the entire dairy contents of my refrigerator (I’m eyeing this recipe).
The best part of all? The Whirley Pop doesn’t need to be washed — just wipe it out after each use with a paper towel — and should you ever grind your gears into non-functionality (speaking from experience here), it has a no-questions-asked, L.L. Bean–style 25-year warranty on its website, even if you buy on Amazon. It also makes an ideal gift for the person who has everything slash anyone you’d want to spend 30 bucks on without looking totally thoughtless. My sister fit conveniently into both categories and, hand to God, uses her Whirley Pop almost nightly.