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Popcorn popper does flips for you

The Stir Crazy popcorn popper's clever design makes a good alternative to microwave or air-popped popcorn.

Reuters has a story about a man who's apparently contracted a life-threatening lung disease that his doctor says may be linked to his massive consumption of microwave popcorn. He ate several bags of buttered microwave popcorn each day, according to the story. (The FDA is now launching an investigation to see if the additive diacetyl could be responsible for his illness and that of workers in plants where microwave popcorn is made.)

West Bend Stir Crazy
The West Bend Stir Crazy in action.

This news is not totally shocking to me. That's not to say anyone should expect to come down with lung disease because they ate food that's readily available on grocery store shelves. But I have deep-seated distrust for a lot of the packaged food out there, namely because of all the preservatives and other chemical additives they tend to contain. As such, I try to avoid the pervasive nasties as often as possible.

But this is no easy feat when it comes to popcorn, for which I have an insurmountable weakness. Popcorn is like kryptonite to my will power. I simply cannot get enough of it.

Fortunately, there are lots of appliances available that make it easy for me to balance these two forces--my loathing for eating strange chemicals and my crazy love for eating popcorn. Making it by hand in a lidded pot with oil is easy enough. But for total ease of use, it's tough to beat a standard air popper. Or so I thought before a friend gave me this super appliance.

The West Bend Stir Crazy popcorn popper is one of those rare gadgets that's functional and actually fun to use. The non-stick bottom heats up like an electric wok. To use it, you just put a little oil and the unpopped kernels on the bottom, put the dome lid over the top and turn the Stir Crazy on. A thin metal rod spins around just above the heated bottom, keeping the kernels from sitting still (and therefore burning). After a few minutes, the popcorn starts popping away like one of those old Fisher-Price vacuum cleaners.

When you're done, you can just flip the whole thing upside-down and use the dome as your popcorn bowl.

West Bend Stir Crazy
With the top cover off, butter can be melted through the top of the dome while popcorn pops--in theory anyway.

The top of the dome has holes in it, and you can put butter there while the popcorn pops. The idea is that the heat will melt the butter, which will then drip down onto the popcorn below (the Stir Crazy comes with a small cover you can place over that section when you're done so all the remnants of the butter don't drip onto your lap while you eat). A neat idea, but it hasn't worked that well for me. I've always used refrigerated butter, and the popcorn's always done before the butter has melted.

For those who get peeved at unpopped kernels, the Stir Crazy performs well, usually only leaving a few duds behind per batch. I'm told it can be used for making caramel corn, too, though I haven't tried that yet.

If you're looking to cut microwave popcorn and all its spooky additives out of your diet, the Stir Crazy is a pretty solid way to go about it.