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Popcorn Machine Buying Guide

Photo of popcorn kettle overflowing with popped popcorn. The text "Popcorn Machine Buying Guide" and the Big Plate logo are over the photo.

Popcorn Machine Buying Guide

Photo of popcorn kettle overflowing with popped popcorn. The text "Popcorn Machine Buying Guide" and the Big Plate logo are over the photo.
(Published in collaboration with Ace Mart Restaurant Supply)

It’s no secret that snacks constitute a significant part of everyday life. Popcorn is popular due to its natural healthiness, affordability, ease of preparation, and versatility. It can be found at concession stands, fundraisers, and birthday parties. Selling popcorn is an efficient way to profit, but it requires a good machine. This guide helps identify the best device for your business. With the right machine, you’ll be able to serve a line of customers, efficiently make more products at a time, and yield profits.

Photo of a stand alone popcorn machine.

Popcorn Machine Parts

The simplicity and functionality of popcorn machines make them easy to use, with most models designed to sit on countertops, worktables, or stands. Each machine has universal parts crucial in production, merchandising, and quality.

Popcorn Deck

The deck of a machine is the first thing your customers will see. The machine’s deck is where all the popped popcorn is held and displayed to customers. It is typically made of metal to maintain warm temperatures and ensure the final serving is as warm as the first.

Individual heating and separate controls for each deck are standard features in larger popcorn machines. This ensures that the popcorn at the bottom of the pile is just as fresh as the popcorn at the top. Most commercial popcorn machines have an “Old Maid” drawer underneath the deck’s surface. This drawer is designed to collect un-popped kernels that fall through a small perforated middle section. Accessing this drawer is easy with a pull knob underneath the door.

Heat Lamp

The heat lamp is essential for merchandising and preserving fresh popcorn. It ensures all products are well-heated and visible from a distance. If your machine isn’t lit, it’s easier to miss your stand, and your popcorn will go stale quicker. Remember, no one ever sells from a dark machine.

Typically, popcorn machines are equipped with a solitary heat bulb. However, larger machines require a greater amount of heat to maintain optimal freshness. Dual machines, such as those commonly found in theaters, may have multiple light bulbs to uphold an appealing and marketable environment. The presence of both light and heat is essential for ensuring a consistent supply of fresh and delicious popcorn for customers to enjoy.

Popcorn Kettle

The kettle is where the magic happens. The kettle uses a heating element to boil kernels with oil inside to make the delicious concession treat we all know and love. Made from stainless steel, kettles are resistant to corrosion and rust and feature an internal stirrer.

Commercial popcorn machines come in various sizes, with the smallest being 4 ounces and the largest going up to 60 ounces. For example, a 4-ounce kettle can produce up to 60 ounces of popcorn per hour, while a 60-ounce one can produce up to 1,200 ounces per hour. The size of your kettle will directly impact your productivity, so which machine would be most beneficial to you?

Control Panel

To operate a popcorn machine, you’ll need to use the control panel, a strip of switches, or buttons controlling different parts of the machine. Typically, the panel will have 2-4 switches, each with its own function. These switches allow you to toggle the heat lamp, heated deck, kettle heat, and/or kettle stirrer. Without the control panel, you wouldn’t be able to control your machine. The control panel can be located either inside or outside the side of the popcorn machine.

Photo of a popcorn machine with popped popcorn in the bottom.

Popcorn Machine Sizing & Production

Consider your current business environment. Do you have space and electrical limitations in your building? Or are you operating a concession truck in a park? Perhaps you have a venue that hosts rock shows and city events regularly? Understanding your environment will help you determine the necessary production value for your popcorn machine.

When it comes to popcorn machines, the size is determined by the kettle’s capacity. For instance, an 8-ounce machine will have an 8-ounce kettle that can accommodate one to three popping cycles depending on the size of the corn.

4, 6, & 8 oz Popcorn Machines

Small commercial popcorn machines are designed for the convenience of establishments that don’t require high production. They are perfect for small retail stores, office break rooms, hospitality establishments, and rental companies that need a 4-8 ounce popcorn kettle. A 4-ounce machine is also ideal for home theaters and home game rooms.

Popcorn machines ranging from 4-8 ounces are ideal for small commercial spaces. They fit comfortably on countertops, tabletops, and mobile carts and can easily plug into most outlets. They are perfect for self-serving in waiting rooms, store refreshments, and even for selling popcorn on the go. Be sure to check your machine’s electrical requirements for optimum and safe usage.

These machines are easy to use and produce the perfect amount of popcorn for small gatherings or events. 4-ounce kettles make up to 60 ounces of popcorn per hour, while 8-ounce kettles make 160 ounces, suitable for a self-service storefront countertop or outdoor cart selling.

After using the machine, cleaning is easy. The kettle can be easily removed from its cradle for a more thorough cleaning. The plastic or glass interior panels may also become dirty over time, so use a food-safe solution or aerosol cleanser to remove oil and debris. Always remember to unplug before cleaning with water!

12, 14, & 16 oz Popcorn Machines

These medium-sized popcorn machines are ideal for businesses experiencing high demand. They can be used for concession stands, festivals, retail stores, corporate events, and fundraisers.

Medium-sized machines do not sacrifice production for space, mobility, or profitability. They are ideal for those who need a balance between production and space, mobility, and profitability. They can be conveniently placed on most countertops, tables, and even carts for on-the-go selling at events. This provides ample flexibility for various uses, placements, and selling methods. Whether for a local fundraising festival or behind a bar counter, medium-sized machines can cater to all your needs.

It is worth noting that larger kettles have more production capacity. In addition to this, the machines themselves can hold more products at once. For instance, 12 and 14-ounce units can pop up to 210 ounces of popcorn per hour, which is enough to cater to about 200 customers depending on serving sizes. On the other hand, 16-ounce kettles can produce anywhere between 240-320-ounce of popcorn within the same time frame. These popcorn machines come with user-friendly controls and quick production features, making them the ideal choice for busy establishments and events with high customer traffic.

These machines work similarly to smaller ones, with removable kettles for easy cleaning. Staff can clean them, but using a boil-out powder after long periods of use is crucial for maintenance. Burnt popcorn, old oil residue, and leftover salt can impact taste and quality. Scrub plastic and glass panels to ensure a clean window.

32 & 36 oz Popcorn Machines

When trying to meet the high demand for popcorn, it is crucial to have reliable equipment that consistently produces a large quantity of popcorn. Using under-qualified machines can lead to issues and delays. To address this, 32 and 36-ounce kettles are highly recommended for businesses such as theaters, stadiums, and popcorn shops. These larger machines are specifically designed to handle and produce large crowds of people with ease and efficiency. By utilizing these models, businesses can ensure they can keep up with high demands throughout their operational hours.

Kettles of this size can pop up to 500-720 ounces of popcorn per hour, which is a massive amount suitable for serving buckets at a time with a fast turnaround. As you’re doing, and more popcorn is being made, it is easier for older batches to lose their freshness if not served promptly. These larger machines will feature bigger heat bulbs, heated decks to maintain popcorn freshness, and electronically controlled heat to maintain consistent popping results.

Kettle and glass cleaning is essential for everyday use. It can be a bit challenging, but with proper training, cleaning is no problem. Although some larger kettles may not be removable, cleaning the inside with a boil-out product and rinse is crucial. With more usage, more oil and debris will stick to the machine’s panels. Some machines have removable panels, making cleaning easier. Always use a food-safe heavy-duty cleaner when attacking old oil.

48, 52, & 60 oz Popcorn Machines

Popcorn machines ranging from 48-60 ounces are ideal for high production rates. These machines can produce popcorn suitable for large theaters, arena concession stands, gourmet popcorn shops, and food manufacturing facilities. Their production capacity is unmatched. You can rely on these machines for consistent and reliable popcorn output.

Popcorn machines ranging from 48 to 60 ounces are typically designed as floor models due to their large dimensions. These machines can be hefty, weighing up to 500 pounds each. To make the most of the available space, many of these machines come with cabinets or shelves underneath for storing extra supplies, such as seasonings and other products. Having adequate space for proper ventilation is also essential to ensure the machine operates optimally. It’s important to measure the space and confirm that there is sufficient ventilation and electrical output to accommodate a machine of this size.

These machines can produce 850-1,200 ounces of popcorn per hour. With heated decks, heat lamp bulbs, and electrically monitored heat control, they maintain the simplicity and quality of popping popcorn while efficiently handling big jobs for customers or store shelves.

Cleaning can be a hassle without a trained associate at the helm. To ensure consistency in taste and popping efficiency, it’s important to use large boil-out products and heavy-duty food-safe cleaners specifically designed for these machines. Maintaining maintenance can lead to consistency in popping rates, taste, and overall product quality. With the proper care and attention, popcorn machines can effortlessly produce delicious snacks. Again, poor maintenance can result in inconsistent popping rates, taste, and overall product quality.

Photo of a red popcorn machine.

Serving and Maintenance

Purchasing the right popcorn machine requires extensive research. Don’t forget about the small essentials needed to serve popcorn.

Popcorn Scoops

It would be best to have a popcorn scoop to serve fresh popcorn to your customers. It’s important to choose one that matches your serving portions. When it comes to scooping, there are various options available. For instance, you can use an NSF-safe metal ice scoop or a perforated popcorn scoop with a side handle. While ice scoops are a more economical option for serving, the perforated scoop may cost a bit more. When using an ice scoop, it is important to note that it will retain all product, including any excess kernels that may have been scooped. On the other hand, perforated counterparts will filter out any extra bits that may be present.

Serving Bags and Boxes

While the aroma and sight of freshly popped popcorn certainly contribute to the overall purchasing experience, utilizing a classic popcorn bag or box is crucial for sealing the deal. Prospective customers will be enticed by the convenience of a pre-packaged popcorn container that can be enjoyed on the spot. These containers are optimal marketing accessories for the end product, ensuring it is presented in the most favorable light possible.

Furthermore, these containers function as an ideal tool for regulating portion sizes. By dispensing a standardized amount of popcorn into each bag or box, you can guarantee that every customer receives an equitable serving while simultaneously maintaining a steady profit margin.

Photo of a popcorn machine with popped popcorn and popcorn containers in the bottom.

Cleaning Products

Maintaining the cleanliness of kettles and popcorn machines is important to ensure optimal popcorn quality. With each popping cycle, remnants of oils, salts, and debris from previous cycles can accumulate in the kettle. This can result in peculiar or stale-tasting popcorn and less effective popping cycles. Therefore, it is recommended to regularly clean these appliances to yield the best possible popcorn experience.

Glass and plastic panels tend to collect greasy splatters and other debris. While this may not directly impact the flavor of the food, it can certainly detract from the overall presentation and appeal of the product, potentially dissuading potential customers from making a purchase.

Boil Out Kettle Cleaners

To effectively clean popcorn kettles, it is recommended to utilize a boil-out solution. These solutions often comprise a highly alkaline detergent that can effectively penetrate and eliminate residual oils, greases, and carbon buildup. By utilizing this type of solution, popcorn kettles can be rid of any remaining residues or clumps from previous use.

To effectively clean your kettle, there are a few essential steps to follow. Start by adding water to the kettle, then heat it to a boil. Once the solution reaches a boiling point, the rest of the process becomes straightforward. It typically takes around 15-20 minutes to complete the boil-out, depending on the capacity of your kettle and the amount of build-up present. It is best to schedule this task before or after your service to avoid any delays. Once the boil-out process is complete, your kettle should be entirely free of any residual oils, carbon, and salts. Additionally, the vapors produced during this process can help clean your viewing panels, leaving them spotless and clear.

Food Safe Window Cleans

Viewing panels are essential for maintaining popcorn freshness and providing customers with an unobstructed view. However, oil and debris can build up over time, clouding the panels and diminishing the overall merchandising experience. It’s essential to keep the machines clean to ensure customer satisfaction. Dirty machines aren’t pleasant to look at from a customer’s perspective.

It’s strongly recommended to use an ammonia-free and food-safe glass cleaner. Typically the go-to is your standard glass cleaner, but steer clear of them; these cleaners may damage plastic panels and contaminate food-contact surfaces. These cleaners can impose health hazards.

Don’t mistake a food-safe cleaner for being ineffective. The majority of these cleaners are specifically designed to break down oils and fats over a short period and wipe off effortlessly. As a result, you not only get a clear and spot-clean window panel, but overall it’s a less involved process. Less scrubbing and labor are needed for a thorough cleaning.

Photo of a popcorn machine with popped popcorn in the bottom. A yellow and red sign reads "popcorn."

Purchasing Your Popcorn Machine

It’s incredible how popcorn has become a beloved snack in concession stands and shops worldwide. Its low supply cost, quick production, and high demand make it a top choice for generating profit. By investing in the right popcorn machine, you can quickly turn this delicious snack into a profitable business venture. It’s an exciting opportunity worth exploring, and we’re confident that with the right tools and mindset, you’ll succeed and enjoy the rewards of your investment.

To learn more about or to purchase a popcorn machine, stop by one of our many Ace Mart store locations, where our knowledgeable associates can help guide you to a suitable unit. You can also browse our vast inventory online anytime at www.acemart.com and speak with a customer service representative.

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