Pop Secret Homestyle. Everyone loves a good homestyle anything. Little images of homes on packaging also get you pretty far. This one was recommended by many readers, and we have to agree. "Buttery, salty juices exuding, without being greasy," as summed up by one taster.
Best Butter Flavor
Shop Rite. Of the five in this category, underdog generic brand ShopRite was the all-around favorite. (The supermarket chain is located in NJ, NY, CT, DE, MD, and PA.) Though coated with a nice butter sheen, it never got soggy. Each serving (3.5 cups of popped corn) has 150 calories and 8 grams of fat—so we're definitely not calling it healthy, but y'know, sometimes you're watching a Disney movie and you just don't care. "A good blend of fat and salt," said one taster.
Alternative: If you don't live near a ShopRite, we also liked the Black Jewell brand.
Most Insanely Buttery "Movie Theater Style"
Jolly Time Blast O Butter. If you like your popcorn disturbingly buttery, this is what you want. "Oh lord! The oil slick!" said tasters, noting the "blast" that Jolly Time was referring to. The flavors aren't distinguished or nuanced—this is a butter-salt bomb in your mouth. Too intense for most tasters, but as close as they come to the whirley poppers at the cinema. That make you want to detox for days.
Closest to the Old-Fashioned Stovetop Kind
Black Jewell Natural Flavor. What's the deal with Black Jewell? We weren't familiar with the brand at first. The small Illinois-based company grows corn, but the kernels aren't the usual yellow—they're black. And they pop white. (I know, insane.) So, if you opened a bag, you'd see black kernels (we did to confirm).
This was the most real-tasting of the brands we tried. It tasted like how corn husks smell. Now, if you're taste buds are more accustomed to the junk-foody experience, this will definitely disappoint. "Like a bad ricecake, or styrofoam," said these tasters. But it would be much better doctored-up with real butter and a few wrist's worth of sea salt.
Best of the 94% Fat Frees
Jolly Time. Just about every brand of popcorn has a 94% Fat Free option. Not 93 or 95—that would be 94%, the magical number of low-ish-fat popcorn snacking. This one clocks in at 90 calories and 2 grams per serving (a 1.2-ouncer mini bag). And you know what, it wasn't so bad.
"Not too buttery, but buttery enough" ... "Honestly corn-flavored" (as opposed to those dishonestly flavored ones!). Of the seven we tried in this category, Jolly Time didn't scream "I AM LOW-FAT."
Most Candy-Like Kettle Corn
Pop-Secret. This is candy posing as popcorn. On the sweet-salty scales, it's definitely weighing more heavily on the sweet side. But a "good sweetness," commented tasters. "Mmmmm, yess"... "I <3 this!" said others.
Most Sophisticated Kettle Corn
Black Jewell. This one achieves that holy sweet-salty balance, and uses natural sweeteners for the sweet part. "Woah! Sweet in authentic ways," noted one taster. It was the most complex-tasting of the kettle corns—not that you should have to think too hard about your microwavable popcorn, but the lack of cloying, artificial aftertaste was nice.
As previously mentioned (in the Closest to the Old-Fashioned Stovetop Kind category, which Black Jewell also won) they start as black kernels and pop white. You don't see that everyday in the microwavable popcorn world, folks.