The Best And Worst Microwave Popcorn To Buy At The Grocery Store

What's the best microwave popcorn you can buy at the store? The answer to that question depends greatly on what you're looking for in a microwave popcorn experience. Do you want the same hot, buttery stuff you find at the movie theater? Or do you prefer a light, salty snack that fills you up without weighing you down? Or even a creative culinary experience like rosemary and parmesan sprinkled throughout the bowl?

Whatever your style of microwave popcorn, there's something on the shelf that'll appeal to you. But whether it's buttery or light, some brands are just better than others. To determine what you should be pairing with your night of Netflix — or just munching on at work — we tried 15 different bags to see who came out on top. Our break room may never smell the same, but we still discovered who the best and worst microwave popcorns are.

15. Boom Chicka Pop Real Butter Popcorn

Boom Chicka Pop's definition of "real" butter is definitely not one we've ever seen before. And it's not a good one. The first bite will make you contort your face and ask, "What exactly is this?" as it doesn't taste like anything you've ever tried. It's sort of a hot, rancid, salty explosion that has you seriously thinking about tossing the rest of the bag and trying something else. And if you start breathing in too much of the smell, you'll probably wish you did.

Though the flavor is rough, leaving the bag open and inhaling the smell is downright offensive. The chemical overtones combined with the painfully artificial butter make the stuff hard to handle. Maybe we just got a bad bag, or maybe there are some people out there who enjoy this interpretation of "real" butter. But our advice is to skip this bag at all costs.

14. Orville Redenbacher's Movie Theater Butter

We're not sure what movie theater Orville Redenbacher was thinking of when creating this popcorn. But we're guessing one that left you smelling like popcorn for three days afterwards. The smell of this stuff will take over your kitchen, break room, or condo complex clubhouse like nothing else, where people five rooms away will text you something to the effect of, "Someone making popcorn?"

The butter flavor in Orville's movie theater popcorn is just extra. It's rich, it's greasy, and it makes you hesitate to finish the bag. A bag, we might add, that literally oozes butter before you take it out of the microwave. The popcorn has an almost metallic taste, and whoever developed the artificial butter flavoring here definitely missed the mark. As good as Orville Redenbacher's lighter stuff is, the butter is just plain bad. So save yourself some money on air fresheners and skip this one.

13. Skinny Pop Popcorn's Sea Salt

This even-healthier version of Skinny Pop is a bit of tease, as it'll fill the room with the buttery aroma you come to expect from microwave popcorn. But that slice of break room magic doesn't carry over to putting the stuff in your mouth. Sure, you get a nice whiff of steamy popcorn when opening the bag, but the flavor is a little...dull. It doesn't taste quite so much like sea salt, but like mass produced salt that was sprinkled on top so the stuff didn't taste completely bland.

The upside, of course, is that you're only consuming about 225 calories per bag, so if you want to pop one of these while binging a show late into the night you won't wake up with a stomach full of regret. And if you had a big dinner, or are washing it down with a nice glass of wine, you won't mind the generally flavorless experience. It's not a bad popcorn, really. Just not doing much for you besides giving you something to pop in your mouth.

12. Skinny Pop Popcorn in Butter

Skinny Pop's butter popcorn is rich. Not in cost, necessarily, since you'll only pay about $4 for a box of three bags, but the buttery smell that comes off the bag when you pull it out of the microwave seems like it could have come from a French restaurant. No, you're not going to be finding Skinny Pop Butter on the menu at Le Bernardin, but the butter in this bag doesn't taste like your usual movie theater mash.

Be warned, though: The richness might make for a pleasant surprise, but a full bag of this stuff will seriously weigh you down. At just under 400 calories a bag, this isn't a snack you throw next to your desk at the office and expect to get stuff done. We'd recommend splitting this one with a friend or someone else while watching TV, or even at work. Like a lot of other butter-heavy foods, its pleasant to the mouth but can be rough on the stomach.

11. Quinn Real Butter & Sea Salt

Quinn's popcorns are a little more interactive than your standard push-a-button-and-wait varieties. The flavoring all comes in a little packet inside the box, which you then pour over the popcorn after it's done popping. The powder for the standard butter and sea salt variety is fairly indistinguishable from laundry detergent, though it does smell a little better. Still, it's the sort of thing you look at and think, "So...what exactly is in there and why am I putting it on my popcorn?"

Still, putting the seasoning on the bag and shaking it up again is kind of fun, and it probably lets your burn at least half a kernel off in calories in the process. But opening the bag after shaking can be a little offensive, as a massive wave of artificial butter flavor hits your nose at once and sets a bad tone for the rest of the bag. The problem is, most of that flavoring seems to escape with that first opening. The popcorn is pretty bland, and though crispy and clean, it just doesn't have much to it. We applaud Quinn's effort at giving us more to do with microwave popcorn than eat it — but maybe it was something we didn't really need.

10. Boom Chicka Pop Sea Salt Popcorn

If you're familiar with this stuff from its pre-popped bags you can snag at the convenience store, you're absolutely going to love it hot out of the microwave. The first few bites are a hot, buttery delight, with subtle notes of fresh salt. But then it cools off, and then it's not much of a step above the prepackaged variety.

Of all the popcorns on this list, Boom Chicka Pop tastes the most like Styrofoam. In other words, it contains a chewy, grainy flavor that doesn't leave your mouth with much. The light salt notes help, but the eating experience isn't all that rewarding. And even with a scant 170 calories a serving, it's not worth the effort. There are lower-calorie microwave popcorn out there that pack a lot more flavor into their reduced fat bites, so if you're looking for a healthier salty snack, this shouldn't be your first choice.

9. Skinnygirl Popcorn in Lime & Salt

At first, one might think lime and sea salt popcorn is a little out of place, as the combination seems better suited for a tortilla chip than a bag of microwave popcorn. But if you keep your mind open, you just might find Skinnygirl's innovation to be a revolution in Cinco de Mayo snacking and a lower-calorie way to get your salty lime fix to pair with a Corona.

The lime flavor is readily apparent as soon as you get a kernel close to your nose, but it's not like someone squeezed a lime on top of the bag. The stuff tastes a little more like someone poured Sprite on top, as the flavor is painfully artificial. That's not to say it should be avoided — Skinnygirl's option is a refreshing change. But if you were expecting a popcorn ceviche, you're going to be sorely disappointed. At 160 calories a bag, it's a nice, quick snack that'll taste a little more refreshing than most bags. But it's not making you change the way you look at popcorn either.

8. Market Pantry Butter Microwave Popcorn

The only downside about Market Pantry's butter popcorn is that it's probably going to end up costing you about $185 a bag. That's because you can only find it at Target, and we all know going to Target for a bag of microwave popcorn will end with you buying an entire new bedroom set and clothes for all of your nieces. Worth it? Debatable, But when you pull this bag out of the microwave you know you're in for an intense butter experience.

The butter literally drips out of the top of the bag, and if you're not into greasy textures you might want to wear gloves when you pull this out of the microwave. A thick layer of butter covers your mouth after the first handful, so you'd also be well advised to pair this with a big glass of water. There's a tang at the end of each bite that's hard to place, but it gives the stuff some distinction from other bags. This popcorn is an excellent surprise from the Target house brand, but maybe wait until you actually need all that other stuff before heading out to buy some.

7. Quinn Aged Parmesan & Rosemary

If you're going to go for one of Quinn's pour-and-shake powder packet popcorns, the Aged Parmesan & Rosemary flavor is the move. The powder looks a little like dehydrated ranch dressing, but it smells like an Italian herb garden when you pour it on top of the popped kernels. The salty, cheesy, rosemary blend makes for a nice compliment to the crunchy popcorn, and it makes for a more complex eating experience than your standard buttery stuff.

That said, Quinn's Aged Parmesan & Rosemary still suffers from a lack of seasoning, and the brand could definitely benefit from putting some more powder in the bag. Quinn seems not to be aware what a solid job they've done with this seasoning blend and definitely holds back in the amount of flavor this popcorn could have. This is a solid effort all around, but it could definitely be top tier with a little more flavor on the corn.

6. Newman's Own Organics Butter

Major props to Paul Newman (RIP) for creating an entire line of foods whose proceeds go to charity. So you might already feel a little better about yourself choosing this bag over the others, feeling a bit of social responsibility with your butter and salt.

It gets better when you open the bag, as the biggest puff of steam of any popcorn on the list escapes out of the top, warming your face like the charitable contribution that warms your heart. The stuff inside delivers too, bringing more corn flavor that you'll typically find.

Newman's Own popcorn strikes a nice balance between salt and butter, a pleasant coating that still leaves space for the corn to shine through. It's also got a good crunch, and the textures stand up even after the bag cools off. It's a light popcorn, so you're not expecting an overwhelming butter flavor, but it could still use a little more to land higher up on the list. For a light option, though, you could do a lot worse.

5. Orville Redenbacher's Naturals Simply Salted

To those who've eaten a bag or two of microwave popcorn, the phrase "simply salted" is often code for "a bag of chewy air with salt." But Orville Redenbacher's shows again that they know how to make a high quality kernel, delivering a pretty solid popcorn without a whole lot added. 

The popcorn is crisp and crunchy, with a good hit of salt in every bite. With not much in the butter department, it relies heavily on the salt to give it flavor, so "simply" might be a bit of an understatement, as the salt is more or less what you're getting out of this.

With no artificial ingredients, this is definitely a cleaner tasting microwave popcorn. And while it's still not as healthy as, say, popping it on the stove, it is slightly less bad for you than most other options. It's definitely the right move if you're looking for a snack to enjoy by yourself. The palm oil isn't overpowering, so you won't have a greasy mouth at the end of the bag, and though it's not the lowest-calorie bag on this list, it strikes the right blend of light and flavorful.

4. Skinnygirl Popcorn, Butter & Sea Salt

Opening a bag of Skinnygirl Popcorn in Butter & Sea Salt starts with an almost bleachy note with a piercing beam of salt. But fortunately, after that the experience gets a lot better. The corn is sweeter than most varieties, and it's offset nicely by the mild blend of oil and salt. The stuff is inherently eatable, as this lower calorie option, with only 160 calories per bag, packs as much flavor as some higher-fat varieties.

That said, it still tastes a little empty, though that's kind of the deal when you opt for a lower calorie popcorn. It makes for a nice snack in the middle of the day, and it's the sort of thing you can eat to tide over starvation without ruining an appetite or an evening workout. For a fun, light bag this is definitely the winner. But if you want more of a decadent, movie theater experience you'll be a little disappointed.

3. Black Jewell Natural

Black Jewell popcorn looks nothing like any microwave popcorn you've ever seen before: a stark, black and white box that comes with a bit of a surprise when you open it. The look is almost artistic, a minimalist color scheme that says "I don't need your fancy colors to be the best popcorn in the business." And it delivers. Despite an initial appearance that might lead one to think Black Jewell is nothing but a bag of starch and salt, its flavor is complex and interesting.

There's a strong blend of oil and salt in each bite that's strong enough to make its presence known, but it's not so overpowering you want to stop eating it. However, the kernels aren't quite as crisp as other brands, so while the flavor and appearance are both cool, it can skew a little chewy.

 Still, you'll definitely look like a microwave popcorn connoisseur if you've got a bag of Black Jewell at home. It's lesser known and higher quality, so if you're the kind of person who wants to impress their guests with microwave popcorn knowledge, this is definitely the move.

2. Pop Secret Movie Theater Butter

This list is littered with movie theater butter flavors that miss the mark. But Pop Secret absolutely nails it, offering an indulgent bag of microwave popcorn that tastes like it's got real butter on top. Don't look too hard at the ingredients to find out if that's the case — there are some questions you just don't want the answer to. Much like you shouldn't look at the calorie count either.

But if you want a rich, buttery, who-cares-about-cholesterol popcorn, Pop Secret is your pick. Eating the whole bag will leave you feeling like you ate a whole pizza, but if you share it or stretch it out over the course of a movie you'll surely be fine. The flavor is hands down the richest and fullest of any microwave attempt at replicating the cinema experience. Nobody's confusing this with health food, and the word "skinny" isn't appearing in the same paragraph. But damn, it does taste good.

1. Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop! Butter

For a low-calorie popcorn, Orville Redenbacher, a brand that topped our recent survey, packs a lot of punch into this bag. The corn tastes like a much higher quality kernel than most of the rest of the stuff on the shelf, with a smoky, almost roasted note at the end of the bite. And no, we didn't burn the bag in the microwave. There's a nice hint of butter and grease in each bite, but not so much that it feels like an oil bomb going down your throat.

The salt is present, but not overbearing, and it serves to accentuate the light butter and roasted flavor rather than stand as a flavor on its own. At about 240 calories per bag, you can down the whole thing by yourself and still have room for dinner later. Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop! butter flavor is a winner for solo TV watching, snacking, or even for a party.