How to Make Perfect Caramel Popcorn at Home

Overhead of caramel popcorn on a white counter.
Recipe At-A-Glance
...
Vegetarian, Gluten-Free30 minutes
With just a few ingredients, you can make your own caramel popcorn at home! Learn how to make this sweet movie snack the easy way, no corn syrup required.

Share this post:

Sweet, salty, and crunchy, caramel corn is a totally addictive snack that is super easy to make at home and is perfect for family movie night! This is a fun family kitchen project that you can toss together on the stove in just a few minutes!

We made sure to make our caramel corn recipe using only ingredients that you probably already have on hand—no corn syrup needed! This is a great recipe for enjoying at home or packaging up for gifting. It’s also a key component of world-famous Chicago Mix popcorn. Let’s get popping!

Overhead of a hand holding a metal popcorn scoop filled with finished caramel corn.

Is caramel corn the same as kettle corn?

While it’s easy to mix up both these sweet popcorns, caramel corn and kettle corn are not the same. For kettle corn, popcorn kernels are sweetened with sugar just enough to give it a slightly sweet taste, while for caramel corn, popcorn kernels are drenched in caramel to give it a rich, sweet, caramel flavor and satisfying crunch!

How do I make perfect caramel popcorn at home?

First, you’ll need to make yourself a batch of plain popcorn. Pop kernels and let your popcorn cool completely.

Wholefully Protip

Air popped popcorn is what we prefer here (this is the popcorn machine we like), but microwave popcorn will do the trick, just as long as it is plain unflavored popcorn.

Collage of six steps to make caramel popcorn.

While it is cooling, you can make your caramel sauce:

  1. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. You will regret it at clean-up time if you skip this step! You can also spray the baking sheets with cooking spray for added clean-up ease. Then, mix together butter, brown sugar, and salt.
  2. Boil for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally with a silicone spatula, to cook the brown sugar into a caramel.
  3. Stir in some vanilla extract.
  4. Stir in baking soda and cook for 1 minute.
  5. By now, the caramel should look very fluffy. Remove it from the heat.
  6. Drizzle the caramel over the popcorn, and stir to coat all the pieces. Spread the caramel popcorn over your (lined!) baking sheets in a single layer to cool and crisp up.

Pouring hot caramel topping into a big bowl of fresh popped popcorn.

Wholefully Protip

Want to make homemade Cracker Jack? Easy peasy, just toss in some peanuts (or almonds, cashews, pecans, or other nuts) to the popcorn before you add the caramel.

What if I don’t have a heavy-bottomed saucepan?

It’s easier to work with a heavy-bottomed saucepan because it regulates heat better during the caramel cooking process, but if your pot is a little on the thin side, just keep your heat low and keep a close eye on your caramel, and you should be good!

Wholefully Protip

Many folks have an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven pot in their kitchen, and that makes a great option for making caramel!

Homemade caramel dripping from a spoon.

How long does caramel popcorn last?

Because you are cooking out most of the moisture from the caramel, your popcorn will last in an air-tight container for quite awhile—enjoy it within 2-3 months.

Why is my caramel popcorn chewy?

Ah, this is an easy one to solve—your caramel corn is chewy because you didn’t cook your caramel long enough! We’re looking to get to the hard crack stage, which is 300°F on a candy thermometer. It takes roughly 4-5 minutes of hard boiling to get there.

Wholefully Protip

If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can do the cold water test: spoon some of the caramel into a glass of cold water. When the caramel is ready, it will form brittle strands in the water that break when you bend them.

Close-up of finished homemade caramel corn on a marble counter top.

 
Overhead of caramel popcorn on a white counter.

Homemade Caramel Popcorn Recipe

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

With just a few ingredients, you can make your own caramel popcorn at home! Learn how to make this sweet movie snack the easy way, no corn syrup required.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 15 cups plain popped popcorn (about 1/2 cup unpopped kernels worth)

Instructions

  1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, brown sugar, and salt. 
  3. While stirring continuously, bring the butter mixture to a boil. Boil for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Add in the vanilla extract, stirring well to combine. At this point, the caramel should be the hard crack stage (a candy thermometer should read 300°F, or see notes if you don't have a candy thermometer).
  4. Add in the baking soda and the boil for 1 more minute. The mixture should get very fluffy and foamy. Remove from heat.
  5. Place the popped popcorn in a very large bowl, and then drizzle the caramel sauce over top. Use a spoon to fold the popcorn until all kernels are covered.
  6. Pour the caramel corn out onto the prepared baking sheets, and let cool completely.

Notes

  • The hard crack stage happens at 300°F. If you don't have a candy thermometer, you can do the cold water test: spoon some of the caramel into a glass of cold water. When the caramel is ready, it will form brittle strands in the water and the strands will break when you bend them.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1.25 cups
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 250Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 41mgSodium: 222mgCarbohydrates: 20gFiber: 1gSugar: 15gProtein: 1g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.
Starter Guide

The free Living Wholefully Starter Guide is packed full of tips, tricks, recipes, and a 14-day meal plan to get you started on the road to vibrant health.

Meet Cassie
Meet Your Host

Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

I'm a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I've been developing healthy recipes professionally for over 15 years. Food is my love language, and my kitchen tips and nourishing recipes are my love letter to you!

Learn More About Me →

Skip to Recipe
Close up of the finished cake on a cake stand with orange glaze and sugared cranberries on top.

No-Stress Holiday Cooking, Simplified!

Tips, recipes and time-saving secrets to magical holiday meals

FREE HOLIDAY GUIDE