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!
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.
While it is cooling, you can make your caramel sauce:
- 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.
- Boil for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally with a silicone spatula, to cook the brown sugar into a caramel.
- Stir in some vanilla extract.
- Stir in baking soda and cook for 1 minute.
- By now, the caramel should look very fluffy. Remove it from the heat.
- 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.
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!
Many folks have an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven pot in their kitchen, and that makes a great option for making caramel!
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.
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.