Living in Indiana my entire life, there has never been a single flight I’ve ever taken that hasn’t connected in Chicago. I am well-versed with the ins-and-outs of both O’Hare (ask me about the secret hallway that is perfect for layover naps) and Midway (find me in the yoga room during delays). And anyone who spends any time in either of the main Chicago airports knows this single fact: Chicago-Style Popcorn is king of the airport!
You can’t walk more than three gates before you hit another popcorn stand selling the famous Chicago-style popcorn—which is just a mix of both cheddar popcorn and caramel corn. Each of these popcorn stands is always packed to the gills with hungry travelers looking to take a batch of famous Chicago mix popcorn on the plane with them. What makes this type of popcorn have such global appeal? It has the amazing sweet-and-salty combo that makes it totally addictive!
If you don’t have a trip to Chicago on the books, no worries, we’re going to teach you how to make Chicago Mix popcorn at home. It’s easy as can be, as delicious as the original, and it makes for an amazing food gift for the holidays. Let’s make some popcorn!
What is Chicago popcorn?
Chicago popcorn is an even mix of caramel corn and cheddar cheese popcorn. Some people like to include plain buttered popcorn too, but I’ve generally seen it as just the two flavors together.
When mixed together, the caramel and cheese popcorns make for a can’t-stop, won’t-stop sweet and salty flavor.
How do you make caramel popcorn from scratch?
Get yourself some plain popped popcorn, butter, brown sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and baking soda. Let’s do this!
This is going to get a little messy (and a lot sticky), so start by lining your baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Don’t skip this step!
- Mix together the butter, brown sugar, and salt.
- Bring to a boil for 4 minutes to cook it down into a caramel.
- Stir in the vanilla extract.
- Stir in the baking soda and cook for one more minute.
- Remove the caramel from the heat. The caramel should be very fluffy.
- Pour the popcorn into a big bowl and drizzle with caramel. Spread out the caramel corn on your baking sheets to cool.
Make sure you are stirring the caramel from time to time as it cooks so that it doesn’t burn.
How do you get cheese to stick to popcorn?
The secret to perfectly cheesy cheddar popcorn is to use cheese powder instead of regular cheese, and…butter! We shake, shake, shake the popcorn with butter so that every kernel is coated, and the butter acts like the “glue” for the cheese.
Just like we did with our movie theater popcorn, you’ll need to skim the foam off your melted butter before you pour it over the popcorn. It’s key for getting crunchy popcorn instead of a soggy mess!
What is in cheddar cheese powder?
Cheddar cheese powder is cheddar that has been dried, dried, and dried some more. So in a good cheese powder, all of the lead ingredients should be things like whey (one of the proteins in milk), buttermilk or milk solids, and cheeses. We really like the Premium Cheddar Cheese Powder from Hoosier Hill Farm because the flavor is great, and it gets its color from paprika and annatto instead of chemical colorants.
Can’t find cheese powder? You can scavenge the packets from boxes of macaroni and cheese.
How do you make cheese popcorn from scratch?
Cheddar popcorn time! You’ll need a big paper grocery bag for this one.
- Mix together the cheddar cheese powder with a little mustard powder and salt. These will just help intensify the cheesy flavor!
- Now you need some melted butter or ghee. You can use ghee right away, but if you are using melted butter, skim off the foam first so that you don’t end up with soggy popcorn!
- Pop your popcorn!
- Pour the popcorn into your paper bag, and pour in the butter or ghee. Fold over the grocery bag a few times to close it, and shake it really well, until all the popcorn is coated.
- Add the cheese powder mixture, fold the bag closed again, and shake some more!
- Enjoy your cheesy popcorn!
Really shake the dickens out of the cheddar popcorn when distributing the butter and the cheese powder so that every piece comes out cheesy!
I have caramel corn and cheddar popcorn…now how do I make it into Chicago popcorn?
Once your caramel corn is completely cooled, you can mix the two popcorns together. Ta-da! You’ve made Chicago popcorn. It is ready for storing or packaging up for gifting.
How long does Chicago popcorn last?
We recommend storing Chicago-style popcorn in an airtight container or zip-top bag. It should be good for 10-14 days.
How can I package Chicago popcorn for gifting?
We think simple is best for this gift, so that everyone can see the delicious popcorn inside. Chicago popcorn looks beautiful in simple cellophane bags.