Homemade Caramel Corn
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This homemade caramel corn is crazy-good. Seriously, don’t make it unless you have the willpower of a saint or lots of friends to share it with!
Whenever we visit my parents in Sarasota, we make nightly pilgrimages to Kilwin’s, a nostalgic ice cream and candy shop on Lido Key. With the smell of fresh-made waffle cones wafting out the door and candy-makers stirring fudge in the window, it’s an irresistible tourist (and kid) trap that just lures you in. The best part is waiting in line, when you get to sample all sorts of confections (because if it’s a sample, it doesn’t count, right?). We all love the sweet, crunchy caramel corn, so I thought it would be fun to recreate it at home.
Surprisingly, it’s easy to make and you don’t need a giant copper kettle, or even a candy thermometer, to make it. There’s only one problem: it’s highly addictive. Seriously, don’t make this stuff unless you have the willpower of a saint or many friends to share it with!
What you’ll need to make Caramel corn
Before we get to the recipe, a few words about the ingredients. You might be wondering why the recipe calls for corn syrup and baking soda. The corn syrup helps to prevent the caramel sauce from crystallizing, which results in a smooth texture (sugar crystals make caramel grainy). And the baking soda causes the caramel to foam up, which aerates it and creates a nice crisp texture (so the caramel is not rock-hard when you bite into it).
How to make Caramel corn
Begin by making the popcorn. Heat the vegetable oil in a very large pot over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn kernels, then cover with a tight-fitting lid.
Wait for the popcorn to start popping, then shake the pan gently every now and again to keep the kernels moving. When the popping slows to 2-3 seconds apart, remove the pan from the heat.
Transfer the popcorn to a large bowl, making sure to leave any unpopped kernels behind.
Set the popcorn aside and make the caramel. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.
Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup and salt and stir until the sugar dissolves.
Stirring occasionally, boil the syrup over medium heat for 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda.
Stir well as the mixture turns foamy.
Immediately (and carefully — it’s very hot!) pour the syrup over the popped corn in three separate additions, stirring as you go.
Gently toss until the popcorn is evenly coated.
Spread the caramel corn into even layers on parchment-lined sheet pans.
Bake at 200°F for one hour. The caramel will be a little soft at this point; let it cool completely to crisp up.
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Homemade Caramel Corn
This homemade caramel corn is crazy-good. Seriously, don’t make it unless you have the willpower of a saint or lots of friends to share it with!
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ⅔ cup popcorn kernels (see note)
- 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- ¼ cup light corn syrup
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- Preheat your oven to 200°F and line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a very large pot over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn and shake the pan to coat the kernels with oil. Cover with a tight fitting lid (alternatively, cover tightly with foil). Wait for the popcorn to start popping, then shake the pan gently every now and again to keep the kernels moving. When the popping slows to about 2 seconds apart, remove the pan from the heat. Transfer the popcorn to a large bowl, making sure to leave any unpopped kernels behind.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup and salt and stir until the sugar dissolves. Let the mixture come to a gentle boil. Stirring occasionally, boil the syrup over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda. Stir well as the mixture turns foamy.
- Immediately (and carefully -- it's very hot!) pour the syrup over the popped corn in three separate additions, stirring gently as you go, until the popcorn is evenly coated.
- Spread the caramel corn into even layers on prepared pans. Bake at 200°F for one hour. The caramel will be a little soft at this point; let it cool completely to crisp up. Store in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
- Note: If you want to use microwave (be sure it's plain) or air-popped popcorn, note that ⅔ cup popcorn kernels makes 16 cups.
- Per serving (8 servings)
- Serving size: 2 cups
- Calories: 326
- Fat: 19 g
- Saturated fat: 8 g
- Carbohydrates: 40 g
- Sugar: 32 g
- Fiber: 1 g
- Protein: 1 g
- Sodium: 163 mg
- Cholesterol: 31 mg
This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.
Gluten-Free Adaptable Note
To the best of my knowledge, all of the ingredients used in this recipe are gluten-free or widely available in gluten-free versions. There is hidden gluten in many foods; if you're following a gluten-free diet or cooking for someone with gluten allergies, always read the labels of your ingredients to verify that they are gluten-free.
Jenn, another recipe that hit it out of the park! I knew going in I was going to need a lot of willpower to keep my fingers out of it….and I was right. I added dry roasted peanuts. This is such a winner, completely YUM.
i have been using this for years. a potluck favorite!
Can this be frozen?
Hi Anna, I’ve never frozen this so I can’t say from experience, but I just looked online and it appears that you can. Here’s some more info that may help.
Just for the record, Kilwin’s is a Michigan based business, most commonly associated with the fudge shops in tourist areas like Mackinac Island but found all over Michigan. They sell candy and specialty chocolates, ice cream and treats like the caramel corn. Another Michigan business that makes a FABULOUS caramel corn is Koeze’s. They also make great chocolates and candies, nuts and great peanut butter.
Delicious & so easy to make!
I made this for the first time this past Christmas and it was sooooo addictive! I did package up and give away, but here it is January doldrums and I’m tempted to make it again and indulge! My only mistake was I bought the store brand popcorn kernels and I should have went with Orville
The addition of maple syrup adds another level of flavor that makes this recipe really amazing! Perfect for our weekly movie nights.
This was a perfect family treat for movie night. I did not have unsalted butter, so I omitted the half teaspoon of salt, and I think that worked well.
Q: the type of popcorn – the popcorn modeled in your photos has very large kernels. Is there a brand or variety that you recommend? Often what we pop at home is small and thinly spread kernels vs. round and substantial. Thank you for this excellent recipe!
Hi Joanna, I use Orville Redenbacher’s original kernels. Hope that helps!
I made this today for the first time. The recipe is delicious! The caramel was outstanding! I did add some roasted pecans (and with that sauce —-ooooh delightful) The only thing I learned (which was in the recipe) was that you have to be diligent to take out the unpopped kernels. I used microwave air popped popcorn and the first bag had no un-popped kernels, so when I popped bags two and three … I just added them in …. oops … they had a lot of unpopped ones and I already had some of the caramel in the bowl. So, my review is … the recipe is great … I will make it again, (immediately) but this time, I won’t be in such a hurry to layer the popcorn and caramel without checking my popcorn first. Ever since I found this site, every recipe I have tried has been a winner! Thanks
This recipe looks tasty but I’ve never tried. Am looking to make for Christmas gifts. Can you melt chocolate and add to the caramel corn? If so, can I just drizzle over popcorn after baking or will chocolate make this too sweet? Thank you!!
Hi Ilse, The chocolate would need to be tempered or stabilized if you’re planning to give this away as gifts, otherwise it won’t hold up. Tempering is a bit tricky; if you want to give it a try, you can read how here.
How do you store it or package it for gifting? What type of packaging works best?
Hi Jessie, any kind of airtight container would work for storing/gifting the popcorn.
Jessie, Kilwin’s packages theirs in cellophane bags. One place to buy things like that is Paper Mart (online ordering, wide variety).
The caramel corn is so yummy. Could this recipe work for making caramel candies? Any adjustments?
Glad you like the popcorn! I don’t think this recipe would be appropriate for caramel candies. Instead I’d look for a recipe that’s specifically designed for candy.
Ina Garten has an excellent recipe for caramels on the Food Network website.
Wow! This is a great recipe. The flavor is fantastic, and no vanilla. The maple syrup does the trick. My entire family loved it.
Does this Carmel corn package well for holiday gifts? If so, any suggestions on packaging?
Hi Karen, This keeps will for 3 – 4 days so it would work for holiday gifts if you feel confident it will be eaten in that timeframe. It needs to be stored in an airtight container, so anything decorative and also airtight will work. Hope your recipients enjoy! 🙂
The flavor was good but it turned out a little too sticky for me.
Hi Jenn! Just made this for our guests who are staying with us this weekend! Side note- their was a Kilwins down the street from where I went to college and it was always a treat to stop by and get something during finals week. The smell and taste of this popcorn brings me back to my college days! Thank you! Always stunning recipes!
I have made this popcorn many times and it’s always a HUGE hit! Just wanted to hop on and make a comment about substituting the maple syrup though – today I wanted to make it but didn’t have any maple syrup. I subbed honey as someone suggested above and while it turned out ok texture-wise and everything, it wasn’t nearly as good. I was really surprised what a huge difference in taste there was. The honey comes through really strong which is a bit odd for a caramel corn. All that to say, for those of you scrolling through looking to see if you can sub out the maple syrup for something else, DON’T. Just drive yo’self to the store, pick up the syrup, and make it right!
I’ve made caramel corn in the past, without corn syrup, and the caramel doesn’t hold up as well as this caramel. This is a great recipe and I will come back to it again!
Was the perfect caramel taste! Popcorn was crunching and sweet. My grandchildren was licking the bowl!
What can I use instead of corn syrup?
Unfortunately, this recipe won’t work without the corn syrup – sorry!
This is incredible! Definitely useful to add the caramel slowly, maybe have someone else around to help you fold it into the popcorn.
I’m also terrible at making popcorn, always ending up with some burnt on the bottom. If you are like me, maybe worth while to make sure to pick those out.
I LOVED this but had a hard time spreading the caramel evenly over the popcorn – any suggestions? Thanks!
Hi Sally, glad you liked it! Perhaps you waited just a tiny bit too long to spread the caramel (it cools very quickly and gets more sticky, so you need to work fast)! Also, keep in mind that the finished product will look different than store-bought and won’t be quite as evenly spread out, covering each kernel. But it tastes better (in my humble opinion :).
We usually put the popcorn into a very large bowl. We drizzle the caramel around about 1/4 at a time and use a spatula to gently toss the popcorn between each application.
Another issue you might be having is cooking the caramel too long… if it cooks too long it gets much thicker and more difficult to distribute. As Jenn specifies in the recipe, the drying time in the oven then helps to dry/solidify the caramel.
One change we have made to the recipe is to change out about 1/3 of the brown sugar for white sugar. The caramel is a little lighter in color and we think it makes this amazing recipe even better (found by accident because we ran out of brown sugar one day and used some white to make up the difference).
This was a easy, quick. Really did not need any alterations. Thought 1/4C of cooking oil made popcorn too “greasy” tasting, so dropped it to 2-3 tbsp for 2/3C corn kernels. Maple flavor was really hard to detect- does get masked by all the brown sugar. But made several batches for dgt’s fair and it sold out w/in minutes.
I made this just the other night with my kettle popper. It was fantastic! No changes needed except to maybe double or triple the recipe!
This is our to go recipe for caramel popcorn! We are making it again tonight for zoo trip tomorrow.
I always thought my mom’s caramel popcorn was the best…until I tried yours!! It is delicious, and I love adding just a little bit more salt than what the recipe calls for, giving it a Seasalt Caramel flavor. Call me a glutton, but I make it at least 3 times a month. Thanks Jenn, for an excellent recipe!
I just made this caramel corn today and was very good. Would recommend to all
Once again excellent recipe. Can’t stop eating it. Thanks again for a spot on recipe.
Very good, but any Caramel Corn has to have nuts in it! Peanuts at the very least, pecans are even better.
Made this for my 15-year-old son and his friends this weekend and it was devoured in minutes. Next time I’ll know to make more 😉
I love, Love, LOVE caramel corn!! But I have always thought it would be too hard to make at home. This looks like something even a novice like myself could handle. Thanks for the recipe! PS: I love your pots/pans!
I appear to be replacing all my previous recipes with yours. Trust me, I’m not complaining. You’re making me a better cook. Friday night was movie night, and we did a taste test (for science, of course) between my previous recipe and your recipe, for Caramel Corn. Yours won (licked clean); the other (leftovers) didn’t. Query from the movie goers: could you add peanuts with the same ingredients, or would they have to be increased? How much peanuts/ingredients?
So glad it was a hit, Deborah! Peanuts would be delicious. I would either reduce the amount of popcorn or increase the caramel. You can wing it but if you add 2 cups of peanuts, I would increase the sauce by about 25%. Please let me know how it turns out 🙂
Movie night tonight, so I made the Caramel Corn with 2 cups peanuts. I adjusted the sauce ingredients as follows : 1 stick unsalted butter, plus 2 Tablespoons; 1-1/4 cup light brown sugar; 3/8 cup light corn syrup; 3/8 cup pure maple syrup; kept 1/2 teaspoon each salt and baking soda. Movie goers gave a 5-star rating. Many thanks for making me look good.
So glad, Deborah!
I add roasted nuts to mine that have been lightly salted. Takes the Carmel corn to a new level. I like making four batches and giving for Christmas gifts.
It sounds like the 1 hr. baking is important… can you please explain the purpose? Without your instructions I would have immediately cooled and eaten them after tossing in the carmel 🙂
Hi John, The caramel is very sticky before you dry it in the oven. After baking, it’s dry, crisp and crunchy.
Just to close the story… my son is 11 and he wanted to start a small business, so we used your recipe here and he sold caramel popcorn to our neighbors. This was a huge hit, and we made a lot of it. The recipe was simple enough he was able to do most of the batches himself. Really amazing stuff 🙂
That is so cool, John! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Can honey or other syrup be used to replace the maple syrup? if so, would you use the same amount be used?
Hi Shon, I haven’t tried it so can’t say for sure — caramel is finicky — but I do think it should work. Yes, use the same amount.
Yes, honey does work. We used honey to replace maple syrup because that was what we had. It was so good that we didn’t even wait till it was cooled. It taste even better after it is cooled completely.
Yes, honey does work. We used honey on our batch because that was what we had. It worked great!
I love Carmel popcorn and am really excited to try this recipe. I like the popcorn to be on the soft side. Does it work to not bake it?
Hi Peggy, Yes, it is soft and a bit sticky before baking.
Love your caramel corn however I always use coconut oil when popping corn. It’s absolutely the best, once you try it you’ll never go back. It’s definitely healthier for you and there’s no coconut flavor taste, just great flavor.
I love in Sarasota and love that you enjoy it here!!! Lots of great food choices here too. Have you been to Mortons or Detwiler’s markets? Any how, back to the popcorn, in always looking for foodie holiday gifts.. Would this popcorn keep for a bit to give as a gift? How long do you think it would keep?
Thanks for all you do!
Hi Pam, I love love love Sarasota. My parents live in Long Boat and we have so much fun visiting them there (and also love those markets!). I’d say it keeps well for 3-4 days in an airtight container 🙂
I am interested in making your caramel corn, but was wondering if I could replace the butter with coconut oil or something else with no animal fat? The reason I ask is my daughter is a strict vegan and I have made it sort of a challenge to make recipes vegan where I can! Thank you!
I haven’t tried it but looks like another reviewer did with success 🙂
This recipe sounds great and answers the question of why my popcorn always burnt to the bottom of the pan. I always added the sugar to the popcorn, rather than the other way around! Thank you for explaining why you need the baking soda in this recipe. Yum!