Caramel Corn Recipe

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This is our favorite Caramel Corn Recipe — perfectly sweet and crunchy candy-coated popcorn.

Try some of our flavored caramel corn recipes like this Zebra PopcornCinnamon Roll Popcorn, or gourmet Chocolate Popcorn.

Overhead image of Caramel Corn

Caramel Corn Recipe

This recipe for Caramel Corn is one of the most-made treats at my home. I blame my dad for my popcorn addiction–he’d pop a bag every single time we watched a movie as a family. So for me, it’s simply not movie night without popcorn. And while I definitely love a bag of lightly salted (or heavily buttered) popcorn, candied popcorn takes the number one spot in my book. Cover it with chocolate and I can single handedly finish a batch!

Caramel Corn is an ideal treat to make ahead of time to enjoy at a later time. It makes a great edible gift during the holidays. It’s truly the perfect stress-free snack/dessert to serve at a party, since you can make it a few days in advance.

VARIATIONS

Make caramel puff corn (caramelized puff corn) by replacing the popcorn with plain puff corn!

Process shots-- images of the butter, sugar, corn syrup, baking soda, and vanilla being added to a pot

The full Caramel Corn recipe is in the recipe box at the bottom of this post. Below are our top tips for success.

How To Make Caramel Corn

  1. Assemble everything before starting. This recipe moves very quickly, so it’s best to have everything set out, measured, and ready to add. This way the caramel mixture won’t over-cook.
  2. Use a timer. Once the mixture reaches a full boil, set a timer for 5 full minutes. If the mixture doesn’t boil long enough or it over-boils the caramel might not set up properly on the popcorn. Don’t want to leave it up to chance? Use a candy thermometer (see “quick tip” box below)! We’re looking for the mixture to hit 235 degrees F.
  3. Keep the heat at medium. While it might be tempting to bump up the heat to speed the process along, it’s important the temperature keeps consistent.

QUICK TIP

Using a candy thermometer takes out the guesswork and ensures you get the caramel mixture to the perfect temperature. Here is the candy thermometer I use and recommend. And once you have one, you can use it in all our favorite candy recipes. I’d recommend starting with this Buttercrunch Candy, Homemade Toffee, or Honeycomb Candy!

Process shots-- images of the baking soda and vanilla being added to a pot and then it all being poured over the popcorn

Caramel Corn Recipe Tools

  • A medium-sized nonstick pot. This pan is for making the caramel sauce. You’ll want to use one larger than you may think because the mixture “grows” when the baking soda is added in. Trust me on this one!
  • A really large bowl or two smaller ones. We toss the popcorn with the brown sugar-caramel mixture. Use the largest bowl you have (or one that can easily accommodate all the ingredients) to allow plenty of room for tossing without spilling. If you don’t have a really large bowl, separate the mixture into two bowls.
  • Use one extra-large (15×21 inch) sheet pan) or two smaller ones. There is a lot of popcorn in this recipe, so you’ll need plenty of space for it all to lay in one even layer. If the popcorn is piled up, it won’t bake properly.
  • Bake on a silicone liner or parchment paper. For even baking and to ensure the Caramel Corn doesn’t stick to your pan, line the pan with a good liner.

Process shots of Caramel Corn-- images of the popcorn being baked and tossed every 15 minutes

Ingredients Worth Mentioning

  • Let’s chat popcorn. Purchasing already popped popcorn makes this recipe come together a little bit quicker, but it’s a bit more spendy. If you’d rather pop your own, these are the packets we use (lightly salted plain popcorn). Of course, you can also use kernels in a popcorn machine or on the stovetop.  Whatever you choose to use, measure out 10 cups of popcorn for this recipe and make sure no kernels sneak their way in! (See “quick tip” box below).
  • Baking soda reacts with the sugar and corn syrup and creates small air bubbles. These bubbles will ensure the caramel isn’t too hard. (We don’t want to break a tooth!) Instead, the caramel coating the popcorn will be perfectly crunchy.
  • We make this Caramel Corn with corn syrup because it keeps the caramel syrup from crystallizing and becoming grainy.

QUICK TIP

Quick kernel removal idea: Here’s how to ensure no kernels sneak in: Lay one or two wire cooling racks over a large tray. Carefully pour the popped popcorn over the cooling rack(s). All the unpopped kernels will fall through the holes onto the tray. Once you’ve scooped up the popcorn and measured it for this recipe, you can dump the kernels left behind into the trash — easy!

Up close image of the treat ready to be enjoyed

Caramel Corn Recipe FAQs

What makes Caramel Corn grainy?

This can happen if the sugar crystallizes while it’s cooking. I like to add cream of tartar because the acidity in this ingredient helps to prevent crystals from forming in the caramel as it cooks.

What happens if you forget the baking soda in Caramel Corn?

Baking soda is what makes caramel corn chewy with a bit of crunch and gives it the classic brittle texture. The baking soda also helps the mixture to increase in volume which ensures it covers all of the popcorn. It’s an essential ingredient and without it you’ll likely find the texture of the caramel corn to be off.

Why is my Caramel Corn soft and chewy?

Caramel corn will come out chewy if the caramel mixture isn’t boiled long enough or the popcorn wasn’t baked long enough afterwards.

Is Caramel Corn gluten free?

Yes! Caramel corn is naturally gluten free.

*While the ingredients in this recipe are naturally gluten-free, make sure to check all your ingredient labels to be sure they weren’t processed in a facility with gluten.

If You Love Caramel, You’ll Love These Treats!

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Caramel Corn Recipe

5 from 1 vote
This is our favorite Caramel Corn recipe -- perfectly sweet and crunchy caramel popcorn.
Print Recipe

Caramel Corn Recipe

5 from 1 vote
This is our favorite Caramel Corn recipe -- perfectly sweet and crunchy caramel popcorn.
Course Dessert, Snack, treat
Cuisine American, Vegetarian
Keyword Caramel Corn Recipe
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Cooling 1 hour
Total Time 2 hours 20 minutes
Servings 8 -10 servings
Chelsea Lords
Calories 295kcal
Cost $3.21

Ingredients

  • cooking spray
  • 10 cups popped plain (or lightly salted) popcorn (Note 1)
  • 1/2 cup (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (Note 2)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional -- See Note 3)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions

  • PREP: Set out all the ingredients--this recipe moves quickly! Line one extra-large (15x21-inch) or 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silicone liner and set aside.
    Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.
    Grab a very large ceramic bowl (large enough to be able to very quickly toss popcorn with the caramel sauce without spilling-- I use the largest bowl I have! Avoid metal bowls as it can make the popcorn taste metallic) Generously spray that bowl with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
    Sift the baking soda to make sure it isn't clumpy. Now we're ready to start!
  • POPCORN: Pop the popcorn then remove any un-popped kernels. Measure to get 10 cups and add to the very large greased bowl.
  • CARAMEL SYRUP: Cut the butter into tablespoon-sized pieces. In a pot over medium heat (don't increase the heat even if process is slow!), add the butter, corn syrup, brown sugar, cream of tartar, and fine sea salt. Stir with a silicone spatula, scraping the edges of the pot as you stir until the butter is melted and then bring to a full rolling boil. Keep heat at medium and once at a full roiling boil, remove the spatula and stop stirring. Set a timer, letting the mixture boil for 5 minutes without stirring. (Or until it hits 235 degrees F on a candy thermometer). Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla extract. Watch out-- the vanilla may sputter a bit and mixture will foam up! Immediately pour this caramel mixture over the prepared popcorn in the bowl. Working quickly, use the spatula to toss and cover the popcorn evenly in the caramel syrup mixture. Continue tossing until popcorn is well and evenly coated.
    Caramel sauce being made in a pot.
  • BAKE: Spread the coated popcorn on the prepared cookie sheet(s) in one even layer (not overlapping). Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes (if using multiple pans, rotate the pans from top rack to bottom rack.) Remove the pans and allow to completely cool.
  • ENJOY: Let the caramel corn harden at room temperature, about 1 hour. (It will continue to firm up and get crunchy at this point!) Lightly break up into clusters and put in a large bowl. Enjoy!
  • STORAGE: To store Caramel Corn, place in an airtight container (I like using Mason jars or Weck® mold jars). Keep the container in a cool dry place for up to a week.

Video

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Popcorn: Purchasing already popped popcorn makes this recipe come together a little bit quicker, but it’s a bit more spendy. If you’d rather pop your own, these are the packets we use (lightly salted plain popcorn). Of course, you can also use kernels in a popcorn machine or on the stovetop.  Whatever you use, measure out 10 cups of popcorn for this Caramel Corn recipe and ensure no kernels sneak their way in! 
Note 2: Salt: While salt is important for enhancing flavors and balancing out the sweetness, if the popcorn you're using is overly salted, you may want to slightly reduce or completely omit the addtional salt in the recipe
Note 3: Cream of tTartar: We like to add this ingredient because the acidity in it helps to prevent crystallization (crystals forming in the caramel) as it cooks. The recipe will still work without it, but if you have some, add it in!

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 295kcal | Carbohydrates: 46g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 0.5g | Cholesterol: 32mg | Sodium: 158mg | Potassium: 94mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 35g | Vitamin A: 396IU | Calcium: 29mg | Iron: 1mg

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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3 Comments

  1. I haven’t made it yet. Maybe the long instructions are necessary but it’s awfully long! My mother used to make this. I have her recipe somewhere. She probably assumed that common sense would be used, which you may not have the luxury of that. 😄

    1. Haha! They are long! After sharing recipes for almost a decade, I’ve learned if I don’t share as many details as possible, I’ll spend hours responding to questions in emails or comments 🙂

      1. Need to make recipe in a PDF format so it can be printed. When you hit PRINT when the recipe comes up it doesn’t work. Unfortunate…. would love to have the printed version.

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