Microwave Caramel Corn

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Quick and easy Microwave Caramel Corn is a delicious shortcut that yields the salty-sweet treat we all crave! Skip watching the stove for precise temperatures–instead, make this treat in the microwave oven! 

Prepare to be blown away by this quick and easy dessert hack! Enjoy homemade, delicious, sweet-and-salty caramel corn in under 20 minutes, with minimal dishes to clean up afterward!

Overhead image of Microwave Caramel Corn

Quick and Easy Caramel Corn

I love, love, love caramel corn. Talk about a treat that has it all! Something this sweet, salty, chewy, and soft– all at once– doesn’t come along every day. If you’ve ever tried our classic Caramel Corn recipe, you know the sublime delicacy that it is.

But sometimes, circumstances don’t allow for the process of making it. Time may be tight, or little hands may want to help. And when that’s the case, you’ll want an alternate recipe to try. Quick and Easy Caramel Corn is made…in the microwave. Yes, you heard right!

ingredient shot-- image of all the ingredients in this recipe

Microwave Caramel Corn Ingredients

  • Popcorn: More on this ingredient in the next section!
  • Unsalted butter: We use unsalted butter to control how salty the caramel coating gets. If you only have salted butter, you can use it but leave out or reduce the additional salt in the recipe.
  • Corn syrup: This is a key ingredient in achieving the right consistency for the caramel syrup, keeping it from crystallizing and becoming grainy.
  • Light brown sugar: Brown sugar adds a rich caramel flavor to the popcorn. Make sure it’s lightly packed when measuring. If you only have dark brown sugar, you can use it; it will deliver a deeper and stronger molasses flavor.
  • Salt: This balances the sweetness of the caramel. If your popcorn is already salted, you may want to omit this.
  • Baking soda: This ingredient reacts with the sugar and corn syrup and creates small air bubbles. These bubbles will keep the caramel from getting too hard. Instead, the coated popcorn will be perfectly crunchy.
  • Vanilla: Vanilla adds depth of flavor to the caramel. Use a good quality extract for the best flavor. Avoid using artificial vanilla– it can give an “off” taste.

Process shots of Microwave Caramel Corn-- image of the popcorn being popped

What Popcorn To Use

  • If you purchase already popped popcorn, this recipe comes together a little bit quicker, but it’s quite a bit more spendy. 
  • If using microwave popcorn packets, try to use the brand with the fewest seasonings, not the movie-theater mega-butter type. Servings vary by brand and range from 8 to 12 cups. To be on the safe side, count on popping two bags. (Here’s our favorite packet popcorn to use.)
  • You can also make microwave popcorn from your own kernels. Place ¼ cup of kernels and a teaspoon of vegetable oil in a paper bag (the size of a lunch bag) and fold the top over twice. Microwave for about 2 ½ minutes to 3 minutes–until the popping slows to about one pop per 2 seconds. Don’t overcook or you’ll have burned popcorn and a smelly kitchen. You’ll need to make four bags for this recipe.
  • If making popcorn on the stove, use about 1 cup of kernels. You may end up with some extra popcorn, but I’m sure someone will help you use it up!

QUICK TIP

When measuring out the popped popcorn, try using a quart measuring cup (4 cups). It’s easier to scoop that way. Make sure to remove any un-popped kernels. An easy way to do this is to sift the popcorn over a large bowl. Place a wire cooking rack over the bowl and pour the popcorn over it and gently jostle it. The seeds will settle to the bottom and fall into the bowl.

Process shots-- images of the syrup mixture being combined and melted

Grab A Large Brown Paper Bag!

For this recipe, you’ll need a large brown paper bag– you know, the ones used for groceries! Depending on where you live, finding one could be a bit of a challenge, so plan ahead and save a bag (or a few) when you come across them.

If you’re unable to find a large brown paper bag, don’t worry! There are a couple of alternative options:

  1. Order them online: Yes, this means you’ll have to purchase a whole pack of 50, but believe us, you’ll want them on hand for this recipe! After you’ve made Microwave Caramel Corn once, we bet you’ll want a stash of these bags for future batches.
  2. Use these giant brown paper lunch sacks: If you choose this method, you’ll need to halve the recipe. These paper sacks work excellently with this recipe when the quantities are reduced!

Process shots of Microwave Caramel Corn-- images of the caramel being poured over the popcorn

How To Make Microwave Caramel Corn (Tips)

  • Safety first: Be careful when opening the bag after microwaving; the steam inside can be hot. Also, the caramel sauce will be extremely hot and can cause burns, so be watchful during the preparation.
  • Mixing the caramel: When making the caramel syrup, be sure to mix the ingredients well. Take time after each microwave burst to stir thoroughly.
  • Use a large bowl: When adding baking soda and vanilla to the sugar mixture, it will foam up surprisingly high. Make sure your bowl is large enough to accommodate this.
  • Shaking the bag: Vigorous shaking is key! This ensures the caramel evenly coats the popcorn. Shake well after each microwaving burst.
  • Work quickly: When pouring the caramel sauce over the popcorn, don’t waste any time. The sauce will begin to harden as it cools, so it’s essential to coat the popcorn as evenly as possible while it’s still hot.
  • Cooling the popcorn: Allow the popcorn to cool and harden properly before serving. It may be tempting to dive in immediately, but waiting will give you a better texture and flavor.

QUICK TIP

Is it caramel or carmel? Spelling matters with this one! Caramel is the correct spelling for this candy coating. Carmel is the proper name of a city or location, such as Carmel, Indiana or Mount Carmel. As for pronouncing the word,  you do you–but once you know that caramel is the correct spelling, it stands to reason that you’d pronounce it care-a-mel. [/quiktip]

Process shots-- images of the popcorn being baked and then enjoyed

VARIATIONS

Experiment with Flavors!

Once you’re comfortable with the basic recipe, feel free to experiment. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon for a warming twist, or drizzle some melted chocolate over the cooled popcorn for an extra-indulgent treat. 

  • Cinnamon sugar: Mix in a teaspoon of cinnamon with the brown sugar for a warm, spiced flavor. Or use the topping quantities on this Cinnamon Roll Popcorn recipe for sweeter cinnamon popcorn. 
  • Chocolate drizzle: Once the popcorn has cooled, drizzle melted dark, milk, or white chocolate over the top. You could even sprinkle some sea salt on top of the chocolate for a sweet and salty flavor combination. (Similar to this Chocolate Popcorn.)
  • Peanut butter caramel: Add 2 tablespoons of smooth peanut butter to the caramel mixture. You could also sprinkle some chopped roasted peanuts over the top for added crunch.
  • Maple pecan: Substitute the corn syrup with the same amount of maple syrup and sprinkle chopped pecans over the popcorn before the final microwaving.
  • Coconut almond: Add 1/4 cup of shredded coconut to the popcorn before pouring over the caramel. After spreading the coated popcorn on the baking sheet, sprinkle with chopped almonds.
  • S’mores: After the popcorn has cooled, mix in mini marshmallows, graham cracker pieces, and chocolate chunks.

Up-close overhead image of the Microwave Caramel Corn ready to be enjoyed

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Microwave Caramel Corn

5 from 1 vote
Quick and Easy Microwave Caramel Corn is a delicious shortcut that yields the salty-sweet treat we all crave! Skip watching the stove for precise temperatures–instead, make this treat in the microwave oven!
Print Recipe

Microwave Caramel Corn

5 from 1 vote
Quick and Easy Microwave Caramel Corn is a delicious shortcut that yields the salty-sweet treat we all crave! Skip watching the stove for precise temperatures–instead, make this treat in the microwave oven!
Course Dessert, treat
Cuisine American, Vegetarian
Keyword Microwave Caramel Corn
Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 16 cups
Chelsea Lords
Calories 164kcal
Cost $6.12

Equipment

  • 1 large sheet pan, plus wax paper, parchment paper, or foil
  • 1 large paper grocery bag or 2 smaller ones (see Note)

Ingredients

  • 16 cups popped popcorn (microwave bags or use 1 cup kernels--See Note 2)
  • ½ cup (8 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup corn syrup light or dark
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions

  • PREP: Line a very large baking sheet with foil or wax paper and set aside.
  • POPCORN PREP: Prepare the popcorn using whatever method you prefer. (See Note 2.) Measure out 16 cups, taking care to remove all the unpopped kernels; add to the large paper bag.
  • SUGAR MIXTURE: Combine butter, syrup, sugar, and salt in a fairly large bowl. Microwave for three minutes, stirring after each minute, to form a thick mixture.
  • BAKING SODA AND VANILLA: Combine the baking soda and vanilla in a small bowl. Stir this mixture and pour over the butter, sugar, and syrup mixture; stir to create the foam.
  • POUR CARAMEL OVER POPCORN: Quickly pour the foaming mixture over the popcorn, fold the top of the bag over and shake very well to distribute the syrup over the kernels.
  • MICROWAVE POPCORN: Place the bag (with the top folded over) in the microwave and heat on high for one minute. Remove and shake very well again. Repeat this step (microwave for one minute, remove, and shake the bag). Then finish by microwaving for one minute longer. That will be a total of three one-minute microwave blasts, with two shakes in between.
  • LET HARDEN: Empty the coated popcorn onto the foil-lined baking sheet. Spread it loosely over the surface, leaving clusters grouped together. Let cool until it firms up and is dry. Enjoy!

Video

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Brown paper bags: For this recipe, you'll need a large brown paper bag-- you know, the ones used for groceries! Depending on where you live, finding one could be a bit of a challenge, so plan ahead and save a bag (or a few) when you come across them. Other options: order them online: Yes, this means you'll have to purchase a whole pack of 50, but believe us, you'll want them at hand for this recipe! OR use these giant brown paper lunch sacks: If you choose this method, you'll need to halve the recipe.
Note 2: Popcorn: A few options for popcorn:
  • If purchasing already popped popcorn, this recipe comes together a little bit quicker, but it’s quite a bit more spendy. 
  • If using microwave popcorn packets, try to use the brand with the fewest seasonings, not the movie-theater mega-butter type. Servings vary by the brand, and range from 8 to 12 cups. To be on the safe side, count on popping two bags. (Here's our favorite packet popcorn to use.)
  • You can also make microwave popcorn from your own kernels. Place ¼ cup kernels and a teaspoon of vegetable oil in a paper bag (the size of a lunch bag) and fold the top over twice. Microwave for about 2 ½ minutes to 3 minutes–until the popping slows to about one pop per 2 seconds. Don’t overcook or you’ll have burned popcorn and a smelly kitchen. Make four bags for this recipe.
  • If making popcorn on the stove, use about 1 cup of kernels. You may end up with some extra popcorn, but I’m sure someone will help you use it up!

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 164kcal | Carbohydrates: 26g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 16mg | Sodium: 116mg | Potassium: 57mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 18g | Vitamin A: 206IU | Calcium: 15mg | Iron: 0.4mg

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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