A delicious homemade popcorn recipe, this Caramel Popcorn is sweet, crunchy and totally satisfying.
Caramel Popcorn Recipe
Caramel Popcorn is one of those classic fall desserts that people seem so intimidated to make at home.
Making homemade caramel can be a bit intimidating, but if you have a good recipe and an attentive eye, you are guaranteed success in the form of a tasty treat. This recipe doesn’t even require a candy thermometer – that’s how easy it is!
I love making this recipe for fall parties – and if you want to make a homemade Chicago Mix, you can just make another batch of plain popcorn and season it with a cheese popcorn seasoning or sprinkle it with shredded cheese and bake for a few minutes.
Or, for homemade Cracker Jack mix, you can toss in some nuts in the last 5 minutes of baking.
This caramel popcorn recipe is great on it’s own or as a topping on cupcakes, cakes, or used in a party mix. I think it would be great to pass out small bags of these at a Halloween party or as a classroom treat. They would also be great if you have a Halloween bake sale or fundraiser (people go crazy for this stuff!)
You can also use this popcorn recipe to top our Caramel Popcorn Cupcakes (over on In the Kids’ Kitchen).
Why is my homemade caramel corn grainy? This is due to the sugar molecules seizing up while cooking. Our baking soda trick removes this issue in our caramel popcorn recipe by forming carbon dioxide (when reacting with the acidity of the brown sugar and corn syrup), which aerates the caramel and gives it a smoother, softer texture.
Why is my homemade caramel corn chewy? This is most likely due to not baking the caramel corn for long enough. Pop it back in the oven for a few more minutes and test to see if the caramel has hardened enough. (Also, if your caramel has separated due to overheating/scorching, the butter and sugar will separate, causing the popcorn to be unevenly coated and those pieces that only receive the butter will be soggy.)
How long can caramel popcorn be stored? Caramel popcorn is best enjoyed within the first 3-5 days of making it. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. If your home is especially hot or humid, you may want to keep it in the fridge and allow to come slightly to room temperature before serving.
Can you freeze homemade caramel popcorn? Yes! Fill an airtight ziptop bag and freeze your caramel popcorn for up to a year.
What if I don’t have an airpopper? You can use this paper bag microwave popcorn tutorial to make airpopped popcorn without a machine, but I highly recommend grabbing an airpopper if you enjoy popcorn! Ours was only $15 and considering a box of microwave popcorn is about $5 for a package of 6 bags, our airpopper paid for itself within 18 uses (bags of popcorn kernals are suuuuper cheap and last us for months).
What is the best popcorn to use for caramel corn? Yellow popcorn is the most common, but if you want that fluffy popcorn just like they have at gourmet popcorn stores (like Garret’s) you will want mushroom popcorn kernals.
Watch our how to make caramel popcorn video to see just how easy this recipe is to make, and then don’t forget to scroll down to grab your free printable recipe:
Ingredients for Homemade Caramel Popcorn
- Popped popcorn
- Butter – do not replace with margarine or coconut oil, the chemical structure of the butter is essential. You can use salted for a salted caramel popcorn or unsalted for plain caramel popcorn
- Brown sugar – avoid using dark brown sugar or a low-quality brand. Quality brown sugar will yield a better, smoother texture
- Corn syrup – we use very little in this recipe, I have not experimented with substituting it with agave, honey or maple syrup. I’ve had success with both dark and light corn syrup in this recipe
- Vanilla extract – can be swapped for maple extract (etc), if desired
- Salt – I use sea salt in this recipe, avoid using an iodinized table salt as it’s easy to overdo it (and the flavor is lacking)
- Baking soda
Scroll down to the printable recipe card for full measurements.
Tip: remove unpopped popcorn kernals by placing the popcorn over a cooling rack and lifting. The unpopped kernals should fall through the gaps, leaving you with just freshly popped popcorn.
Kitchen Tools You May Find Helpful
- Air Popper <– I highly recommend grabbing an airpopper if you enjoy popcorn! Ours was only $15 and considering a box of microwave popcorn is about $5 for a package of 6 bags, our airpopper paid for itself within 18 uses
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Baking sheet
- Silicone baking mat
How to Make Caramel Corn
Preheat oven to 225F. Line 2 large baking sheets with silicone baking mat. (If you only have one silicone mat, you can line the second baking mat with parchment paper – a silicone baking mat has the best baking results for this recipe.)
Use an air popper to pop your popcorn to avoid adding extra oil to the recipe.
Spread popped popcorn evenly across one sheet, then set aside.
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup.
Whisk the mixture constantly until butter has melted and brown sugar has dissolved, about 3-5 minutes.
While continuing to whisk, add the vanilla, salt and baking soda into the caramel. The baking soda will cause some bubbling.
Remove saucepan from heat once the caramel has thickened and takes on a lighter, fluffier texture, about 1-2 minutes.
Pour caramel over popcorn and (working quickly) use a spatula to toss popcorn to coat fully.
Place caramel popcorn in the oven and bake for 3 or 4 15-minute intervals, for a total of 45-60 minutes.
At each 15 minute interval, remove the baking sheet from the oven, toss popcorn to coat completely and break up any clumps. At the 45 minute mark, gauge if the popcorn is sticky and well-coated.
Transfer the baked caramel popcorn to the second baking sheet to cool. Use a spatula to break up any lumps.
If you want a salted caramel popcorn, be sure to sprinkle on a bit of coarse salt now.
Store in an airtight container once cool.
Grab your free printable for our homemade caramel popcorn recipe:
This homemade caramel popcorn recipe is super simple and easy to make and tastes even better than store bought caramel popcorn.