Caramel Popcorn

Caramel Popcorn is without a doubt the best part of a popcorn tin. Making your own is easy to do, which is great news since it’s a marvelous snack for any occasion. 

top view of caramel popcorn recipe spilling out of a popcorn container

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Caramel Popcorn Recipe

If you travel to the same place enough, you develop habits. Or at least you do if you’re anything like me. 

Maybe you always stop at the same donut shop or visit the same hot dog stand. Maybe you always stop at the same farmers market stand. For me, it’s crunchy popcorn. Whenever I have a layover in Chicago, I have to pick up popcorn.

Yes, even touristy airport popcorn, because sometimes movie theatre butter popcorn just isn’t enough. Caramel corn has become my favorite food souvenir.

The Chicago classic mixture is a combination of sticky caramel popcorn and cheddar popcorn. The buttery caramel flavor always complements the salty, cheesy notes of the cheddar coating and truly makes the perfect treat.

That food memory is what led me to recreate the most perfect caramel popcorn, and this recipe is a smashing success. Food memories are how I wound up making herbal limeade and penne rosa too. So you’re benefitting from my wonderful memories made and now you’ve got the best caramel popcorn recipe!

More popcorn recipes: Puppy Chow PopcornPizza PopcornChocolate Birthday Cake Popcorn

Why you’ll love this recipe

You are going to adore this sweet popcorn recipe:

  • Homemade caramel popcorn has a much more fresh and vibrant flavor than store-bought caramel corn. It is worth the work!
  • Give out this irresistible caramel corn as gifts during the holiday season. I love making it for a homemade popcorn tin to give friends for Christmas, or you can put in separate cellophane bags tied with cute holiday ribbon.
  • Crunchy caramel corn is the best snack for a movie night, a great appetizer, and such a fun snack. Make it for any and every occasion, or just because!
caramel popcorn kernels on a white surface

Ingredients

You only need a few basic ingredients to make this classic caramel popcorn recipe. Here’s what pantry staples you should have on hand:

  • popped popcorn
  • light brown sugar
  • light corn syrup
  • unsalted butter
  • cream of tartar
  • salt
  • baking soda

Substitutions & variations

You can even upgrade this crispy caramel popcorn if you like. Try caramel popcorn with sea salt to get your sweet & salty fix or try bourbon caramel popcorn for a robust and boozy twist.  

Feel free to use dark brown sugar if that is all you have on hand. Just keep in mind that the flavor will change a bit — it will be a bit reminiscent of maple syrup!

This recipe calls for unsalted butter, but you can use salted if that is all you have on hand or if you prefer a salted caramel flavor.

Dark corn syrup can be used in place of light corn syrup, but the final product may have a more nutty flavor.

Feel free to add peanuts to this tried and true recipe. A classic addition that is always a crowd pleaser and so delicious!

caramel popcorn recipe spilling out of a popcorn container

How to make caramel popcorn

First, spread popped corn over a couple baking sheets that are lined with parchment paper. I like to use one of these silicone popcorn bowls to pop my fresh popcorn.

Start on the stove top and make the easy caramel sauce that you’ll use to coat the popcorn. Place brown sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar and butter in a medium saucepan.

Bring the caramel mixture to a boil and then let it simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and the stir in the baking soda. This will very quickly make the mixture become thick and bubbly. Then quickly and carefully pour the caramel over the popcorn and gently toss to coat all of the popped popcorn.

At this step, please be extremely careful! Hot caramel can be dangerous if not treated with care. Make sure each piece of popcorn has a thin coating of caramel.

Place the caramel popcorn onto each previously prepared baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. then remove one pan at a time and stir well. Place back into the oven and bake for 30 more minutes.

Remove the sticky caramel popcorn from the oven and allow it to cool on the sheet pan. Break up any large chunks, then serve or store for later. Enjoy!

a red and white popcorn container filled with a caramel popcorn recipe

How to store caramel popcorn

Place sweet caramel popcorn into an airtight container or a plastic zip top bag and then squeeze the air out. Store at room temperature in a cool and dry place for up to 2 weeks.

Keep in mind that the longer it is stored, the more stale it will become and no one wants soft caramel corn! So eat it as soon as you can to keep that crispy crunch.

Tips & tricks

Here are some tips and tricks for making this recipe:

  • For best results, don’t use pre-package microwave popcorn. Either cook unpopped kernels on the stove top or use a silicone microwave popcorn maker. Popping fresh un-popped kernels makes for a more light and fluffy popcorn with a better flavor.
  • This is not a difficult caramel popcorn recipe, but it does move quickly. Make sure you read the recipe through a few times. 
  • If you have someone who can help you, this recipe may be made more easy with an extra set of hands. Have someone stir and toss the popcorn while another pours the caramel sauce.
caramel popcorn kernels on a white surface

Snacks to serve with caramel corn

What should you serve with this homemade caramel popcorn? I’ve got you!

Salty snacks: If you are a fan of sweet and salty, then you’ve gotta serve up homemade caramel popcorn with a soft pretzel and beer cheese dip. It’s like the best bar snack combo. The perfect caramel corn and a savory soft pretzel.

More popcorn: You can never go wrong pairing this any other popcorn alongside this amazing popcorn with a buttery caramel flavor. Christmas popcorn tins are always a blast during the holidays, but don’t feel like you need to wait until December to make a popcorn tin! (I know I’d accept one any time of the year.)

An appetizer spread: If you’re planning a party or are just in a snacky mood and want something savory before munching down on the best caramel corn recipe, then you’ve gotta make whipped feta dip with homemade pita chips.

Sweets: Of course, feel free to pair caramel corn with all the sweets. I love making some homemade peanut butter cups to eat with this sweet, crunchy treat! Or sprinkle some popcorn over an ice cream sundae that’s topped with bourbon caramel sauce.

Cocktails: Want a good drink with your sweet treat? A simple glass of bourbon is perfect, but this bourbon slush is fun too!

Coffee: Caramel and coffee go so well together. Enjoy this treat with a caramel macchiato or a glass of cold brew sweetened with caramel syrup. Or enjoy a coffee old-fashioned.

closeup of a red and white popcorn container filled with a caramel popcorn recipe

FAQ

How do I make popcorn on the stove top?

In a medium saucepan, bring ¼ cup vegetable oil to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often. Add ½ cup popcorn kernels in a single layer and cover the saucepan with a lid. When the popcorn begins to pop (after about 2-3 minutes), shake the pot over the heat for about 3 minutes, until popping slows. Remove from heat immediately and let cool.

How do I make popcorn in the microwave?

In a small mixing bowl, stir together ½ cup uncooked kernels and ¼ teaspoon vegetable oil. Pour into a brown paper bag and fold the bag closed. Microwave for approximately 2 minutes (will vary based on the microwave). Remove when popping has slowed. Remove from microwave and let cool before handling.

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top view of caramel popcorn recipe spilling out of a popcorn container

Caramel Popcorn

Yield: 20 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Make this Caramel Popcorn Recipe for a snack or for your next movie night! Just like the Chicago classic.
5 from 1 vote
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ingredients

  • 10 cups popped popcorn see note
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C) degrees.
  • Spread already popped popcorn out onto 2 large baking sheets. Remove any unpopped kernels. Set aside.
  • In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat.
  • Add sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar and salt. Stirring constantly, bring mixture to a boil for about 5 minutes.
  • Working quickly, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the baking soda. The mixture will become thick and bubbly.
  • Pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and toss gently with a spatula or wooden spoon until all the kernels are coated.
  • Place baking sheets in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove pans one at a time and stir each one again before heating for another 30 minutes.
  • Remove from oven. Let the popcorn cool on the pan. If desired, break apart any large clusters. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

notes

If making popcorn on the stove: In a medium saucepan, bring ¼ cup vegetable oil to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often. Add ½ cup popcorn kernels in a single layer and cover the saucepan with a lid. When the popcorn begins to pop (after about 2-3 minutes), shake the pot over the heat for about 3 minutes until popping slows. Remove from heat immediately and let cool.
If making in the microwave: In a small mixing bowl, stir together ½ cup uncooked kernels and ¼ teaspoon vegetable oil. Pour into a brown paper bag and fold the bag closed. Microwave for approximately 2 minutes (will vary based on the microwave). Remove when popping has slowed. Remove from microwave and let cool before handling.

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nutrition information

Yield: 20 servings

amount per serving:

Serving: 0.5cups Calories: 402kcal Carbohydrates: 75g Protein: 9g Fat: 8g Saturated Fat: 3g Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g Monounsaturated Fat: 2g Trans Fat: 0.2g Cholesterol: 12mg Sodium: 98mg Potassium: 244mg Fiber: 10g Sugar: 15g Vitamin A: 142IU Calcium: 15mg Iron: 3mg
did you make this recipe?Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram with the hashtag #feastandwestrecipes!
top view of caramel popcorn recipe spilling out of a popcorn container

Caramel Popcorn

Yield: 10 cups
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Make this Caramel Popcorn Recipe for a snack or for your next movie night! Just like the Chicago classic.

Ingredients

  • 10 cups popped popcorn (see note)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°F degrees. Spread the popcorn out onto 2 large baking sheets. Remove any unpopped kernels. Set aside.
  2. In another medium saucepan, melt butter on medium-high heat. Add sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar and salt. Stirring constantly, bring mixture to a boil for about 5 minutes. Working quickly, remove saucepan from heat and stir in the baking soda. Mixture will become thick and bubbly. Pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and toss gently until all the kernels are coated.
  3. Place baking sheets in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove pans one at a time and stir each one again before heating for another 30 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven. Let the popcorn cool on the pan. If desired, break apart any large clusters. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Notes

If making popcorn on the stove: In a medium saucepan, bring 1/4 cup vegetable oil to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often. Add 1/2 cup popcorn kernels in a single layer and cover saucepan with a lid. When the popcorn begins to pop (after about 2-3 minutes), shake the pot over the heat for about 3 minutes, until popping slows. Remove from heat immediately and let cool.

If making in the microwave: In a small mixing bowl, stir together 1/2 cup uncooked kernels and 1/4 teaspoon vegetable oil. Pour into a brown paper bag and fold the bag closed. Microwave for approximately 2 minutes (will vary based on the microwave). Remove when popping has slowed. Remove from microwave and let cool before handling.

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As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 5 Serving Size: 2 cups
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 295Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 2gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 488mgCarbohydrates: 58gFiber: 2gSugar: 49gProtein: 1g

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram with the hashtag #feastandwestrecipes!

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