The BEST Caramel Popcorn
“Old-fashioned stovetop popcorn covered in a sweet, buttery homemade caramel sauce!”
Visual learner? Watch me make this caramel popcorn from start to finish!
I don’t think I’ve ever discussed my grandfather (Grandma Barb’s husband) on this site but I grew up with him as well. Everybody called him daddy. I tell his story in my cookbook that went live last week by the way (Insert a mini celebration here).
My grandfather was a very, interesting character. He was the type that got really annoyed around kids and so he pretty much kept to himself and away from us. Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure if he even liked my siblings and me This made him even more intriguing and us kids even more annoying I’m sure.
Daddy loved making popcorn. It was one of his favorite snacks and he never shared it with us. The popping sound of kernels hitting that heavy cast iron lid and the scent of homemade buttered popcorn would fill the entire house, often in the wee hours of the morning when everyone was asleep and he could eat in peace.
Now, that I’ve gotten older, I actually prefer stovetop popcorn. Maybe it makes me feel a bit closer to him. Or maybe it to boast that “see daddy I can make my own popcorn now!”
Since caramel popcorn is everywhere during this Christmas season, let’s make it homemade!
What is caramel popcorn?
Caramel popcorn is popcorn that is covered in a rich, buttery, hardened caramel sauce. Also called caramel corn, it makes a great gift idea since it’s quick, easy, fairly cheap, and can be customized to fit any holiday with colorful sprinkles or nuts.
The best caramel popcorn starts with popcorn cooked the oil-fashioned way: on the stove in a heavy-bottomed pot! Now of course you can cheat and use microwave popcorn I’ve totally done that plenty of times with this recipe, but I swear popcorn made on the stove just has different energy!
How To Make Popcorn On The Stove….in a nutshell
Making stovetop popcorn is pretty darn simple. Once you start, it may be hard to go back to the microwaved version! Ok, maybe that’s stretch, but check out how simple it is!
- Get you a large heavy-bottom pot with a lid.
- Pour in vegetable oil in the bottom and place 3-4 “test” kernels in.
- Heat until the oil is hot and at least 1 of the kernels pop. The oil is ready!
- Remove the pot from the heat and remove the test popcorn.
- Pour the rest of the kernels into the pot in an even layer and cover.
- Place the pot back on the heat and listen for the popcorn to start popping.
- When the popcorn starts to pop, carefully vent the lid a bit so that the steam can escape. Be careful, hot oil can sputter out.
- Give the pan a few shakes back and forth to encourage more popping.
- Remove from heat once the popping has slowed to about 3 seconds between pops.
- Let sit for about 3-5 minutes and then remove the lid and dump the popcorn into a very large bowl, leaving behind any burnt or unpopped kernels.
Now that the popcorn is ready it’s time to make the homemade caramel sauce! When my son saw me making this sauce he said “Mom you’re doing it the hard way. I saw a video that just melted caramel candy and poured it over the popcorn”
Psshh! Does he not know who his mama is! Now love shortcuts just as much but sometimes, homemade is the ticket! I told him he’d like the taste of sweet, buttery, homemade caramel much better and I was right! He kept raving about how good it was.
Caramel Sauce Ingredients
- Salted or Unsalted butter– Gives the caramel sauce a nice buttery flavor
- Light brown sugar- for creating a rich caramel flavor and color
- Light corn syrup– give the caramel corn a nice shine and prevents the sugar from becoming grainy
- Salt- To mellow out the sweetness of the caramel.
- Vanilla extract– Enhances the flavor of the caramel.
- Baking soda- Aireates the caramel mixture
How to Make Homemade Caramel Popcorn aka Caramel Corn
This simple, no-fuss recipe is perfect for gift-giving! It’s one of the best caramel popcorn recipes I’ve ever tried, and folks just love it! The caramel sauce has such great flavor too!
It’s so easy to make caramel for popcorn, and this old-fashioned recipe is foolproof!
- In a saucepan, melt the unsalted butter over medium heat.
- Stir in brown sugar, light corn syrup, and salt until combined.
- Let the sugar mixture boil gently for 2-3 minutes without stirring.
- Remove from heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla extract.
- Pour the hot caramel mixture all over the popcorn and toss to coat.
- Spread the popcorn on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes on 250 F. Tossing halfway.
- Allow popcorn to harden and cook and then place in an airtight container. You can sprinkle with sea salt if desired.
How do you like your caramel popcorn: Crunchy or Chewy?
I normally prefer my caramel popcorn on the crunchy side. However, I do feel a bit of joy whenever I come across the chewy ones! For this reason, I always bake half the batch and let the other half harden while sitting on the countertop, these are the chewy ones!
Caramel Popcorn Add-Ins
Looking for ways to enhance caramel corn? Try these add-ins!
- Nonpareils Sprinkles– Sprinkle your hot, baked caramel corn with sprinkles to match the theme. Red, white and green are perfect for Christmas.
- Add nuts- Peanuts for great with caramel popcorn. Toss them right with the popcorn and cover them both with caramel! Yum!
- Add chocolate-A drizzling of melted chocolate is super delicious! Add this after the popcorn has cooled and allowed the chocolate to harden.
Now, go grab some clear treat bags and cute ribbons and you’ve got a wonderful food gift! Or do like I do and gift it to yourself!
Get the Recipe: Best Caramel Popcorn (Chewy or Crunchy)
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ⅓ cup popcorn kernels
- ½ cup unsalted or salted butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
- ¼ cup light corn syrup
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
Make the Popcorn
- Add oil and 3-4 popcorn kernels to a large, heavy-bottom pot.
- Heat the oil until at least 1 of the kernels pop. (oil should be hot but not smoking or sputtering)
- Remove from heat, and remove popped kernel.
- Spread the remaining kernels in an even layer in the bottom of the pot.
- Return pot to heat and cover.
- Once kernels start to pop, carefully, and slightly vent the lid to allow steam to escape.
- Shake the pot back and forth to encourage more popping.
- Once the popping has slowed down to about 3-4 seconds between pops, remove from heat and uncover.
- Place popcorn in a very large bowl, large pot or roasting pan (You'll need lots of space to coat the popcorn in caramel) Keep the popcorn warm if you can.
Make the Caramel
- In a large pot, over medium-low heat melt butter.
- Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt.
- Bring to a light boil and let boil for 2-4 minutes (may need longer), without stirring, until caramel has thickened. (4 minutes usually does it for me.)
- Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract and baking soda. (Mixture will foam up a little) *Whoops I forgot to put this clip in the video
- Immediately drizzle the hot caramel over the popcorn.
- Using a rubber spatula, toss the popcorn to coat it evenly in the caramel.
- Once coated, spread the popcorn on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- If you prefer chewy caramel corn, let it sit until the caramel has hardened.
- If you prefer crunchy caramel corn, Preheat oven to 250 F. and bake for 30-40 minutes, tossing occasionally.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
- Once cooled, break the larger clumps into smaller pieces if desired.
- Store in an airtight container.