Grandma’s Caramel Corn

Sweet and crunchy, this caramel corn is so easy to make at home!

caramel corn

Tomorrow, March 17th, is my grandmother’s birthday.

I started my blog two weeks after Grandma passed away from Alzheimer’s. Grandma was a baker, gardener, hard worker, and had a heart full of love. She always got my sisters and I excited about being in the kitchen. Grandma had a huge sweet tooth that she (thankfully!) passed down to me.

grandma harlett

Grandma was known for a few things. Her laugh, her sticky pecan rolls, homemade chex mix, pecan pie, and her buttery caramel corn. I published her sticky pecan rolls and caramel corn recipes in my cookbook and make her pecan pie each November. If you have tried any of them, you know her recipes are like finding gold!

I think about Grandma often this time of year and wanted to share her very favorite recipe with you on my blog today. This caramel corn recipe can also be found in my cookbook as Old-Fashioned Caramel Corn on page 94.

caramel corn in a white bowl

hand holding a clump of caramel corn

We make Grandma’s caramel corn every Christmas. It wouldn’t be a holiday without it! Sticky, salty, and sweet – it’s nearly impossible to not reach for a second (or third or fourth) handful. Her caramel corn recipe is simply the best of the best. Like the kind of old-fashioned caramel corn you get at a carnival. But better. And made with love.

I made her caramel corn again this weekend for today’s big cookbook signing party at my parents’ house. I have a feeling our family friends will be more interested in the caramel corn than my cookbook. But that’s fine by me, Grandma deserves the spotlight anyway.

Caramel corn is so easy to make from home! There’s hardly any work involved. In fact, I guarantee you’ll be shocked at its simplicity.

2 images of caramel mixture in a saucepan and caramel poured over popcorn

Start with some air-popped popcorn. Don’t have a popcorn maker? No problem!

Do a little shortcut version: Add 3 Tablespoons of popcorn kernels to a standard lunch brown paper bag. Seal the bag tightly by folding over the top 2 times. Microwave the kernels for approximately 1 minute 45 seconds on high, or up to 2 minutes depending on your microwave. This DIY air-popped popcorn method makes 5 cups of popcorn. You’ll have to do it twice to get 10 cups, which is what our caramel corn recipe calls for.

Spread your popcorn on two large baking sheets. Then, make the caramel. The caramel is made from a few basic ingredients. Brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream of tartar, and salt. It’s extra sticky, extra thick, and extra bubbly. Let it boil over the stovetop, remove from heat and add baking soda.

Why cream of tartar? Cream of tartar will prevent crystallization as the caramel cooks.

Why baking soda? The purpose of baking soda in the caramel is to react with the acid (the brown sugar and corn syrup), which creates tiny carbon dioxide air bubbles. Hence, the foaming you see in the photo above. Once the caramel has cooled on your popcorn, the air bubbles inside the caramel create a softer texture. The softer texture means you won’t be biting into hard caramel. Rather, the caramel is chewy and only slightly crunchy. It will melt in your mouth.

Once the caramel is mixed up with the popcorn, simply bake it at a very low temperature to get the caramel to “set” evenly over the kernels. Then, pop ’til you can’t stop.

caramel corn

There’s no denying you won’t fall in love with this stuff! Hardly any prep work is involved and you’re using very simple, straight-forward ingredients. Plus, it’s a great recipe to make ahead of time and in bulk. Bring to bake sales, on road trips, serve as a simple finger food at holiday parties – everyone loves it. I doubled the recipe for the party today; I knew 10 cups wouldn’t be enough!

Want to take the caramel corn to the next level? Add 2 cups of salted peanuts to the popcorn before pouring the caramel on top. I do this with my Peanut Butter Caramel Corn. The crunchy salty peanuts mixed with the sweet caramel will blow your mind.

So here you go. From my family to yours!

Follow me on Instagram and tag #sallysbakingaddiction so I can see all the SBA recipes you make. 

More favorite sweet and salty snacks!

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caramel corn

Grandma’s Caramel Corn

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
  • Yield: 10 cups
  • Category: Snacks
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Sweet and crunchy, this caramel corn is so easy to make at home. You’ll find yourself baking batch after addicting batch. It’s a great make-ahead recipe for a party or guests and can easily be doubled.


Ingredients

  • 10 cups (100g) air-popped popcorn*
  • 1 cup (200g) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (80g) light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup (115g) 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 (93°C). Spread the popcorn out onto 2 large baking sheets. Set aside.
  2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream of tartar, and salt in a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat. Stir constantly and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda. Pour the caramel over the popcorn and stir gently until all the kernels are coated.
  3. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Allow to cool on the pan and break apart large clusters if desired. Cover the popcorn tightly once cooled.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead Instructions: This caramel corn stays fresh for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container, so it’s a great recipe to make ahead of time!
  2. Popcorn: If you do not have a popcorn maker at home, you can simply add 3 tablespoons of popcorn kernels to a brown paper bag. Seal the bag tightly by folding over the top. Microwave the popcorn for approximately 1 minute, 45 seconds on High, or up to 2 minutes, depending on your microwave. This method will make 5 cups, so you’ll have to do it twice. Alternatively, you can use natural-style microwave popcorn that has no butter added to it.
  3. Cream of Tartar: Prevents crystallization as the caramel cooks. If you’re all out, you can make the caramel corn without it. Just know that its acidity helps to prevent crystals from forming in your caramel. Corn syrup does the same job too.

Keywords: caramel corn, homemade caramel corn

66 Comments

  1. This is the greatest Caramel Corn recipe ever! I made it not once, but TWICE this weekend! Thanks for another great recipe Sally 🙂

  2. Hi Sally,

    Can you use stove popped corn for this recipe?? What are the advantages of using the air-popper?
    Thinking of making it as wedding favours but don’t have an air-popper!

    Thank you!

    1. Air popper seems to be a little quicker and can make a larger batch. Stove popped works too!

  3. OMG Sally this recipe is absolutely scrumptious!I have just made a double batch for my Son’s first birthday party this weekend and I can not stop eating it! You American’s have without doubt the best recipes for cakes and sweets. I am loving all of them but my jeans are feeling much tighter this last month since I have found your website! I am obsessed! I am now about to make the rice krispie recipe – they sound delicious also so fingers crossed they work out fabulously well. Tom’s first birthday is really all about Sally’s Baking Addiction. I can see after this weekend you will have a whole lot more of Australian followers….

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful family recipe.
    Hats off to your Grandma!

    Skye x

  4. Hi,

    Delicious recipe! We can’t wait to try the peanut butter option.

    I had trouble mixing the popcorn when I first poured the caramel over it. The caramel hardened too quickly. I thought that maybe baking it would soften it enough to mix it, but I had the same problem after baking it. Do I simply need to boil the caramel for a shorter amount of time? Or should I try baking it at a higher temp?

    Thanks again!

    1. I would boil the caramel for a shorter time, yes. The longer is boils, the crunchier (and more hardened) your caramel will be.

  5. Dear Sally….this recipe was so easy and my stove top pop corn was perfect.
    Bravo to your Grandmother…she left you many happy baking memories!

  6. Thank you for this recipe Sally! I made a batch 3 days ago, but we finished it in 1 day, literally. (I know so embarrassing). Right now I have a double batch in the oven, my husband is a teacher and its for his students. But of course, I’ll take some out for myself. Thank you again for sharing you Grandma’s amazing recipe.

  7. The caramel is delicious and very easy to make! My only problem is that I can’t manage to coat all, or even most, of the kernals. I pour the caramel over and toss as quickly as I can but the caramel starts hardening before I get the popcorn coated. Any thoughts on how I can fix this issue? Otherwise, delicious!!

    1. Even when the caramel corn bakes, the caramel stays hard? You can try to use a little less popcorn so there is more caramel coating overall.

  8. I’m lazy and not a lover of the bland flavor that comes with popped – at – home popcorn. Twice now, I’ve opted for pre – popped and salted corn from the grocery and LOVED the result. The kernels are bigger and the popcorn takes the beating of stirring the caramel really well. If you’re in a time crunch (or just picky like I am), this is a great alternative!

    Awesome recipe! My best friend, who always swore no one can make caramel corn like her mother, is sold! We just don’t tell her mom!

    Two thumbs up!

  9. Just made this and it’s DELICIOUS!! I’m gonna try not to eat it all tonight!

  10. Made this with microwave popcorn. Could not find it without butter, but I bought the one that had the least amount of butter added. I followed the directions exactly. The caramel was pretty hard to “pour” out onto the popcorn. I thought it was going to be a disaster, at first, but I proceeded with putting in the oven and mixing every 20 minutes. It ended up being perfect in the end. I made a second batch of the caramel in a smaller sauce pan and did not quite boil it for 5 minutes. It was much easier to pour the second time around and came out perfect! Making this for Christmas gifts for neighbors. Thanks for sharing your Grandmother’s recipe!

  11. Sally,
    Your blog compliments your grandmother; her life, and her values. Showing your friends, and family love throughout the year, not just through the holidays. I’m sure she is smiling from above. Thank you for this recipe. Next years personalized gifts for our neighbors. Merry Christmas! Steve

  12. Cari Blanchard says:

    I cannot make this fast enough…everyone who has tried it wants MORE! Just make this recipe, no need to search for a better one 🙂

  13. I made five batches of this yummy caramel corn this Christmas! My first batch was a disaster and the following batches were perfect after I followed these tips. Using a deep disposable aluminum roasting pan sprayed with cooking spray makes it so much easier to stir the caramel and popcorn for even coating. I found that a temperature of 225-250 made the caramel easier to work with during baking. Also, stir the caramel corn with 2 rubber spatulas sprayed with cooking spray. I made a couple of batches dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar, resulting in a caramel corn that almost tastes like toffee!

  14. I have been crushing unsalted, roasted cashes and adding to this. So good. Thanks for this recipe; your grandma, your blog, and, of course, you all rock!

  15. What a find! This is a gem of a recipe! Made it last night and it was absolutely PERFECT! I used white air popped popcorn. All I had on hand was salted butter so I cut back the salt just by a tad.

    Yummy yummy yummy!

  16. Looks devine, just tried this, had good coverage of the corn but it hardened very quickly and as the caramel mix dried it ended up resulting in a crumbly brown sugar consistency. Did I not boil it long enough perhaps?

    1. It sounds like the caramel mixture may have been boiling for too long, Bill. Maybe reduce by a minute. That should help.

  17. This was fab the first time I made it. Subsequent tries though left my caramel popcorn a little too chewy post baking and cooking. I live in Singapore where it is humid so it doesn’t store too well and gets soft under the caramel. I really love this recipe and hence wondering if you could help me trouble shoot? Need to cook the caramel longer maybe or less caramel? Thanks much!

    1. It’s most definitely the humidity. How about leaving it in the oven a little longer.

  18. Hello Sally, I have been making this caramel corn for sometime now. It is amazing. But just wondering how far in advance I can make it. My daughter is getting married in 4 weeks and we are wanting to make it for wedding favors. Would it be to early to start making it and sealing it large ziplock bags?  

    Love your story about your grandmother. We both are lucky to have such strong women in our lives. I miss my Nana so bad. She was an amazing woman. She taught me about canning, cooking, and quilting. She was also a very hard worker. She and my Papaw farmed their whole married life together and passed that tradition on to my family. To me the is no better life:). Thanks for your story. . 

    1. Thanks for such a kindhearted comment, Deedee. Very much appreciated. You can absolutely go ahead and make the caramel corn now for the upcoming wedding. It’s great for several weeks. Congrats to your daughter. My 1 year anniversary is in a few weeks!

  19. Could I substitute the caramel in this recipe for your salted caramel recipe?

    1. No– the salted caramel will not set on top of the popcorn.

  20. I tried my first batch tonight and it didn’t turn out too well.  It looked great each time I checked it in the oven, but when I took it out at the end, it got all hard and crystal like.  I have a second batch in the oven now, thought I wouldn’t cook it quite as long.  Any suggestions?

    1. Jolene, I wonder if you are cooking the caramel too long? Try boiling for only 4 minutes. Then, bake the caramel corn for 30 minutes, stirring twice. This should help.

  21. Shirley Roberts says:

    I have just made my first batch of your caramel corn and it’s heavenly. Wanted to do a trail run so I can make for Christmas party. Now I KNOW FOR SURE I WILL. Easy to make also. Thanks so much for sharing!

  22. this recipe is so delicious! seriously addicting! my only problem was my caramel mixture seemed to a be a bit thicker than it seemed to suppose to be so I couldn’t really coat the popcorn very much, just bigger chunks of caramel and some without out, I’m thinking I may have boiled the mixture to long….any help?!

  23. I made this for the first time today, and there was not enough caramel to coat all of the popcorn. Next time I would use only half or three-quarters of the amount of popcorn suggested.

  24. I just made this popcorn! It’s amazing! Next time a double batch! Thank you for the awesome recipe!

  25. I attempted this recipe for the second time today, this time doubling the caramel and boiling for four minutes rather than five, since the first time I made it, there wasn’t enough caramel to coat the popcorn and it seemed too thick. This time, I was able to coat the popcorn, but while much of the popcorn turned out to be perfectly crispy, many pieces have globs of softer, chewy caramel stuck to them (this seems to be caramel that pooled underneath the popcorn in the pan). Is this because perhaps I used too much caramel? The only other thing I did differently was that I popped the popcorn on the stovetop with a little bit of refined coconut oil.

    1. It’s the coconut oil. That extra fat coating the popcorn seems to be combining with the caramel, so the caramel isn’t really becoming crunchy. Know what I mean?

      How does it taste? Because I’m sure it’s delicious!

  26. Victoria Ponitz says:

    Hi Sally,
    Your Grandma’s caramel corn recipe is the last one I will ever need to try.  My granddaughter is allergic to nuts and peanuts so on many occasions she watched others indulging in caramel corn without complaining.  I made up my mind to find a good recipe and have some for her to try .  
    I made your recipe (2X now) and everyone loved it.  My sweet granddaughter was very impressed – went home and told her dad that Nana made caramel corn without nuts so that she could have some and it was delicious!
    Thanks, Sally!  Your recipes are the best!

  27. Hello! I tried making this and i’m not sure what went wrong, boiled for only 4 and a half min and then tried to coat the popcorn but it set up way too fast to coat it all evenly, then it burned within 15 min in the oven… help? LOL

    1. Hi Megan! Do you think the heat was too high on your stove? Even if it wasn’t– and you want to try this again– boil for less time, maybe only 3 minutes.

  28. I have made your recipe a lot of times and it is a great recipe, thanks so much!!!

  29. Linda Schnittker says:

    I made this and my husband, grandkids and me loved it. Thank you I never made it before good stuff.

  30. This might be a stupid question, but in a pinch, can you skip the baking and just eat the caramel corn as soon as it’s mixed together or done it HAVE to be baked for an hour? My kids are demanding caramel corn right now and I just came across this recipe lol

    1. It will just be gooey caramel on top of soggy popcorn 🙂 I suggest baking.

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