Grandma’s Caramel Corn

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

Homemade Caramel Corn - sticky, salty, sweet, and irresistible!

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.

Homemade Caramel Corn - sticky, salty, sweet, and irresistible!

Homemade Caramel Corn - sticky, salty, sweet, and irresistible!

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.

Homemade Caramel Corn - sticky, salty, sweet, and irresistible!

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.

Click through for a SIMPLE homemade caramel corn recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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!

Grandma's Caramel Corn

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 popcorn1
  • 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 tartar2
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

  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.
  4. Make ahead tip: 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!

Recipe Notes:

  1. 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.
  2. Cream of tartar will prevent 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.

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202 Comments

  1. I saw this in your book and also loved the pic of your grandma you included (There & Here) and what a super sweet tribute 🙂

    I love popcorn, caramel corn, and anything salty/sweet, crunchy like this, oh yeah. And I am a huge fan of the 2-3 tbsp in a brown lunchsack. The perfect time on my micro is 99 seconds. I do it almost nightly with a cinn/stevia + coconut oil spray 🙂

    Pinned! looks so good!

  2. I love your tribute to your Grandmother, Sally. She sounds like a wonderful woman – anyone with a sweet tooth and a knack for baking is good by me! I’ve never braved caramel corn but my Husband is Homemade Popcorn King in this house…I’ll have to get him to make it for a sweet treat!

    1. Can I come over because homemade popcorn all the time from the Homemade Popcorn King sounds incredible! I love popcorn. Hope you guys try this caramel corn!

  3. What a sweet tribute to your grandma, Sally! This looks delicious, both on your website and in your cookbook 😉 I have to admit that I’ve always liked the idea of caramel popcorn more than the actual food…because I’ve always found it hard as a rock! So I LOVE your recipe and the tip about baking soda :D. Yay for science! I bet this makes an awesome mix with plain buttered and salted popcorn. 🙂 Enjoy your party!

    1. Knew you’d love the little baking science knowledge I threw in. My mom taught me that about the baking soda and it makes perfect sense. I’ve never tried this caramel corn with buttered popcorn but that would be so buttery delicious, I bet.

    1. No, the caramel has to include the proper combination of fat, sugar, and heat so that it may solidify over the popcorn. You’ll have to use my from-scratch recipe unless you can find another one that is made for other types of caramel.

  4. Oh man I should not have read this! I love caramel corn. It’s super addicting. Now I’m going to have to make it ;). I love special recipes that carry meaning. I have a few of my grandmother’s recipes and every time I make them I think of her.

  5. I love the tribute to your Grandmother. I’m sure she is very proud of you, Sally. <3 I lost my grandmother, as well, but her love for meatballs, spaghetti, and every sweet on this Earth is instilled in me. There's nothing better than Grandma's cooking/baking 😀

    Have a great time at your party!!

    1. Hold on tight to your love for her favorite foods Lauren. 🙂 And I haven’t had spaghetti and meatballs in SO long. Now I’m craving it!

  6. Aren’t family recipes the best, Sally? I think food has a real way of keeping those memories alive. You already had me with the salty + sweet combo (I’m obsessed) but as I read through your post, I am intrigued even more! So easy and so satisfying. I think I found my next movie night snack 🙂

  7. Here’s your giggle for today – I assembled all the ingredients, which I’m happy to say I had all on hand. I attempted to pop the popcorn in the microwave, but the bag started on fire. After the heart attack I had putting out the flames, I think I’ll skip the caramel corn for today . . . but this is definitely on the to-be-made-soon list! Thanks for sharing your grandmother’s recipe with all of us. 🙂

    1. Oh no!! Maybe you can find a natural style microwave popcorn? I know that Orville Redenbacher’s makes a natural style popcorn. That would be great instead of air-popped popcorn.

  8. Sally, that looks heavenly!

    One quick question; can I use a vegan sub for the butter? Like margarine?

    Thanks in advance!

    Cannot wait to try it 🙂

    1. Nikki, you cannot leave dairy butter out of this specific caramel. Sorry, maybe you can search for a vegan caramel corn recipe? This isn’t the one – best to stick to full fat, dairy butter.

      1. Thank you so much for the rely back!

        I ordered your book last week and hope to have it delivered before poker night with the guys!! LOL

        Love all your recipes (they enjoy being my guiney pigs when I use them lol)

  9. Hola Sally . Me emocionó mucho la foto de tu abuela y me doy cuenta que era una gran mujer por el amor que transmiten tus palabras cuando la recordas.
    Yo tambien perdí a la mía pero la llevo en el corazón igual que vos.
    En cuanto al Pochoclo (Así lo llamamos aqui ) me encanta hacerlo y comerlo
    mirando películas. Te mando un beso muy grande.

  10. Your grandma sounds utterly lovely; it’s little things like making a loved one’s recipe that keep them here among us.
    This recipe sounds delicious – do you know if it’d be possible to make popcorn in an oven rather than a microwave? Is that a silly question?! I am very excited, have ordered your cookbook as a birthday present for myself. I can’t wait! Grandma’s sticky pecan rolls sound yummy!

    1. Alex, not a silly question at all. I truly have never heard of making popcorn in an oven before. I mean, I’ve tried stovetop, microwave, and with an air-popper but never in an oven. I’m picturing burnt kernels all over. Let me know if you try those pecan rolls!

  11. A lovely tribute to your Grandma.
    I hope she would be smiling to know that my little sister is making a big bowl of this to bring to my birthday games night next week 🙂
    Have fun at your book signing party. My copy is already full of post-it notes of recipes to try!

    1. Thanks so much for the sweet comment, Amy. I’m so glad you guys are trying out this caramel corn! Let me know any recipes you try from the book. Love hearing about it.

  12. What a special post, Sally! Your grandma sounds like an amazing woman. And what a delicious recipe to have passed down. This looks soooo great – I love how much caramel there is! I know I wouldn’t be able to stop eating it!!

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