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!

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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 medium heat. Stir constantly as the butter melts and mixture comes to a boil. Boil, without stirring, for 4-5 minutes. (If you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should be 234°F-235°F (112-113°C). Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda. Caramel will be foamy and frothy. 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

70 Comments

  1. I made this recipe today, it came out perfect!!! I added 1/2 cup peanuts and still got great coverage of the caramel on popcorn. Awesome recipe.

  2. Excellent! Crunchy, sweet and addictive! I’ve made a gingerbread version of this for many years using a recipe that’s identical except for the amount of popped corn and the inclusion of cream of tartar in the caramel. I couldn’t see that the cream of tartar made a difference. As some reviewers have noted, using less popped corn will give a better coating of caramel. I had a scant 8 cups of popped corn and would not have wanted any more. I find it’s easy to coat the popped corn evenly with the caramel if I spray a large roasting pan with PAM, put the popped corn in the pan, and set it in a preheated oven to keep it warm while I make the caramel. The caramel won’t stick to the hot pan, and stays soft and spreadable on the warm popcorn. I set my oven to 250° and bake the caramel corn for 90 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. I find it crisps better at the higher temperature and the longer bake time. I leave it in the oven for several hours to dry thoroughly, and it’s always nice and crunchy. I added pumpkin pie spice and vanilla to this recipe and the flavor is wonderful. The recipe is very adaptable for other seasonings.

  3. Can you double recipe

    1. Absolutely!

  4. So easy and absolutely delicious! Put on your fat pants and enjoy because once you take a bite there’s no stopping!!!

  5. 10 cups of air popped popcorn is 50 gram when I weight it. If I follow to gram I have to make 20 cups to make up to 100 gram.Which one is correct? Thanks.

    1. Hi Koffee– I weigh air-popped popcorn to be about 8-10g per cup. Stick with 10 cups.

  6. Sally,Could this recipe be used to make popcorn balls?

    1. Hi Jessica! Unfortunately, no. If you have a copy of my cookbook Sally’s Candy Addiction, my favorite popcorn balls recipe is in there. 🙂

  7. I have made about 5 batches of this, soooooooo good. Easy easy
    Thank you for sharing your recipe

  8. Connie Gibson says:

    How long do you think it last for if sealed in an air tight container?

    1. Hi Connie! Up to 2 weeks.

  9. I made this today and my grandson loves it. Thanks for sharing this recipe

  10. Julie Corey says:

    Amazingly easy to make and it hits the spot.
    This caramel popcorn is almost as good as the popcorn I grew up eating from Margaret Junkins Candy shop in Hampton Beach, NH. Thanks for bringing back great famuly vacation memories.

  11. This is truly the worst caramel corn recipe I have ever tried. The “caramel” comes out in a big thick blob. There is zero chance it will spread over more than 1/4 of the popcorn. 2 stars for good flavor.

    1. The same thing happened to me. I have made other recipes of this and did not have this happen. There is no way the popcorn even came close to spreading over all of it. So disappointed.

      1. Kathy Wozniak says:

        I totally agree, the caramel was too thick to coat the popcorn. A candy thermometer should be used to monitor the temperature of the caramel. There was no mention of what the correct temp should be.

  12. Reem Abu Rahmeh says:

    I made this yesterday, but I doubled the caramel recipe and it took about 1 hour and 20 minutes for the caramel to harden in the oven but it was delicious! In Jordan, the movie theaters serve caramel popcorn and I always get the mixed option, so I mixed the caramel popcorn with salted popcorn and served it in a bowl!

  13. I’ve made this recipe as is and I love it! I’m curious if I can sub dairy free butter instead of regular butter for my vegan friends?

  14. I’ve been making this caramel corn for years, passing it off as my own grandmother’s recipe. The care required to pull it off makes me feel like an alchemist every time. I just made the caramel to see if it can be poured and shattered to sprinkle on some chocolate mousse also just made.

  15. Excited to make this as gifts for friends at work. Add a little Mapeline for maple flavored popcorn. It’s delicious!

  16. Max Dogan Hansen says:

    Such a great recipe. Every recipe I’ve tried on this site are all easily 5 stars. I’d give more if I could. Always look forward to trying something new on here.

  17. Hello! Do you know if using dark corn syrup instead of light would alter the finished product much?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Carol, That should be fine. You will notice a flavor difference (it will taste more like molasses) and obviously be darker in color. Enjoy!

      1. I always have used dark syrup turns out great

  18. What actual temperature is the carmel mixture suppose to reach before poring over corn?

    1. Hi RaeAnn, I’m just seeing your question now. The caramel should be soft-ball stage, about 234°F-235°F (112-113°C).

  19. Hello Carmel had great flavor…however I agree with the other two reviews… mine turned out like a blob

  20. Philomena Florio says:

    My popcorn also took an hour and 20 to thoroughly crisp.
    I have a tip too. I double up a Trader Joe’s bag and I collect my corn from my machine as it’s popping. I fold the bag over to keep it warm while I make the caramel. I then pour the caramel
    Right into the bag while stirring with an oven mitt (on my stirring hand). Shaking right in the bag is also a good way to mix. It’s super east clean up too!

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