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


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.


  • 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


  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.


  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


  1. 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?!

  2. Hi Sally,
    I have made caramel corn for several years, but the last few years it seems like when I pour the caramel on the popcorn I can’t get it to mix well, only about half the kernels are coated. What am I doing wrong? I used to be known for making caramel corn so I don’t know what’s changed. Any ideas?

    1. Tina, are you using my recipe? I’m unsure. The caramel coats this popcorn quite well. You can always reduce the amount of popcorn.

  3. The caramel had a wonderful flavor but I find I need to make a double batch of the caramel to get it coated evenly.

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

    1. I’m SO glad you love it! Thanks for reporting back, Victoria!

  8.  This recipe is amazing, I had to raise some money for my class a few months ago and made this. In the end there was very little left to sell.

  9. Karen Mer urio says:

    I am originally from Monterey Ca. And we have a candy store on the wharf that makes the best caramel corn.  I can’t believe that this must be their recipe.  This is delicious !  It tastes just like the one from Monterey.  I have been trying to replicate their recipe and this is it!!!  Thank grandma for her recipe.

  10. Hi, Sally! I am new to this site – but I had a feeling about this particular recipe. So I bought a popcorn maker especially for this (true story), and boy was I right. Your Nana’s caramel corn is amazing!! I live in Germany where Grandmas are more famous for beef broth and such and would never touch popcorn. Thanks goodness your grams was different. Thank you for sharing, love, Carolin

  11. Thanks Sally. That was awesome. Alice my granddaughter made and is delighted with the result. She is 11 and her private school forgot to teach her math so cooking is the way to go. She can cook what she wants but can’t use a cup measure so she has to work out her fractions.  Shows her their value and is working a treat.  Your recipes are the favourite….. Mmmm going now to eat caramel popcorn. Mmmm

  12. 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.

      1. It was on Med-high. What size pot do you use? I used a bigger one and I’m wondering if the small amount of liquid caramel in a smaller pot created a larger surface and faster cooking? 

      2. That could definitely be it. I usually cook the caramel in a small 2 quart saucepan.

  13. You can also make the popcorn on the stove in a deep pot. Put a tbls or more in the pot heat on high till you can feel the heat when your hand is above the pot about 5 inches above it. Turn the heat to medium add the kernals, I do 1/2 cup. Cover with a lid, when it start to pop give the pot a shake until popping slows.

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

  15. I’m allergic to dairy so I can’t eat milk products. Can margarine substitute the butter in the recipe?

    1. I also pop my popcorn on the stove top using butter flavor cisco shortening, will that work ok for this recipe?

      1. *crisco butter flavor shortening is what it should say

  16. Hi Sally,

    Is there a substitute for corn syrup? 

    Thank you!

  17. Linda Schnittker says:

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

    1. Glad you all liked it, Linda!

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. This turned out well but i definitely over cooked it! 4 min was way too long for me (maybe because I used a bigger sauce pan). any one have a temp to cook it to? should it be soft ball? Thanks!

  21. Hi Sally!! This popcorn looks amazing and I’ve been dying to make it but the only problem is I can’t find corn syrup in my country! Are there any substitutes that I could use?

    1. Unfortunately, nothing is quite like the chemical make of corn syrup in homemade caramel or caramel corn. Honey could work, but the taste and texture won’t be the same.

  22. Hi Sally, are you able to explain light brown sugar for me? Im in Australia and we have brown sugar. Thanks

    1. Light brown sugar is the same as “brown sugar” 🙂 We also have dark brown sugar which contains slightly more molasses for a deeper flavor. They’re all interchangeable.

  23. Hi Sally

    This is a great recipe. My first batch i burned the carmel. So i adjusted my time to four minutes and it came out great. I made a half of batch the first two times and a full batch the third time
    Thank you for sharing this recipe. I love it because it doesn’t have nuts.

  24. We made this this evening and it was good with one exception, the caramel was a bit sticky still after it cooled. It also wasn’t emough caramel for 10 cups of popcorn, probably enough for 8 cups. Will probably make again once we figure out how to firm it up some more. 

    1. I just wanted to add that I think the thicker parts were the too chewy parts because the thinner bits were nice and crisp; so spreading it out a little more and maybe mixing more would work better. And if maybe instead of making more caramel I’ll just drizzle chocolate on it next time! Overall we really did like the recipe and are gonna try it again asap!

  25. Just made this today and honestly, wow!! So yummy! I baked mine for 15 minuets at 350 oven, and mixed the popcorn every 5 minuets. It turned out perfect! Thank you 🙂 

  26. I tried this recipe and followed carefully the recipe, but the caramel turned too thick and hard to the touch after I added baking soda. Needless to say I had a hard time coating the popcorn… I was a bit reluctant to try this recipe because of the corn syrup, and I have to say, in my opinion, the caramel didn’t look like caramel at all, texturewise. Maybe it’s the sort of corn syrup that is sold in my nearby supermarket, maybe it’s something else, but I have to say this was a flop.. It’s a shame because the recipe looks amazing.

  27. Katie McInnis says:

    I just made it for the first time. It’s done baking and now it’s drying. The taste is wonderful. It was a little tough to coat it but I already know it’ll be easier as I go. I sure appreciate this recipe. I’ve always wanted to know how to make caramel corn but I assumed it would be complicated. It’s quite simple, really.

    1. Charles McClung says:

      add 1 teaspoon vanilla

  28. How do I get ALL the popcorn covered? My caramel was quite thick.

    1. Perhaps lower the cooking temperature a bit while cooking or lessen the cooking time a bit. All stoves and ovens vary in accuracy. You will learn to adjust to yours.

    2. I throw the popcorn in a grocery paper bag and then pour the caramel over it. Roll the bag a little and give it a good shake.

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

    3. Are these gluten free?

  29. Perhaps lower the cooking temperature a bit while cooking or lessen the cooking time a bit. All stoves and ovens vary in accuracy. You will learn to adjust to yours.

    1. Instead of putting my air popped corn on cookie sheets, I use the large ( turkey) roaster pan. Easier to stir without it falling into oven. When it is done baking I turn it out onto brown paper to cool. I use cut open paper grocery bag.

  30. 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.

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I’m Sally, a cookbook author, photographer, and blogger. My goal is to give you the confidence and knowledge to cook and bake from scratch while providing quality recipes and plenty of pictures. Grab a cookie, take a seat, and have fun exploring! more about Sally