This Easy Homemade Caramel Popcorn recipe shows you how to make the best sweet, salty, soft, crunchy, gourmet caramel corn!
Homemade Caramel Popcorn
I have personally spent too much time trying to come up with or find a way to make perfect caramel popcorn, also called caramel corn, and finally I am proud to share this perfectly sweet, salty and crunchy version with you.
We consider this the Best Caramel Corn recipe because it has just the right amount of caramel on every kernel without being too sticky or so hard you worry about breaking a tooth!
This is definitely the best soft caramel popcorn recipe I’ve ever tried and I think it will quickly become a favorite in your household as well! Honestly, this easy homemade caramel popcorn is one of my favorite snacks of all time. And the best part? There’s no need to spend ridiculous amounts of money on store bought easy caramel popcorn any longer!
Caramel Popcorn Recipe
This soft caramel popcorn recipe is easier than I ever thought possible and there’s no candy thermometer involved. What could be better than that?
Do not be intimidated, this recipe is tried and tested and most of the ingredients required already exist in your pantry!
I have to mention that you will even love the way the house smells while it is baking and have difficulty waiting to sample your homemade caramel popcorn. We always do.
Fresh caramel popcorn is so totally irresistible and truly addictive. That’s why I always make a double batch!
Homemade Caramel Popcorn
There are two parts to this terrific homemade caramel popcorn recipe.
First, you create the most incredible caramel sauce on your stovetop.
Second, you bake your coated popcorn in the oven until the caramel hardens on each kernel.
This is the perfect treat for everything from movie night, parties with friends or family or as edible gifts.
Feel free to add in nuts, a sprinkling of coarse sea salt or any other sugary or salty garnish you can think of.
Best Caramel Chocolate Popcorn Recipe
This easy caramel corn recipe is also so good made with our White Chocolate Cake Popcorn, with or without the cake mix added. That little bit of chocolate and/or caramel in every bite is oh so good!
You may also wish to add nuts or drizzle melted chocolate over your hardened caramel popcorn if you prefer just a little bit of chocolate and don’t want to make an entire batch of chocolate popcorn.
This awesome dessert, appetizer or snack is so easy to make ahead and perfect to give as an edible gift! After all, is there anything better? Alright, yes, there are lots of things that are better but wait until you see the smile on the receivers face when this gift is opened!
The Best Edible Gift
This Best Gourmet Caramel Popcorn recipe makes one of the greatest edible gifts! The perfect, reasonably priced or inexpensive addictive treat is great for neighbors, teachers, friends and family! Easily made by adults and children alike, this is something you can have a ton of fun with.
To make your homemade caramel popcorn into an edible gift, all you need is a cup or container of some kind, cellophane wrap and some ribbon.
I filled a paper cup that I purchased at the dollar store with a seasonal pattern on it with easy caramel popcorn and it was perfectly sweet.
Next, I placed the popcorn-filled cup on top of a square cut piece of cellophane, lifted and gathered all of the cellophane together and tied it up with ribbon.
To finish things off I added a gift tag and my edible gift was ready to go!
How Do I Serve the Best Caramel Corn?
Aside from serving perfectly portioned homemade caramel popcorn as an edible gift, you have a couple of serving options.
The easiest serving method is to use a big bowl of this gourmet caramel popcorn and have everyone grab handfuls out of the bowl onto their plates or into their own smaller bowl.
Alternatively, you can serve individual bowls filled with popcorn that’s ready to eat, and these bowls can be refilled as necessary. I find the second option to be more sanitary.
Regardless of how it’s served, everyone is going to devour and be grateful for this amazing sweet treat!
Ingredients in Easy Caramel Popcorn
- popped popcorn, unpopped kernels removed
- brown sugar
- clear corn syrup
- vanilla extract
- baking soda
How to Make Caramel Popcorn
From my experience with this recipe, it is best to have everything ready before you start preparing anything.
When working with caramel you need to work quickly and efficiently to avoid the caramel burning or hardening before it is supposed to.
I also recommend watching the video below if you’re at all unsure of how this recipe should go. That being said, I am sure the instructions will guide you along fine, since I wrote them myself! This gourmet caramel popcorn is amazing so get ready to enjoy a special treat!
First, measure out all of your ingredients and get out your equipment, including a timer.
This step also includes making your popcorn and pouring the popcorn on top of your cooling racks to remove unpopped kernels. You really do not want to bite down on unpopped kernels as it takes away from the enjoyment of this easy homemade caramel popcorn.
Also, take a few minutes to get your large-rimmed baking sheet ready with a silpat liner or tinfoil coated in cooking spray. You can also use parchment paper with cooking spray but I have found it better and less messy to not use it.
Once your prep work is done, grab your biggest (ideally non-stick) skillet. If you prefer using a large saucepan, that will also work.
You want a large skillet or saucepan because once you add baking soda to the caramel mixture it will expand. Even if your skillet feels way too big, I recommend using it when creating this wonderful caramel mixture.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.
Over medium heat, melt your butter in a large pot or skillet.
Once the butter is melting, add corn syrup, brown sugar and salt, stirring frequently until everything is dissolved and blended.
Keep stirring until the mixture starts to boil, around 10 minutes or so.
As soon as the mixture begins to boil set your timer for two minutes exactly and stir until your timer goes off.
After the timer goes off, remove the mixture from heat immediately and stir in the baking soda and vanilla.
At this point, your mixture will turn a light caramel color and expand, as I mentioned before. Keep stirring until the color is uniform and the texture is smooth, a few more minutes.
If you are adding anything to your popcorn, like peanuts or pretzels, you need to decide if you want the treats coated in caramel too. If you want them covered in caramel, add one cup (or as many as you would like) to your popcorn before pouring the caramel overtop.
Pour the sticky, thick caramel all over your popcorn in your large bowl, and turn gently while moving quickly, until all of your popcorn is fully coated.
Once each kernel is coated in caramel, pour it from your large bowl onto your prepared baking sheet and spread out popcorn as much as possible.
Bake in the oven for 45 minutes, allowing the caramel to set and harden evenly. Stir your popcorn every 12 minutes, breaking up clumps as best you can, until done. For best results, I recommend adjusting the popcorn three times while baking!
After trying this recipe once, decide if you want to try it a bit crispier or chewier next time.
If crispier, increase the baking time slightly.
If chewier, reduce the bake time somewhat until you find the timing that is perfect for you.
Once your easy homemade caramel popcorn is out of the oven, add nuts, pretzels, coarse sea salt or any additional ingredients if you are using them. These sweet and salty treats will stick to the popcorn kernels if the popcorn is hot. Allow dry popcorn to cool and continue to break up the pieces or clumps that remain stuck together.
I end up adjusting or stirring the popcorn a few times as it all cools down to prevent clumping, or at least as much as possible.
Serve this gourmet caramel popcorn as desired and enjoy every bite.
How you Store the Best Caramel Popcorn
You can easily store this gourmet caramel popcorn for up to five days, once it is cool, in an airtight container and at room temperature.
Left out, this caramel corn will eventually become sort of soggy or soft. It’s so tasty and addictive though, it usually never lasts that long!
Gourmet Caramel Popcorn Options
- nuts like peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews or coconut
- chocolate popcorn
- M&Ms of all kinds
- bite-sized pretzels. I find the sticks make eating difficult at times, but it is up to you
- extra sea salt
- mini or sliced chocolate candy bars like Snickers, Kit Kat or Oh Henry
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or Reese’s Pieces
- sprinkles or sparkles
- any other candy you can think of or desire!
Tips for the Best Soft Caramel Popcorn Recipe
Make a double batch because one batch just never seems to be enough and the popcorn will last for several days in an airtight container if there are any leftovers
Remove unpopped kernels by pouring your popped popcorn on top of cooling racks. The unpopped kernels will fall right through the holes in the rack. Alternatively, you can spread your popcorn on to a rimmed baking sheet and pick through, removing unpopped kernels.
Adjust your bake time depending on how chewy (slightly reduced) or crunchy (slightly increased) you want your popcorn. My only request is you try it as written the first time!
Tools for the Best Soft Caramel Popcorn
Use a silicone spoon, spatula or whisk. This will save you precious time with clean up. Silicone kitchen utensils are non-stick and perfect for a sticky recipe like this! If you use a wooden spoon to stir this mixture you may end up spending quite a bit of time cleaning it!
Use a non-stick skillet or saucepan if possible. This will make cleaning up so much easier as the caramel will come right off.
Use a large saucepan or skillet. By using a larger saucepan or skillet you are sure to have enough room for your caramel mixture once you add the baking soda and the mixture expands.
Use a large tin foil pan to bake and toss your popcorn. Make sure to use one that is big enough to hold a turkey, sprayed lightly with cooking spray. This is cheap and disposable, meaning no clean up at all.
Best Soft Caramel Popcorn
For this recipe, I usually use buttered, salted popcorn that I have prepared in the microwave. I have also used popcorn I purchased ahead of time. Both worked beautifully and gave the popcorn a wonderful flavor.
My favorite is the buttered and salted microwave popcorn with the caramel coating and my husband prefers this recipe made with plain popcorn. Truthfully, both are amazing!
There are so many ways to make popcorn and all of these are great choices for this easy homemade caramel popcorn recipe!
I have taken these from a list of 15 ways to make popcorn that you can find here if you want to know more about it.
Air Poppers have been around since I was young in the 1970s and I remember having one. They use hot air and steam to pop the kernels into edible popcorn.
Use an unopened store bought bag of microwavable popcorn to make some perfect popped kernels in a few minutes. Be careful when opening the bag though because boy oh boy is the steam hot!
Your other option is to throw about ¼ cup of popcorn kernels into a paper bag, fold the end over a few times and start the microwave.
Once popping reduces to almost nothing, remove from the microwave and open the top of the bag slowly to avoid burning yourself from the heat! Add melted butter and salt, give the bag a shake and you are good to go!
Old Stove Top Method
The old stove top method will work. Take a large pot, toss in some oil and allow it to heat up over medium high heat. Add your popcorn kernels and stir them with a spoon. Cover the popcorn with a lid.
Once kernels begin to pop you can slightly set the lid to the side and let a little air in.
Shake and adjust the pot periodically, every 45 seconds or so, and leave the lid slightly off.
Once popping slows down remove the pot from the heat and don’t totally remove the lid.
Wait until you don’t hear anymore popping.
Once popping has stopped, remove the lid and continue making this recipe.
Holiday Desserts to Try
The Best Caramel Popcorn Video
Easy Homemade Caramel Popcorn
- rimmed baking sheet
- saucepan or skillet
- 8 cups popped popcorn
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter or 2 sticks
- ½ cup corn syrup, clear clear
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- From my experience, with this recipe, it is best to have everything ready, including your timer, any extra treats like peanuts or pretzels, everything, before you start cooking anything. When working with caramel you need to work quickly and efficiently to avoid the caramel burning or hardening before it is supposed to.
- I also recommend watching the video above just to see exactly the way everything goes. That being said, I am sure the instructions are good enough! I wrote them myself.
- First, measure out all of your ingredients and get out your equipment, including a timer. This includes making your popcorn, pouring the popcorn on top of your cooling racks to remove unpopped kernels, and into your large bowl.
- Also, getting your large rimmed baking sheet ready with a silpat liner or tinfoil coated in cooking spray.
- Once this is done, grab your biggest, ideally non stick, skillet. If you prefer you can also use a large saucepan.
- Once you add baking soda the caramel mixture will expand so I strongly recommend a skillet or pot that seems too big for creating this wonderful caramel mixture.
- Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.
- In a large pot or skillet, over medium heat, melt butter.
- Once melting, add corn syrup, brown sugar, and salt, stirring frequently.
- Keep stirring until mixture starts to boil, around 10 minutes or so.
- As soon as mixture begins to boil set your timer for two minutes exactly and stir until your timer goes off.
- Remove mixture from heat immediately, and stir in baking soda and vanilla.
- Mixture will turn a light caramel color and expand as I mentioned. Keep stirring until the color is uniform and the texture is smooth.
- If you are adding anything to your popcorn like peanuts or pretzels, you will need to decide if you want the treats coated in caramel too. If so add 1 cup or as many as you would like to your popcorn before pouring on the caramel.
- Pour caramel all over your popcorn in your large bowl, and turn gently until all of your popcorn is fully coated.
- Pour out onto your prepared baking sheet and spread out popcorn as much as possible.
- Bake for 45 minutes, stirring your popcorn every 12 minutes, breaking up any clumps as best you can, until done. I like to adjust the popcorn three times while baking for the best results!
- Once out of the oven, add nuts, pretzels, coarse sea salt or any additional ingredients if you are using them. They will stick to the popcorn kernels if the popcorn is hot. Allow dry popcorn to cool and continue to break up the pieces or clumps that remain stuck together.
- After trying this recipe once you will need to decide if you prefer your popcorn crispier, increase the baking time slightly, in minutes, and if you like your popcorn chewier, reduce the bake time somewhat, in minutes, until you find the timing that is perfect for you.
- Serve as desired. Enjoy!