Homemade Caramel Popcorn

4.69 from 45 votes
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This homemade caramel popcorn recipe has the perfect crunch as you bite into each handful of candy-coated kernels. Only seven ingredients are needed to create a classic popcorn snack on the stovetop!

Homemade Caramel Popcorn

Homemade caramel popcorn is an easy to make treat prepared on the stovetop with just seven simple ingredients. One of my favorite childhood snacks is a vibrant red and white striped box of Cracker Jacks. There’s something nostalgic about eating an entire box piece by piece and anticipating the prize included at the bottom.

I wanted to recreate a simple version Cracker Jacks using available pantry ingredients like popcorn kernels, peanuts, cinnamon, and sugar. The recipe starts with making a classic caramel to glaze over the popped kernels and peanuts. These honey-flavored clusters give an irresistible crisp crunch as you devour each candy-coated handful.

Individual portions of corn kernels, peanuts, salt, sugar, and butter.

Popcorn kernels

Light and crispy popcorn can be made easily in a large pot with the direct heat from the stove in just 5 minutes! The water contained inside each kernel turns to steam when enough heat is applied, literally making them explode into edible tender grains.

Make sure to continuously shake the pan to distribute the heat and get each kernel cooked evenly. I like the control of this method better than the microwave. However, you can use microwaved or pre-popped popcorn for this recipe as a substitute.

Caramel sauce

It starts with heating granulated sugar and water to begin the caramelization process. Once you see the color of the sugar turn to a golden amber and look like thin molten lava in appearance, make sure to remove the pot immediately from the heat to slow the cooking process. Caramelization occurs around 338°F. A Digital Oil & Candy Thermometer is a great kitchen tool to help you monitor the temperature changes of the sugar.

Spatula in a bowl of peanuts and caramel sauce

It’s incredible how combining sugar and water can create a honey-flavored candy coating. The enhanced flavors transform the popcorn into, and entirely different taste experience. Once you get the hang of creating caramel on the stovetop, make sure to try my caramel coconut chocolate bars or baked caramel apple donuts!

The peanuts cook at the same time as the sugar caramelizes, until and a golden amber color is achieved. Adding a small amount of butter helps to prevent sticky popcorn after the caramel clusters are cooled. The peanuts cook at the same time as the sugar caramelizes, until and a golden amber color is achieved. Adding a small amount of butter helps to prevent sticky popcorn after the caramel clusters are cooled.

Homemade caramel popcorn with peanuts on a baking sheet pan

A light dusting of cinnamon is tossed in with the popcorn before coating with the caramel sauce. This process naturally enhances the sweetness and gives a nice lingering flavor of the warm spice. Once the popcorn is mixed with the caramel, it will be very hot and sticky. Try not to touch the mixture until after it cools completely on a greased sheet pan to prevent burns. It will be one of the hardest tests of will power!

The crunchy salty roasted peanuts add a nice crunch. This caramel popcorn stores well for a few days in an airtight container so that you can give them to others as a tasty gift, or sneak them into a movie theater, just sayin’. Each bite is more addicting than the last, so one batch won’t last long!

A stainless steel popcorn scoop with a red and white box of caramel popcorn

How temperature creates a caramel

When caramelizing sugar, it’s important to pay attention to how the sugar changes appearance and consistency as heat is applied over time. The sugar granules liquefy and change form from solid to liquid. As the temperature rises above 300 °F, the color turns from clear to golden-brown. If you leave the caramelized sugar over the heat too long, the result will be an overcooked and almost burnt taste. Sugars brown and caramelize at 338°F, and burn at 375°F. That is a pretty tight window from being delicious to inedible.

Homemade Caramel Popcorn

This homemade caramel popcorn recipe has the perfect crunch as you bite into each handful of candy coated kernels.
4.69 from 45 votes
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time25 minutes
Servings 6 servings
Course Snack
Cuisine American

Ingredients  

Popcorn

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup corn kernels, 3 cups popped corn for recipe
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Caramel Coating

  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 ¼ cups peanuts, dry roasted unsalted
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Instructions 

Popcorn

  • In a large heavy pot (5-6 quarts size), heat the oil and ½ teaspoon salt over medium-high heat. Add 1 to 2 kernels and cover pot. When the kernels pop, immediately insert the ¼ cup of kernels and cover pot.
  • Gently shake the pot, sliding it over the burner until the popping slows to a few seconds between pops. This should take around 4 to 5 minutes. Listen for the popping to stop. Turn off the heat and pour popcorn on a sheet pan to cool.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, add 3 cups of the cooled popcorn. Sprinkle cinnamon over the popcorn. Toss until evenly coated.

Caramel Coating

  • Lightly spray a sheet pan with baking spray. Grease the bottom of a spatula with the baking spray.
  • In a large saucepan, combine sugar with two tablespoons of water. Cook over medium heat, occasionally stirring until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear. Use a heat stable on-metallic spoon for stirring.
  • Add the peanuts and pinch of salt. Increase heat to high and cook, constantly stirring, until the sugar begins to turn amber at the edges. About 2 to 3 minutes. The sugar will look granular but will melt into caramel with time.
  • Continue cooking and stirring to even out the color for another 4 to 6 minutes, until the caramel is liquid and medium amber in color. Be careful as the caramel can burn if cooked too long.
  • Turn off heat and remove the pan from the stove. Add the butter, and quickly stir.
  • Immediately add 3 cups of popcorn and stir until evenly coated with the caramel.
  • Carefully and quickly pour the caramel popcorn mixture onto the greased sheet pan. Using the greased spatula, spread into a thin layer. Do not touch the caramel popcorn because it is extremely sticky and hot.
  • Cool at room temperature for 1 hour or until the mixture completely cools and hardens.
  • Break the caramel popcorn into small clusters and store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Notes

  • Recipe Adapted from: “Baking Out Loud” by Hedy Goldstein

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 6 servings
Calories 521kcal (26%)Carbohydrates 39g (13%)Protein 14g (28%)Fat 38g (58%)Saturated Fat 7g (35%)Polyunsaturated Fat 10gMonounsaturated Fat 17gCholesterol 11mg (4%)Sodium 334mg (14%)Potassium 377mg (11%)Fiber 5g (20%)Sugar 32g (36%)Vitamin A 150IU (3%)Vitamin C 1.7mg (2%)Calcium 30mg (3%)Iron 0.9mg (5%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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16 Comments Leave a comment or review

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi SK- In the directions, it says that it will take some time to dissolve and caramelize. Can you tell me more about your process? Did the sugar and nuts turn amber and start to get sticky at all? I’m wondering if you needed a little more heat?

      • Ashley says

        I had the same issue. I didn’t add peanuts. After about 5 mins the sugar returned to sugar glandulars. Was on high heat and stirring constantly. I added more water but nothing seem to help.

  1. Madhu says

    Very easy and superb recipe. Tried just now with lesser quantity and only approximation. Still it turned out very delicious. Thank you!

  2. Jade says

    I just made this popcorn for my kids! It was super delish! I however used 2/4 Brown sugar and 1/4 white sugar, stirred the water in and mixed occasionally for 5 or so minutes.. I had to use my sense of smell to know when it was getting close.. added salted butter (love salted caramel) whisked the butter in and tossed through my popcorn ? mmm thanks for the inspiration!!

  3. Kim says

    This recipe sounded delicious so I decided to try it. I doubled the quantities because I had more popcorn. It was a big fail for me. I don’t know what went wrong but I’m really disappointed

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Kim- I’m sorry to hear that the recipe didn’t work out. Can you tell me what went wrong? Was it the taste? Did the caramel not harden? I found it easier to work the amounts in the recipe, as the caramel cools quickly and is easier to mix with the popcorn.