The Very Best Caramel Corn Recipe

Crunch, sweet and buttery, the BEST Caramel Corn recipe is quick and easy to make from scratch. A classic sweet snack we absolutely love, crunchy popcorn is blanketed in sweet caramel for the ultimate treat.

Caramel Popcorn in a white bowl on a blue background.

This post is written in partnership with Iowa Corn. All opinions and statements are my own.

Summer’s at the beach mean buckets of Caramel Corn from Johnson’s on the boardwalk. It’s a definite must have as soon as the weather heats up and we swap our boots for flip flops for the next few months. And then as soon as the weather starts to cool off, we miss our summer treat because all the boardwalk shops close up for the winter. 

The buttery caramel coating the crunchy popcorn is the ultimate sweet and salty treat….I miss it so much by the middle of September. So, I did what any self respecting food blogger would do and created my own version of Johnson’s Caramel Corn. And I did a great job because this is the BEST Caramel Corn recipe….even better than the original.

So, it was only fitting that the first thing I make when I return from my trip to Iowa was Homemade Caramel Corn. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen all the behind the scenes fun on this year’s Iowa Corn Tour hosted by our friends at Iowa Corn. We spent four whole days learning everything about Iowa corn from how it’s used in the production of ethanol to it’s purpose as a source of nutrition for pork and beef. 

Overhead shot of caramel corn on a baking sheet with a wooden spoon.

IOWA CORN FED TOUR

a line of people in a corn field standing in front of a combine.

Fun fact, did you know that only 1% of all corn grown in the US is for human consumption (that’s the sweet corn we eat off the cob). The remainder of the corn grown is field corn and is used for for the production of so many other things:

  • Ethanol –  60-70% of air pollution comes from mobile transportation, the clean air benefits of using ethanol are just plain and simple since it’s definitely a cleaner burning fuel than gasoline. Over 40% of Iowa’s corn goes into ethanol production but there is absolutely no waste when it comes to the processing of ethanol. Corn is 2/3 starch so once the ethanol is produced we are left with distillers grains.
  • Livestock – Distillers grains are, then, used for livestock feed. 
  • Alcohol – Corn is used in the production of alcoholic beverages such as bourbon, vodka and other libations.
  • Carbonation – The carbon dioxide produced when creating the ethanol is used for carbonated beverages, frozen pizzas, etc.

Ear of corn on a cornstalk in an Iowa cornfield.

One bushel of corn yields 3 gallons of ethanol and 18 pounds of distillers grains, some of which is used for domestic livestock and the remaining is exported to Mexico and overseas.

combine unloading corn into a tractor.

BENEFITS OF CORN

Contrary to popular opinion, there are many health benefits to eating corn.  We love a buttery, salted ear of corn during the summer months but eating corn all year long can help support a healthy diet.

Corn contains B vitamins, which are important to your overall health. It also provides essential minerals such as magnesium, zinc, copper, iron and manganese. Corn is also a great source of the antioxidants carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin which supports eye health.

Corn is also packed with fiber which promotes a healthy gut and helps with weight loss.

Ear of field corn being held up in a cornfield in Iowa.

SWEET CORN vs FIELD CORN

So many people ask if sweet corn is different than corn….and the answer is YES.

Sweet corn contains more glucose than field corn making it taste sweeter and only accounts for 1% of the corn grown in the US. It’s harvested in the summer months and is used in many corn recipes like this easy corn salad.

Field corn, also know as cow corn, grows to be much taller than sweet corn and has thicker leaves. It remains in the field until it’s mostly dry making it much easier to harvest. Field corn is used to make many food products like corn chips and corn syrup but it’s grown primarily for use as animal feed. I

Other uses for corn are in the production of ethanol and polymers.

Girl in a cornfield in Iowa.

CARAMEL CORN

Caramel corn, or caramel popcorn, is a sweet treat made of popcorn coated in a sugar or syrup based caramel candy shell.

Homemade caramel syrup is made with butter and sugar being heated until it begins to turn golden brown then the syrup is poured over the popcorn while it’s still hot.  

Close up of caramel corn in a white bowl on a blue background.

HOW TO MAKE CARAMEL POPCORN

This homemade Caramel Corn recipe is one of the miracles of corn, in my opinion. Fluffy popcorn coated in a quick and easy caramel sauce, it doesn’t get better than that. And it’s insanely easy to make, too!

  1. Preheat the oven.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream of tartar and salt. 
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda.
  5. Immediately pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn and toss to coat.
  6. Spread the popcorn on a baking sheet lined with parchment and transfer to the oven. 
  7. Bake the popcorn for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes.
  8. Allow the caramel corn to cool on the baking sheet and then break apart. Transfer to an airtight container to store.

Caramel sauce being poured over popcorn on a baking sheet.

I like to use this Stovetop Popcorn recipe to get things started.  It’s much better, and healthier, than using microwave popcorn.

If you’re looking for a snack that’s more on the savory side, this easy White Cheddar Popcorn is simply amazing and crazy easy to make, too!

WHY BAKING SODA IN CARAMEL CORN

The reason for using baking soda when making caramel corn is so that it creates a reaction with the brown sugar and corn syrup which creates air bubbles. Your caramel sauce will look foamy which is the carbon dioxide bubbles that are forming making the sauce softer in texture once the caramel has cooled.

If you forget the baking soda in your caramel corn, you can still finish the recipe but your caramel corn will be a little harder when it cools.

Caramel corn on a baking sheet about to be stirred with a wooden spoon.

WHY CREAM OF TARTAR IN CARAMEL CORN

The cream of tartar in this caramel popcorn recipe prevents the caramel from crystallizing. 

Overhead shot of caramel corn in a square white bowl on a blue background.

MORE EASY CORN RECIPES

Closeup of popcorn in a pot with a glass lid.

Want more easy family recipes? Follow us over on Instagram!

The Very Best Caramel Corn Recipe

Course: Snack
Cuisine: American
Keyword: caramel corn, caramel popcorn, popcorn
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings: 12
Calories: 193 kcal
Author: Kellie

Super easy Caramel Corn is butter, crunchy and sweet!

Print

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 10 cups unsalted popped popcorn

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment and spread the popcorn out in an even layer. Set aside.

  3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the sugar and corn syrup.

  4. Bring the mixture to a boil stirring constantly. Turn the heat to low and allow to simmer, untouched for about 4-5 minutes.

  5. Stir the sauce and then continue cooking for another 4-5 minutes stirring occasionally until the mixture turns a deep golden brown.

  6. Turn off the heat. Whisk in the salt, baking soda, cream of tartar and sauce being careful because the sauce will bubble up.

  7. Immediately pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and toss to coat. (This is easier to do if your baking sheet and popcorn are warm so you can pop the whole sheet into the oven for a couple minutes before this step.)

  8. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring ever 15-20 minutes.

  9. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the popcorn to cool.

  10. Break apart the caramel popcorn and transfer to an airtight container. Store at room temperature.

Nutrition Facts
The Very Best Caramel Corn Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 193 Calories from Fat 72
% Daily Value*
Fat 8g12%
Saturated Fat 5g31%
Cholesterol 20mg7%
Sodium 298mg13%
Potassium 65mg2%
Carbohydrates 31g10%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 23g26%
Protein 1g2%
Vitamin A 254IU5%
Calcium 18mg2%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

 

5 comments on “The Very Best Caramel Corn Recipe”

  1. I could snack on this all day! So easy with amazing caramel flavor!

  2. Sooo good! Love how easy it was to make and my kids had a great time helping. Thanks!

  3. Thanks for all the info on corn farming! I was just talking with my kids this weekend about why corn is left in the fields so long. It’s great to have this info to reinforce and back up what I told them.
    Great recipe for caramel corn, too. We absolutely adore caramel corn in this house. I love the fluffy, air bubble texture of your recipe!

  4. This was so fun to make with my kiddos and it turned out delicious! Perfect for Halloween treats!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.