This classic Easy Homemade Buttery Caramel Corn recipe is quick and made without any corn syrup. It is a delicious summertime or holiday dessert everyone will go crazy over. It's buttery, sweet, salty and CRUNCHY which is the most important part of caramel popcorn.
Like my Muddy Buddies and my Christmas Crack, I love gifting this to friends and family around the holidays in festive holiday tins. It is a nice change from all those holiday cookies and perfect to bring to parties or potlucks!
It's perfectly crunchy and has a richer more buttery flavor than cracker jacks.
It reminds me more of that gourmet style popcorn you can only find in upscale stores packed in those fancy cylindrical tubs. But it's much less expensive!
Why This Recipe Works
This recipe has been tested more than any other recipe on my blog. I wanted to get it just right.
And if you've ever tried making homemade caramel popcorn before, you know how it can turn wrong quickly.
I have had batches turn out either burnt, chewy, sticky, or overly sweet or a combination of these.
But I discovered a few tricks along the way that ensure you get a smooth, crunchy caramel every time.
- Use baking soda
- Bake the popcorn
- Work quickly
Make Your OWN Homemade Popcorn
When I was younger, my mother would always make homemade popcorn on the stove. She'd pull out the Orville Redenbacher and within 5 minutes, we had yummy buttery, salty popcorn ready to go for our movie!
Making your own popcorn is SO easy and also saves you A LOT of money. Plus, for this recipe, you don't want to use store-bought popcorn. You want plain, unsalted sugar-free popcorn so you have a fresh canvas to work with.
To make your own homemade popcorn, you'll need some oil and un-popped kernels to a pot set over medium-high heat. Cover with a lid or poke holes in some aluminum foil for a make-shift lid.
Then wait for all of the popping to stop. The popping is like a bell curve. It will start slow, then speed up, then slow down again. When it slows down, you'll want to turn off the heat so you do not burn your popcorn. The tricky part is making sure you pop as many kernels as possible without burning it!
Lay your homemade popcorn out onto a baking sheet and pour your luscious caramel sauce all over the plain popcorn. Toss the popcorn a bit until it is coated nicely. Then bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
- Popcorn- We want to make our own popcorn when we make caramel corn so we start with a blank canvas. No store-bought, pre-salted or seasoned popcorn will work.
- Nuts- Classic caramel corn recipes use almonds and peanuts but pecans or walnuts would work too!
- Butter- This is what we need to make a caramel sauce. It should not be substituted since caramel itself is very tempermental.
- Brown Sugar- I highly suggest using brown sugar instead of granulated white sugar. It gives the caramel corn a deep molasses flavor that is out of this world good.
- Salt- We are adding salt assuming our nuts are unsalted. If you use salted nuts, simply omit the salt.
- Vanilla Extract- Vanilla adds a delicious flavor to your caramel and should not be left out.
- Vinegar & Baking Soda- Adding vinegar and baking soda at the end when making our sauce will help to give the caramel a light, airy, fluffier texture.
Making Your Caramel Glaze
This recipe is one I have tested over and over...and OVER...again.
Caramel is NOT easy to make especially without corn syrup but don't be intimidated by it! Just be patient and have all your ingredients ready.
The sweet caramel glaze comes together very quickly.
Items You'll Need
- A small sauce pot
- Non-stick baking sheet or parchment paper
To get the right crunchy texture, you need to let your sauce reach the right temperature for a certain period of time so that when the sauce cools. the sugars harden.
If your sugar doesn't reach the right temperature, it will be too soft and sticky resulting in chewy caramel popcorn, kind of 'toffee-like'. On the other hand, if you heat your sugar too high for too long, you'll have some real tooth-cracking popcorn. No bueno.
🛒Caramel Sauce Ingredients
- brown sugar
- baking soda
To make your sauce, you will need to add your brown sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla to a sauce pan and heat it over high on your stove-top while mixing consistently.
Then at the 5 minute mark, add in your baking soda and vinegar and stir quickly before removing from heat.
Tip* Brown sugar gives your caramel a deeper flavor as opposed to white sugar.
Why Baking Soda?
Using baking soda will create tiny carbon dioxide air bubbles and help to create a softer texture in your caramel and one that will melt in your mouth rather than stick to your teeth.
The vinegar is meant to help prevent a grainy, sugary texture since this recipe does not use any corn syrup.
This recipe is not difficult but it does require your full attention to make sure it comes out perfectly. Here are some tips to ensure your caramel popcorn comes out delicious every time.
- Do not leave your caramel alone on the stove. Use a flat wooden spoon and stir, stir, stir!
- Brown sugar is the only sugar I recommend for this recipe.
- Have all of your ingredients ready to go! This will ensure you work quickly and leave no room for error.
- Make sure your popcorn is not burnt! Burnt popcorn will ruin the entire recipe.
- Watch your heat when making your caramel. You cannot salvage burnt sugar!
- Feel free to add other nuts you like into your popcorn.
- Make sure to pick out any un-popped kernels. They are NOT fun to bite on.
Your caramel popcorn will turn soggy if the caramel was not cooked properly or heated to the right temperature.
Adding some baking soda helps.
It is best eaten within a day or so but can last up to a week.
In a sealed, air tight container or plastic bag. No need to refrigerate.
Other sweet holiday snacks you'll love:
Easy Buttery Caramel Corn (Without Corn Syrup)
- ¼ cup popcorn kernels (makes 4-5 cups popped)
- 2 tablespoon oil or butter
- ½ cup peanuts
- ½ cup almonds
- 6 tablespoon melted butter
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- Preheat oven to 250°F.
- To make the popcorn:Add 2 tablespoon oil, or butter, and ¼ cup popcorn kernels to a large pot. (Make sure your pot has a heavy bottom to prevent burning.) Cover your pot with a lid or tin foil. Turn the heat to high and wait for the kernels to start popping.Once the popping starts, wait about ONE minute and turn off heat. The popcorn should be done popping at this point and should be ready! Pour your popcorn onto a sheet pan or baking sheet lined with parchment paper (Make sure to pick out any unpopped kernels!)
- Add your peanuts and almonds to the sheet pan and set baking sheet aside but keep it close by.
- This step is important. If you heat your sugar too much, it might burn in the oven but if you don't heat it enough, it will not harden.Add your brown sugar, butter, vanilla extract and salt to a sauce pan set over MEDIUM-LOW heat. Stir once so its mixed but then allow it to simmer for 5 minutes without touching it. If you start seeing/smelling smoke, your heat it too high and you may need to start over. If it does not simmer, turn up your heat a TOUCH. DO not boil.
- In the mean time, have your baking soda and vinegar ready to go!
- Turn off the heat and add in your baking soda and vinegar and mix together. Quickly pour the sauce over the popcorn and give it a few tosses with a wooden spoon so it coats as much of the popcorn as possible. It's okay if all of it is not fully coated.Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and toss popcorn again until fully coated. Allow it to cool completely and store in a sealed plastic container for 5-7 days.