caramel corn collage

The Ultimate Gift-Worthy Caramel Corn Recipe (Quick, Easy, Good!)

Here it is, the ultimate caramel corn recipe. Easy to make, stays crispy and crunchy for weeks if you can possibly make it last that long. It’s that good. Perfect for parties, snacking, movie night, Christmas Eve, and gifting!

caramel corn collage

What follows is a quick and easy way to make what I find amazing gift-worthy caramel corn, with stovetop and microwave instructions, your choice. Either way, the secret to crunchy, caramelly awesomeness is to finish by baking the caramel corn in a low-temperature oven, stirring often.

Time Savernake popcorn

When I make a lot of caramel corn, I buy it already popped instead of popping it myself. Costco sells a huge bag (it’s 2 feet tall) of Popcornopolis Nearly Naked Popcorn that measures out to 22 cups, for about $8. Saves so much time.

This popcorn comes with every kernel perfectly popped, unsalted, bright white, and just perfect for making multiple batches of caramel corn.

If you are not a Costco member, check your supermarket. There are other brands of plain popped corn, of course.

UPDATE:  As I write, I am learning that sadly, this product may no longer be available in all Costco warehouse clubs.

Substitute for Corn Syrupglucose syrup

Not fond of corn syrup? A suitble substitute is food-grade glucose. Look for this in the baking aisle of a very well-stocked supermarket, or online.

NOTE: Because glucose has higher water content than corn syrup, you will need to bake the caramel corn for about 15 minutes longer.


Homemade Golden Caramel Popcorn in a Bowl
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5 from 3 votes

Caramel Corn

Here’s a quick and easy way to make what I find amazing gift-worthy caramel corn, with stovetop and microwave instructions, your choice. Either way, the secret to crunchy, caramelly awesomeness is to finish by baking the caramel corn in a low-temperature oven, stirring often.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time49 minutes
Total Time1 hour 4 minutes
Course: Dessert, Gifts, Sweets
Cuisine: Western
Servings: 12 1-cup servings
Calories: 204kcal


  • 1/2 cup popping corn kernels (See NOTES for shortcut)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed (OK to sub dark brown sugar)
  • 1/2 cup butter, 1 stick (no substitutes, please)
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (omit if using salted microwaved popcorn)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Preheat oven to 225F.

Ready the Popcorn

  • Pop the popcorn. Place the popped popcorn (approx. 12 cups) into a big bowl that is at least twice the volume of the popcorn itself. Do not err on the side of a bowl that is too small, because you are going to do some serious stirring in a bit. Remove and discard any un-popped kernels.

Make Caramel - Stovetop Instructions

  • Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat
  • Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt, stirring until just combined.
  • Once the mixture starts to bubble, reduce to simmer and allow to cook for 4 minutes—DO NOT STIR.
  • Remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the baking soda and vanilla. You’ll get a little show here as the vanilla will “sizzle” while the baking soda gets all foamy and gorgeous. Make sure the mixture is stirred very well, then immediately pour over the popcorn.
  • Stir well to coat all of the popcorn until caramel begins to harden. Keep stirring. A little more until fully and evenly distributed to every bit of popcorn ... there, that ought to be about right.

Make Caramel - Microwave Instructions

  • Cut the butter into chunks and place in a microwave-safe bowl along with the brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir well to combine. Microwave on high for an additional 2 minutes.
  • Remove bowl from microwave and stir very well. Return to microwave and heat for 2 more minutes on high.
  • Remove from microwave and stir in vanilla and baking soda. It will make popping sounds and get light and foamy. After stirring, immediately pour over the popcorn in the bowl. Stir well to coat all of the popcorn. Keep stirring. A little more until fully and evenly distributed to every bit of popcorn ... there, that ought to be about right.

Either Way, Continue Here

  • Whichever method you’ve followed, now spread the coated popcorn on one large or two smaller cookie sheets, breaking up any clumps. Bake at 225 F for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Spread out on waxed paper and allow to cool.

The Big Finish

  • This last step is critical, so don’t skip it. Sample the caramel corn to make sure it is fit for human consumption—perhaps even for gift-giving. You cannot be too careful here. Once you are satisfied, and if any caramel corn remains, store in airtight containers or bags.
  • Stays 100% crisp and fresh for 2 - 3 weeks in an airtight container, provided it is completely cool before closing the container.


  1. SHORTCUT. Costco sell a ginormous bag of Popcornopolis Naked Popcorn. It's 22 oz. by weight but get this: It says it contains 22 servings ... and one serving = 4 cups. That means 88 cups of perfectly popped popcorn. Divide that by 12 and you can make this recipe just shy of eight times! This is my best kept secret. The kernals are all big and round and fluffy and not a deadbeat kernel to be found. 
  2. Corn syrup is required to stabilize the caramel so it doesn't crystalize. Corn syrup is readily available under the brand name Karo in the U.S. and Canada.
  3. Food grade glucose is a reasonable substitute for corn syrup. Look for this in a well-stocked supermarket, pharmacy, or online.
  4. If substituting glucose for corn syrup, increase baking time by 15-20 minutes, as glucose has a higher water content than corn syrup and takes longer for the caramel corn to dry out. 
  5. This caramel corn will remain fresh and crisp for 2 - 3 weeks in an airtight container provided it is fully cooled before closing the container. 
  6. kcal calculation made assuming dry popcorn is air-popped without oil.


Serving: 1cup | Calories: 204kcal | Carbohydrates: 34g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 20mg | Sodium: 218mg | Potassium: 46mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 29g | Vitamin A: 236IU | Calcium: 20mg | Iron: 0.3mg






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11 replies
  1. Celeste says:

    5 stars
    We always add more popcorn vs topping. Still super delicious but a bit less sweet that way & we can eat a bit more. Very addictive.

  2. anonymous says:

    Can you please confirm the nutrition information? If a serving has 145 grams of carbohydrate it has to have over 500 calories, plus the calories from the fat. Either the calories or the other info is incorrect.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Nutriton calculations are all done with the recipe program I use. It helps if I give that program correct information! Ha. I had it set up to calculate 12 cups of unpopped corn kernels. Whoops. So with your prompting, I it a re-do. I’m no nutritionist, but it does look more reasonable to me now. Take another look (thanks for the heads up!)

  3. JanetA says:

    5 stars
    This caramel popcorn is so delicious! I made it for the first time yesterday, and my husband says it’s better than the Popcornopolis he was given. Hard to stop eating it! Thanks, Mary, for the recipe!

  4. Tamara says:

    5 stars
    Wow! This stuff is delicious and easy to make. I used the microwave and would recommend doing it that way. I also popped my own popcorn in a microwave popper. Healthier way to make it with no oil, salt or chemicals, just popcorn. I’m making it again tomorrow. This stuff is addictive!

  5. Simply addictive! says:

    5 stars
    Absolutely terrific! Easy, simple ingredients. Used air popped quality corn and dark brown sugar; it turned out perfectly. Caramel is delicious. Corn is crispy. Simply mmmmmmm.

  6. Angela L says:

    I’ve made this! Delicious! The only thing I do differently is I use Chester’s Puff Corn butter flavored. No kernels, no hulls!


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