Homemade Caramel Corn using Grandpa’s family favorite recipe! Best gooey caramel popcorn made with butter, sugar, condensed milk & vanilla.
My father-in-law is famous for his caramel popcorn recipe and when he was younger everyone would gather around to help make a large batch of it. I’ve eaten it since I was a teenager and this recipe always hits the spot. It’s a perfect recipe for ooey gooey popcorn (the kind that’s fantastic for popcorn balls). It’s also always a teenager favorite and best eaten by the handfuls!
The BEST Gooey caramel popcorn
This popcorn recipe is super simple and super good. You’ll take some unpopped popcorn kernels and cook them on the stovetop for the freshest taste and then you’ll cover it in a homemade caramel sauce mixture. You will want to use a candy thermometer for making sure that the sugar has been cooked properly, but even if you don’t have one on hand, I have some tips for making this recipe without a candy thermometer in the recipe card below.
Caramel popcorn ingredients
-Popcorn kernels: You will need 1 cup of unpopped popcorn kernels. This will turn into several cups of popped popcorn so there will be plenty to share. Alternately, you can pop 6 standard sized bags of popcorn, filter out the duds and use those instead.
-Oil: Use ¼ cup of canola oil, (or coconut oil if you want to make it a little healthier) to help cook the popcorn.
-Sugar: 2 cups of brown sugar will be the base of the sweetened caramel mixture.
-Butter: Adding in ¼ cup of butter will make the caramel taste richer and feel smoother and creamier.
-Corn syrup: You’ll want ½ cup of corn syrup to make the caramel thick and sweet.
-Condensed milk: Adding in a 14 ounces sized can of sweetened condensed milk help to make the sauce extra special and creamy.
-Vanilla: To help enhance the flavors in the caramel add in 1 teaspoon of vanilla. This also helps to make it smell divine.
How to make caramel corn for a crowd
How to pop popcorn on the stove
Place the oil and a few popcorn kernels into a large pot with a lid (you want a pot that is at least 8 quart in size). If you do not have a pot that large then just divide the oil and popcorn into a large enough stockpot and divide in half, working in two batches.
Heat the pot over medium high heat and when the popcorn begins popping rapidly, add in the remaining popcorn and place the lid back onto the pot.
Shake the pot gently by using the handles of the pot. The popcorn will begin popping rapidly and within just a few minutes will be done.
Listen closely at the space between the pops and when it finally takes a few seconds between pops, the popcorn is done. Transfer popcorn to a large bowl or divide between 2 or 3 smaller bowls. Remove unpopped kernels.
How to make caramel sauce
In a medium sized saucepan combine the brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup over medium high heat.
Once it begins to boil, add in the sweetened condensed milk and return to a boil.
Once it begins to boil again, it will take about 10 minutes to get to the softball stage of sugar cooking. It will register between 235 degrees F and 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer.
When the caramel is at the softball stage, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla. So not forget this step and make sure to stir to combine.
Pour the caramel over the popcorn and stir with rubber scrapers to coat. Enjoy!
BEST GOOEY CARAMEL POPCORN
- 1 cup unpopped popcorn kernels*
- ¼ cup canola oil or coconut oil for popping popcorn
- 2 cups brown sugar
- ¼ cup butter
- ½ cup corn syrup
- 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
To pop your popcorn in a large pot:
- Put oil and a few popcorn kernels in a large pot- at least an 8 quart with a lid. (If you don't have a large enough stockpot, then just divide the oil and popcorn in half and pop it in two batches.)
- Heat on medium high. When kernels begin popping, add the rest of the popcorn kernels and replace lid.
- Shake gently using the handles of the pot. Popcorn will begin popping rapidly. (once you put all of the popcorn in the pot, it only takes a couple of minutes to be done.)
- Listen closely, when pops space out to a few seconds between each one, the popcorn is done- remove it from the heat. Keep the lid on as a few more pieces will pop.
- Transfer popcorn to a gigantic bowl or 2-3 smaller bowls. Remove any unpopped kernels.
To make the caramel sauce:
- Combine brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in a medium sized saucepan. Begin heating mixture on medium-high heat (I put mine at a 6.)
- Once it begins to boil, add in sweetened condensed milk and return to a boil. Once it boils again, set a timer, it will take about 10 minutes to get to soft-ball stage.
- Once caramel is at soft-ball stage, remove from heat and add in vanilla. Don’t forget this step! Stir to combine.
- Pour caramel over popcorn and stir with rubber scrapers to coat. That's it! You now have 32 cups of caramel popcorn. Now simply invite all your friends over and ENJOY!
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Why is my homemade caramel popcorn soggy?
If you didn’t cook the sugary mixture long enough it will end up runny and extra wet, thus making the popcorn soggy. It’s important to reach the soft ball stage of candy making because that’s when the sauce is getting thick enough to hold together well and become adhesive to the popped popcorn.
How to fix stale caramel popcorn
If you didn’t eat your popcorn fast enough or didn’t store it properly in an airtight container stale popcorn can happen. The good news is that you can fix some of the issues by laying the popcorn flat on a large baking sheet and baking in the oven at 250 degrees F for about 5 minutes until warmed through. This should help to make the popcorn crispy again.
Love popcorn? So do we! Here are some other popcorn recipes to try!
- Marshmallow Caramel Popcorn
- Caramel Popcorn Cake
- Better than Caramel Popcorn
- Peanut Butter Popcorn
- Pretty in Pink Popcorn
- Chocolate Popcorn
- Peppermint Popcorn
- Game Day Popcorn Mix
- Halloween Popcorn Mix
- Snickers Peanut Butter Popcorn
- Homemade Stovetop Popcorn
- Easy Microwave Caramel Popcorn
Making homemade caramel corn is super easy and fun. Once you know how to make caramel popcorn at home you may never want to buy it premade again. It’s easy and delicious every time and well worth the wait and effort.