Bring the county fair home with this easy and delicious homemade kettle corn recipe.
Every kernel is so sweet and crunchy, you won’t want to share!
As a self-confessed dessert addict, I like sweet snacks better than savory. That’s why I prefer caramel corn over salted, and kettle corn over buttered.
So, you can only imagine how excited I was to try this recipe!
This kettle corn is so darn tasty, and it is shockingly easy to make.
Ready to fall in love? Let’s get poppin’!
Homemade Kettle Corn Recipe
I don’t exaggerate when I say this homemade kettle corn is just as epic as the ones sold at county fairs.
It’s sweet, crunchy, and beautifully golden. Every aspect is on point, from the look and aroma to the flavor and texture.
And yes, it’s ridiculously easy to make! In fact, once you realize just how simple it is, you’ll never buy a bag of kettle corn again.
This recipe only requires three ingredients – unpopped popcorn, sugar, and oil. And the whole process won’t take longer than 15 minutes!
It’s the perfect sweet snack to satisfy midnight cravings.
What is Kettle Corn?
Kettle corn is a sweet variety of popcorn that used to be made in cast iron kettles. Now it’s a classic state fair snack with a sweet and crisp sugar coating. Kettle corn usually has a lightly sweet and salty flavor achieved by adding oil, salt, and sugar to the pot as it cooks.
You’ll notice this recipe doesn’t include salt. So it’s obviously sweet and not salty.
That said, you can totally add salt to the mix if you like! You’ll want about 1/4 teaspoon for every 2 tablespoons of sugar.
Or, use brown sugar instead of white and make this more caramelly. Heck, add the salt, too, and it’ll be like salted caramel popcorn!
- Oil – Use any oil with a neutral flavor and a high smoking point, like vegetable, avocado, peanut, and canola.
- If you pick coconut oil, be sure it’s refined! Unrefined coconut oil will leave a subtle coconut flavor.
- Popcorn Kernels – use any good-quality brand of unpopped popcorn.
- Be sure the kernels are still fresh. Old kernels won’t be as large and fluffy when popped.
- Sugar – Classic kettle corn calls for regular white, granulated sugar, but you can also experiment with other sweeteners.
- Brown sugar will give your popcorn a deeper caramel flavor. Turbinado will make it a little bit healthier.
Optional Ingredient: Salt!
As mentioned, kettle corn is usually sweet and salty. So if you like it traditional, go ahead and add kosher salt along with the sugar.
How to Make Kettle Corn
1. Prepare the pot and preheat the oil.
You’ll want to use a large, heavy-bottomed pot for this recipe, and there are two reasons why:
- The kernels need a lot of room to pop.
- You don’t want to burn the sugar.
Preheat the oil in the pot over medium heat.
To test, sprinkle a bit of water into the oil (sprinkle means a few tiny drops from your fingers, not a spoonful!).
If it sizzles upon contact, the oil is hot enough for popcorn popping.
2. Add the popcorn and listen.
Pour the kernels into the pot and close the lid. Then, listen carefully for the first couple of pops.
Once you hear them, add the sugar (and salt, if using) and mix.
This method is crucial to keep the sugar from burning!
Corn kernels take time to pop. So, if you add the sugar too early, it will probably burn.
Other people also recommend the 3-kernel method: add 3 kernels first, wait for them to pop, and then add the rest of the kernels along with the sugar.
I haven’t tried that technique yet, but I imagine it’ll work well.
3. Shake the pot.
Once the kernels and sugar are in, close the lid and shake the pot vigorously.
This is another crucial step in kettle corn making!
It ensures every popcorn piece is coated with sweet caramel and prevents the sugar from burning.
Keep shaking the pot until the popping slows down to about 1 pop per 2-3 seconds. Once this happens, turn off the heat.
Continue to shake the pot until you no longer hear any popping.
4. Let it cool.
Pour the kettle corn into a large bowl or parchment-lined baking sheet and let cool for 5 minutes.
Give the kernels a good stir and break apart large clusters, if there are any.
Also, don’t feel too bad if some kernels are a little burnt – it’s bound to happen. Just pick them out, along with unpopped kernels, before serving.
Tips and Tricks for the Best Kettle Corn
- The pot has to be heavy-bottomed to ensure the sugar cooks evenly and that it doesn’t burn. Also, use a pot spacious enough for the kernels to pop in.
- Don’t add the kernels until the oil is hot enough. You can do a quick check by sprinkling some water into the pot. If it sizzles, it’s ready to go.
- Shake vigorously! This is the key to ensuring every kernel is coated with sugar.
- Don’t wait for the last popcorn to pop before you turn off the heat, or you’ll burn the cooked kernels. Instead, take the pot off the heat once the popping slows down. The unpopped kernels will still pop from the residual heat.
- Be sure to remove any unpopped kernels. Biting into an unpopped kernel is unpleasant and harsh on your teeth. And unfortunately, when making kettle corn, they’ll stick to the sugar rather than sink to the bottom.
- The best way to check for uncooked kernels is to pour it out onto a baking sheet.
- If your popcorn turned out chewy and not crunchy, it’s most likely because the lid was too tight on the pot. Next time, crack the lid a bit to give the steam space to escape.
- Wash the pot between batches if making a lot. This eliminates leftover sugar that’s likely to burn.
- For easy cleanup, pour hot soapy water into the pot. The water will melt and dissolve the hardened sugar in no time. If the pot was allowed to cool, simply pop it back on the heat.
Flavor Variations and Additions
Kettle corn is perfect as it is, but you’ll have a more delightful snack if you add your own twist to it. Try one or more of these suggestions:
- Sprinkle some salt for a sweet-n-salty contrast of flavors.
- Make it sweeter with M&M’s, chocolate chips, and mini marshmallows.
- For a sweet and spicy snack, mix in a little bit of Sriracha.
- Add cinnamon for a warm, Christmas-y flavor.
- Use brown sugar for a deeper caramel taste.
- Throw in some chopped nuts for added crunch.
- Want an even easier popcorn-making method? Try microwave popcorn! The only downside is it won’t caramelize the sugar as well as the stovetop method.
How to Store Kettle Corn
In case there are any leftovers, which is highly unlikely, store them in an airtight container. They’ll stay fresh at room temperature for 2 to 3 weeks.
Store kettle corn in a dark, dry, and cool place.
If the popcorn has lost its crunch, crisp the kernels back up by popping them in the oven. Cook for 5 minutes at 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Made a huge batch of popcorn? Store the kernels in the freezer! Frozen kettle corn will keep well for up to several weeks.
Simply place the kernels in an airtight freezer-safe bag and freeze.
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