Make Caramel Corn Without Corn Syrup

Last updated 11/9/2020 | |

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Sweet, crunchy caramel corn--you can make it easily, without using corn syrup! This tasty recipe is a perfect snack for after school or movie night, and uses ingredients you already have in your kitchen.

caramel corn in glass

We are serious caramel corn fanatics around here. Hubby and I love caramel corn, but I don't love all the weird ingredients you get when you buy it from the store. I thought I would make it at home, but every recipe I found used corn syrup...yuck.

With a little bit of experimentation, I was able to put together a delicious recipe for caramel corn without corn syrup. You can even add peanuts to it and make your own Cracker Jacks!

homemade caramel corn spilling out of jar

Hubby was gracious enough to test all of my efforts, which went something like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

I made caramel on the stove top and poured it over the popcorn. It was too gooey.

I made the caramel with honey and baked it in the oven. It was too burnt.

Then I made the caramel with brown sugar, baked it in the oven, and it was JUST RIGHT.

Enough chat...let's do this. 😉

You can make caramel corn without using corn syrup! This easy recipe comes together in no time, with ingredients you already have in your kitchen.

Homemade Caramel Corn

Ingredients

10 cups popped popcorn (about 1/2 cup unpopped)

Don't use microwave popcorn! Use an air popper or a WhirleyPop.

3/4 cup butter

1 cup packed brown sugar (extra credit if it's homemade)

1 teaspoon vanilla (same here)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Instructions

Put the popcorn in a large bowl and preheat the oven to 250F.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter and mix in the sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

Increase heat to medium-high and boil the mixture for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly. It will change from grainy to smooth and then will begin to thicken and look like...well...caramel!

Delicious, homemade caramel corn without corn syrup: BrownThumbMama.com

Note: Don't leave the stove while the caramel is boiling. It takes about .05 seconds for the mixture to overcook and turn brown instead of caramel-colored. This is too dark:

Delicious, homemade caramel corn without corn syrup: BrownThumbMama.com

Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the vanilla, salt, and baking soda. The caramel will foam up when you add the baking soda, which is why you want to use a big saucepan.

Carefully pour the hot caramel over the popcorn (grab a friend to help) and stir gently to combine. Add the peanuts here if you're making Cracker Jacks.

Delicious, homemade caramel corn without corn syrup: BrownThumbMama.com

Pour the caramel corn onto two cookie sheets lined with parchment paper or Silpat. Bake at 250F for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Allow to cool and munch, munch, munch!

caramel corn spilling from jar

Homemade Caramel Corn

Yield: 10 cups
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

You can make caramel corn without using corn syrup! This easy recipe comes together in no time, with ingredients you already have in your kitchen.

Ingredients

  • 10 cups popped popcorn, about 1/2 cup unpopped
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Instructions

  1. Put the popcorn in a large bowl and preheat the oven to 250F.
  2. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and mix in the sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Increase heat to medium-high and boil the mixture for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly. It will change from grainy to smooth and then will begin to thicken and look like…well…caramel!
  4. Note: Don’t leave the stove while the caramel is boiling. It takes about .05 seconds for the mixture to overcook and turn brown instead of caramel-colored.
  5. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the vanilla, salt, and baking soda. The caramel will foam up when you add the baking soda, which is why you want to use a big saucepan.
  6. Carefully pour the hot caramel over the popcorn (grab a friend to help) and stir gently to combine. Yes, you could add some peanuts at this point and make Cracker Jack, but why mess with a good thing? I like to eat the caramel corn by itself.
  7. Pour the caramel corn onto two cookie sheets lined with parchment paper or Silpat. Bake at 250F for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

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Pam

Hey, I’m Pam! I created Brown Thumb Mama to share my homesteading journey and help you live a greener life. Ready to learn more? Check out my Free Resource Guides, or my Shop to learn more.

47 Comments

  1. abee on April 16, 2020 at 4:02 pm

    excellent recipe! turned out perfect. used popcorn twists instead, and was so delectable, added a dash of maple syrup. wish i can insert a pic.

  2. Vell on January 4, 2020 at 6:14 pm

    Hi, this is my first time making this and I follows your instructions properly however when I was doing the caramel, even though I turned the stove off, my caramel continued to darken even though I transferred to another saucepan. I’m really confused and my popcorn tastes horribly bitter. Where did I go wrong

  3. Nurah on October 27, 2019 at 8:22 pm

    Mine separated, but after boiling for 4 minutes, it turned into a consistent blob. It was too thick to “pour over” the popcorn, so I tossed the corn around in the blob, and it adhered some, but coverage wasn’t uniform. I decided to bake it anyway. It tasted great, but the coverage of caramel wasn’t anything close to uniform. Some pieces were coated,and some with no caramel at all.

  4. Delia on September 4, 2019 at 8:01 am

    I used to make toffee candy quite a bit. It too is just butter and sugar.
    One time I made my ‘never fail’ recipe over and over throwing grainy batches away until my husband commented that it was too humid in the house. (We run humidifiers in the winter.) OOPS!

    Hope that helps

  5. Jessy Double on July 14, 2019 at 6:32 am

    Your baking soda was old then. If it’s too old it won’t react when added.

  6. Christine Ford on June 6, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    Or you could put chewed up plantain plant on the burn ! It heals really fast; just thought I’d say that

  7. Christine Ford on June 6, 2019 at 6:44 pm

    It would be a good idea to put chewed up plantain plant on it ( plantain is normally just around he yard ) just thought of saying that

  8. C. Lynn on January 19, 2019 at 5:55 pm

    Try cooking at medium to start. I also needed to add a splash of milk after the dry ingredients because it was not pourable. I used half and half because that’s what I had. Did not want to use Almond milk.

  9. Sam on November 8, 2018 at 8:29 pm

    I’ve cooked the caramel for the full 4 minutes and it seems like it’s okay but the finished product at the end of baking is grainey. I made caramel corn 6 times last year with a corn syrup recipe and didn’t have this issue. Any help?

  10. Rayan on September 5, 2018 at 11:06 am

    Great recipe! Tastes so good! Not grainy at all. I did up the butter to 2 sticks and added a little under 1/4 cup more brown sugar. I also used a whisk like a previous commenter suggested and used a wooden spoon to mix the caramel with the popcorn. Yum!

  11. Jo Anna on March 8, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    I found this recipe and really like it. I have made for me and my girls about 3 times now. We really like it. I did have to make an adjustment to it. I added another 1/2 stick of butter and 1/2 cup of chopped pecans. It still turned out great. We will be having a great snack for a couple of days. We love it.
    Thank you for posting it.

  12. Jalen W on January 19, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Great recipe. Was good. I used 3/4 cup of popcorn and it all taste good

  13. Bar maj on December 20, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    Baking soda did nothing

  14. Natalie on December 17, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    Honestly great reciepe! Frist time making this and it was super easy and yummy!! I highly recommend 🙂 thank you

  15. karen on November 18, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    assuming i can get this to come out right….how long would it last if i made it for gifts?? I dont want to do it too early and have it get stale.

  16. Sarah on November 8, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Sounds delicious! I’m curious, is the baking just to make it harder? Could I not bake and it to keep it gooey and would it still taste okay?

    • Pam on November 14, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      Yes, the baking makes it crispy like Cracker Jacks. Otherwise, it gets gooey and sticky.

    • Jalen W on January 19, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      Yea. Not baking it would make it gooyey. Baking it makes it like cracker jack

  17. Kathleen on October 29, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Mine did not ever get like caramel. It just remained grainy. Followed instructions. Will not make again.

    • Kathleen on October 29, 2015 at 12:17 pm

      Made a mistake in measuring. Disregard review.

  18. Tracy on October 26, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    I used a whisk the whole time even after I pulled it off the stove and added the vanilla soda and salt and mine didn’t separate. Maybe try that then I used a Woden spoon to incorporate over the popcorn. I needed a bigger bowl and that friend though lol

  19. Jody on October 22, 2015 at 6:54 am

    Corn syrup, i.e. Karo, is NOT the same as high-fructose corn syrup. And you’ve never made a pecan pie?

  20. rosat89 on October 3, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Any tips on perfecting the caramel? Mine separated after adding the vanilla, baking soda and salt..

  21. April on October 2, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    For some reason the mixture started separating after i took it off the heat and then once it was on the popcorn the sugar was grainy again. Not sure what happened. Maybe it didn’t get hot enough or it got too cool before getting onto the popcorn. I also didn’t realize it was going to take so long, I was looking for something quick but didn’t read all the way through the recipe…I just knew I didn’t have corn syrup.

  22. Becks on July 30, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    Recipe is great!! Hubby and I both love it!

  23. Nikol on July 23, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    So delicious. However, my spatula melted!

  24. Robbi on June 18, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    This recipe is garbage. Caramel does not come together at all. Thanks for the brown sugar crusted popcorn. What a waste of resources.

  25. Becca on April 30, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    This was amazingly good! We could not stop eating it! Thanks so much!

  26. Stephanie konny on February 16, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    I tried this 3 times and it never turned out right, and I’ve made caramel many times before. Something always went wrong at the point when I added the vanilla, salt & baking soda. Maybe the mixture was still too hot? So frustrating!!

    • rosat89 on October 3, 2015 at 1:04 pm

      Exact same thing happened to me 🙁 First time making caramel though… not sure what goes wrong after adding the vanilla, salt and baking soda but my caramel went grainy again :/

      • Vivian on September 1, 2020 at 5:57 pm

        I have made my Carmel corn this way for years. Maybe over cooking. I usually bake mine at least an hour to crispy up and stirring it often. Do mine in a big roaster pan

      • Vivian on September 1, 2020 at 5:57 pm

        I have made my Carmel corn this way for years. Maybe over cooking. I usually bake mine at least an hour to crispy up and stirring it often. Do mine in a big roaster pan

  27. Linda M on February 1, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    I just made It and it turned out awesome! Even my husband, who doesn’t like popcorn, loves it! Thank you for the recipe!

  28. Kam on February 1, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    Came out fantastic!!

  29. procrastinatinmama on January 15, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    Totally did not work for me. Not sure what I did wrong. This was like your graham cracker fail, lol!

    • rosat89 on October 3, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      Didn’t work for me either 🙁 Caramel separated after I added the dry ingredients..

  30. Linda on November 30, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    I love making home made treats for my brothers, niece and nephews for Christmas. This is definitely going to be in there bag of goodies this year! Thanks for sharing.

  31. Laci on November 11, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    I prefer your version, and I plan to make a batch this weekend.

  32. Maria on November 11, 2014 at 10:27 am

    I have actually never made caramel corn but now that you have written about and spent all that trial and error I will definitely be making some for our Family Night. Thanks for this recipe.

  33. Jen Loret de Mola on November 11, 2014 at 8:55 am

    This sounds delicious! Safety tip: when working with caramel, have a bowl of ice and water nearby. If you goof and get caramel on your hand, plunge it right into the bowl and your burn will not be nearly as bad.

  34. Jessi on November 10, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    Sounds delich and pretty simple! Thanks for your trials and errors.

  35. Kat on November 10, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Hi
    I don’t follow many blogs and read even fewer but I have to say that I read and enjoy all that you post & share. You are crafty & creative in so many aspects and I really like your healthy/ alternative takes on recepies. I started following when I say that awesome wreath you made and have stuck around because your great!!! Just wanted to let you know.
    Kat from Canada 🙂

    • Kat on November 10, 2014 at 10:35 am

      Sorry the wreath wasn’t yours, I follow for the garden tips and great recepies! I struggle with both 🙂 – just to clarify:)

  36. CTY on November 9, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    OMMM!
    (Oh my Moose Munch)
    Do you think DIY brown sugar would work?

    • Eqrl on November 25, 2015 at 11:03 am

      I tried it once and it separated, never bubbled up. so I dumped it and tried again same result. I am on my way to store to get some karo syrup.

      • Lisa Marie McCutcheon on May 9, 2020 at 11:33 pm

        I also tried it and it separated once I added the vanilla salt and baking soda… Then baking it – it never stuck to the popcorn had baked chunks of brown sugar sadly.

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