This old-fashioned homemade Kettle Corn is the perfect blend of sweet, salty, and crunchy, and will make you feel like you’ve brought the essence of the state fair right into your home!
Let’s talk about popcorn!
Well, technically, we’re gonna talk about kettle corn – popcorn’s sweeter, crunchier sibling.
Today is Halloween, and since Abe and I don’t have kids, our October 31st usually consists of horror movies, pizza, and a big bowl of snacks.
I brought home a big ol’ bag of mushroom popcorn from my travels in Kansas last month, and we’ve been LOVING the results. And since popcorn is one of his favorite foods, I’ll be making a salty, buttery version for him – and this kettle corn for myself!
(Wanna read more about the Farm Food Tour I went on? Hop over to this post for a recap & photo dump!)
This page includes step by step instructions, as well as tips and notes. If you’d like to skip all that, feel free to scroll down to the full, printable recipe card at the bottom of the post.
What is kettle corn?
You know that yummy popcorn kids would come to your door and try to sell you once or twice a year? Or that scrumptious snack you just have to grab at the fair every year?
Yeah, that’s kettle corn. And now you can make it in your own kitchen with ease!
Kettle corn is a type of popcorn made with oil, salt, and sugar. This delicious, crunchy snack gets its name from the original method in which it was originally cooked – a cast iron kettle!
How is kettle corn different from popcorn?
Traditional movie-style popcorn is made with oil and salt, and has a rather mild, salty flavor. Because of this, its flavor can be easily influenced by lots of different seasoning powders like cheese, cinnamon, or chili.
In contrast to popcorn, kettle corn is popped with oil, salt, and sugar. Adding sugar when making homemade kettle corn is what makes it even more addictive than regular popcorn! The sugar gives it a predominantly sweet flavor and crispy texture.
Is popcorn a regular corn?
Popcorn is grown similarly to the corn that you eat with meat and potatoes at your backyard cookout. Its harvest season is longer than that of regular corn, which dries out the kernels, giving them a hard exterior shell and a starchy, soft center.
Popcorn essentially looks like regular corn on the cob, but only popcorn kernels have the ability to pop!
When you heat popcorn kernels, moisture gets trapped inside and turned into steam. This creates pressure inside the kernel that builds up until it finally explodes.
- Cooking oil – a neutral flavored oil that can handle high heat works best. Vegetable, canola, or peanut oil is ideal, but you can also try (refined) coconut oil for a lighter flavor.
- Popcorn kernels – any loose popcorn works fine here (not the microwave packets), but our favorite is this fluffy mushroom popcorn!
- Sugar – granulated is classic, but try brown sugar also for a more caramel-like flavor
- Salt – just a bit of kosher or sea salt
How to make kettle corn at home
Making homemade kettle corn is really a lot easier than you may think! You don’t need any special equipment, either – just a 3-quart Dutch oven or a large skillet with a lid.
- First, you need to heat the oil to the ideal temperature. Place the oil and three popcorn kernels in a large, wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium heat. Sprinkle some sugar in the oil and cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil.
- As the oil heats, you’ll need to shake the pan constantly to keep the sugar from burning. It should take a couple of minutes for the three kernels to pop, and then you’re ready to go!
- Remove the lid, take the pan off the heat briefly, and carefully add the remaining kernels, some more sugar, and salt to taste. Be careful when adding the kernels, as the oil may splatter.
- Return the lid to the pan and return it to the heat. As the popcorn does its thing, it is crucial to continue to vigorously shake the pan constantly over the heat to evenly distribute the sticky sugar on the kernels.
- Soon, you’ll have a popcorn show to watch! It should take anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes for the popcorn to finish popping.
- When there is a 2-second delay between pops, immediately transfer the popped kettle corn to a large baking sheet and allow it to cool briefly before picking out any burned pieces or unpopped kernels. You will very likely have a few burned pieces and that’s okay! Make amazing kettle corn every time will take some practice and coordination between you and your stove.
How long will kettle corn last?
That depends on how fast you devour it! All joking aside, if you store it in an airtight container at room temperature, your kettle corn should stay fresh for 4-6 days.
Why is my kettle corn chewy?
Sometimes this happens when too much steam gets trapped inside the pot during the popping process. To avoid this, crack the lid slightly, with the opening facing away from you. Hold it on the pot with a kitchen towel or pot holder while you shake the popcorn to let the excess steam escape.
What kind of popcorn is best for kettle corn?
The type of popcorn kernel that we use to make our homemade kettle corn is called mushroom popcorn. This type of large kernel pops into a very uniformly round shape, making it ideal for coating in that crispy sugary coating.
The field corn used to create popcorn kernels is grown primarily in the Corn Belt states of the midwestern U.S. Most of the popcorn sold around the world is grown in America’s midwest!
Even more recipes using corn and popcorn!
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Homemade Kettle Corn
- ¼ cup neutral flavored cooking oil i.e. canola, vegetable, or avocado
- ½ cup mushroom popcorn kernels
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- ½-1 tsp sea salt to taste
- Place the oil and 3 popcorn kernels in a large, wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium heat. Add half the sugar and cover with a lid or aluminum foil.
- Shake the pan frequently to keep the sugar from burning as the oil heats. Once the kernels pop, remove the lid and carefully add the remaining kernels, sugar and salt.
- Cover the pan and return to heat. Continue shaking constantly and vigorously until the popcorn finishes popping, 3-4 additional minutes.
- Remove pan from heat when there is 2 seconds between pops. Remove the lid and immediately transfer the popcorn to a large bowl to avoid burning it. Stir occasionally to break up clumps and remove any unpopped or over-caramelized kernels. Season with any flavorings you’d like.