This Sea Salted Caramel Corn is ridiculously easy to make AND ridiculously delicious to eat. Make plenty! It will disappear faster than you can say "Ridiculously Easy Microwave Caramel Corn"!
Once you try this Ridiculously Easy Sea Salted Microwave Caramel Corn, you'll never buy the stuff again! I mean, why would you if you can make a BIG batch in right around 30 minutes that tastes WAY better than anything you can purchase?
Stovetop/oven method vs microwave
I've been working on an easy caramel corn recipe for the past few weeks. My first attempts were stovetop/oven recipes; make the caramel sauce on the stovetop, then transfer it to a LARGE pan (I got out my turkey roasting pan) and combine with the popcorn. Stir, stir, stir to try to coat the popcorn with the sweet, sticky sauce then bake for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
What a big, big mess... a sticky pot, sticky stovetop, sticky spatulas, a sticky pan and caramel corn that had broken apart from all the sticky stirring. Plus, it was impossible to get the popcorn nice and evenly coated with the caramel sauce. I have to admit, it did taste really good, but it was a pain to make and it definitely wasn't pretty.
Since I'm a big advocate of the mantra "we eat with our eyes" before a smidgen ever reaches our tastebuds, I wasn't satisfied at all with my results. Some of our grandkids have been samplers/taste-testers throughout the process and they thought these early renditions were great. But I was looking for something that tasted great AND looked great. I put the roasting pan away and decided that perhaps a stellar caramel corn wasn't going to make it to the Café collection of recipes.
A day or so after I "gave up" I remembered that MANY years ago, I made caramel corn in the microwave and decided it was worth another go. I grabbed a microwave bowl, a spatula and a paper grocery bag (no sticky roasting pans needed). 20 minutes later, I had the prettiest caramel corn spread out on my counter that you'd ever have the pleasure of meeting. AND the most delicious caramel corn you'd ever have the pleasure of eating. SCORE!!
After making this caramel corn with the microwave technique, I knew it fell into our category of recipes called Ridiculously Easy. This is a popular collection of recipes that our readers love. You can read more about our Ridiculously Easy recipes in this post but my standard definition is "recipes that make you look like a kitchen rock star with minimal effort on your part".
What kind of popcorn is best for this microwave caramel corn?
Once I had the best (and easiest) technique figured out, I decided to experiment with different types of popcorn. It's a little embarrassing but I've rarely ever made popcorn on the stovetop, so my initial attempts at this Sea Salted Microwave Caramel Corn were with microwave popcorn. It was good but I wondered if it could be better with stovetop popcorn.
I snooped around on the internet for tips and tricks on making stovetop popcorn, ordered a few different (highly rated) types of popcorn kernels and started experimenting. I do have to agree with the "popcorn snobs" that stovetop popcorn (properly cooked) is really fantastic and superior to microwave popcorn.
I also learned that, although there are many varieties of popcorn kernels, there are two basic shapes, mushroom and butterfly. Mushroom kernels will produce large round popcorn while butterfly kernels pop in whimsical, unpredictable shapes, with lots of “wings” protruding this way and that.
I tried both mushroom and butterfly and felt like the mushroom popcorn held up better in the stirring (shaking in the case of microwave caramel corn) and coating process. Also, because the mushroom popped kernels that are round, they have a larger surface to hold caramel coating.
All that being said, you could use microwave or stovetop popcorn and mushroom or butterfly kernels for this Sea Salted Microwave Caramel Corn recipe. My preference and the caramel corn you see in the pictures is mushroom popcorn kernels popped on the stovetop.
Tricks for popping stovetop popcorn
As mentioned above I had to hone my skills a bit in regard to making stovetop popcorn. Here are a few tips:
- Use fresh kernels
- Use a good heavy bottom pot or a popper that's specially designed for making popcorn.
- Use enough heat.
- When you hear the first one or two kernels pop, remove the pot from the heat for 30 seconds. This ensures that the oil doesn’t get too hot before the kernels are ready to pop and promotes even cooking so that all the kernels pop right around the same time.
- Return the pot to the heat and shake the pot frequently to redistribute the kernels and prevent burning
- When the popping slows way down, remove from the heat and immediately transfer the popcorn to a large bowl.
If you're looking for a super easy, fail-proof way to prepare delicious stovetop popcorn, try one of these Whirley Pop Popcorn Poppers. I ordered one for myself and absolutely love it. It's light, super easy to use and cleans up well. If you have any popcorn (or caramel corn) lovers in the family, this would make a wonderful gift.
The difference between high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup
If you check the recipe below you'll notice that it calls for corn syrup. You may have heard some controversy about high fructose corn syrup... that it's bad for you. It seems that increasing numbers of people are reluctant to use corn syrup because of the negative health effects reported with high-fructose corn syrup. And that may have some validity although, as stated above, it's controversial.
The Mayo Clinic, after studying the nutritional effects of high fructose states "At this time, there's insufficient evidence to say that high-fructose corn syrup is any less healthy than other types of sweeteners". If you're interested in learning more about this, you can read the whole article here.
But did you know that corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup are two different products? Accorning to The Kitchn, "both products are made from corn starch, but regular corn syrup is 100 percent glucose, while high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has had some of its glucose converted to fructose enzymatically." The articles goes on to say, "scientists are examining the potentially negative effects of consuming large amounts of fructose in the form of HFCS, but regular corn syrup is not part of that consideration, as it does not contain fructose".
I use Karo brand corn syrup for this Microwave Caramel Corn which does not contain fructose. It's ingredient list includes, "corn syrup, salt, vanilla". To be safe, I would recommend checking the label of the corn syrup you purchase.
I conclude this discussion by saying that all sugar and sugary treats should be used and consumed in moderation for health purposes. That's why I feel compelled to portion out this crazy good caramel corn and give it away. I generally have a decent amount of will power when it comes to sweets, but NOT with this stuff!
Oh and speaking of gifts...
This makes a delightful gift!
This Microwave Caramel Corn makes a FABULOUS gift. It's quick, easy and crazy delicious. We've created a few labels that we're happy to share for your gifting pleasure. If you'd like to receive our free printable PDFs, simply scroll to the bottom of this post and leave a comment letting us know that you'd like the labels.
We'll email several PDFs along with instructions on how to print them on your own computer. Of course, we don't mention on the labels that this is RIDICULOUSLY EASY caramel corn. We'll leave that little secret between you and me!
We'll also share links for the pretty bags, tissue, ribbons and jars that we've used for gifting our caramel corn.
As mentioned above, I had some wonderful taste-testers (Lilly and Luke) along the way as I created this recipe. They took their job quite seriously while, at the same time, thoroughly enjoying the responsibility. Check out how much fun they had below. The last pic is the star rating they gave for the final rendition of this delicious Microwave Caramel Corn... I think you will too!
Cafe Tips for making this Sea-Salted Microwave Caramel Corn
- Start requesting paper bags at the grocery store! They are the perfect vehicles to use for this microwave caramel corn. There's no mess except in the bag which can be disposed of after use.
- You'll need a large microwave-safe bowl (at least 2-quart) for this recipe as the caramel mixture will bubble up. A microwave-safe bowl is one that won't melt or heat up when used in the microwave. For this recipe, it's really nice to have one with a handle as you need to remove the bowl from the microwave several times to stir. I love this Pyrex microwave-safe bowl and use mine ALL the time. The handle does not get the slightest bit warm.
- As mentioned above, this recipe calls for corn syrup. If you live in the UK or other areas of the world where corn syrup is not available, I tested this recipe using an equal amount of Lyle's Golden Syrup in lieu of corn syrup with successful results. On the other hand, I also tried subbing maple syrup for the corn syrup with disastrous results. The syrup was thick and grainy and didn't coat carmel corn well.
- I like to use mushroom popcorn (see discussion on types of popcorn above in the post) popped on the stovetop for this Microwave Caramel Corn but stovetop butterfly popcorn and microwave popcorn can also be used.
- Whether you make your popcorn on the stovetop or in the microwave, it's important to transfer it to a bowl and gently lift and lightly shake the popcorn to allow any old maids (unpopped kernels) to sink to the bottom of the bowl. No one wants to bite into a delicious handful of caramel corn only to find a hard, unpopped kernel adhered to it.
- If you decide to use microwave popcorn, I recommend a natural type without any additional flavoring. I like Orville Redenbacher Natural microwave popcorn. It's lightly salted but additional ingredients are minimal.
- I like to use a combination of light and dark brown sugars but 100% light brown sugar will also work. I don't recommend using all dark brown sugar as I've found that the syrup can get grainy.
- This recipe calls for flaky sea salt. I love Maldon Sea Salt. It's more expensive than regular table or kosher salt but a box will last a long time as it's a "finishing salt", meaning it's used as a special finishing touch. To use flaky sea salt, just grab a nice pinch of it with your thumb and forefinger and rub your fingers together to break up the large flakes. (And if you know someone who enjoys cooking, a box of Maldon in a pretty little bag would make a lovely hostess gift!)
- Every microwave is a little different regarding the way they heat as well as the power level. These instructions work well on my microwave which is 900 Watts. If your microwave has a lower wattage, you may want to go an additional minute or two. If it's a higher wattage, you may want to shake the bag every 45 seconds instead of every minute as directed.
- If you finish making this Microwave Caramel Corn and it's completely cooled and you find it's not as crisp as you'd like, simply return it to a clean paper bag and microwave it for another minute or two, shaking well in between and after each additional minute.
- I LOVE my Whirly Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper. It makes popping real popcorn failproof, super easy and super fast!
Thought for the day:
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
What we're listening to for inspiration:
If you enjoyed this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear your results, adaptations and ideas for variations.
- 16 cups popped popcorn see post for types of popcorn
- ¾ cup butter I use salted
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- ½ cup dark brown sugar
- ⅓ cup corn syrup not high fructose corn syrup - I use Karo
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- flaky sea salt I love Maldon
Prepare a work surface by laying out two 3-feet long pieces of parchment paper, overlapping slightly.
After popping the popcorn, transfer it to a bowl. Lift the popcorn with your hands and shake the bowl lightly so the old maids (unpopped kernels) fall to the bottom. Lift the 4 quarts of popcorn out of the bowl and transfer to a large brown paper grocery bag.
Combine the butter, brown sugars, corn syrup and salt in a large microwave-safe bowl. Place in the microwave and heat on high power for 2 minutes. Stir to combine. If the butter is not completely melted, return to the microwave for another 30-60 seconds.
After stirring, return to the microwave for 1 minute. The mixture should be bubbling up furiously by this point. Remove bowl and stir well then return to the microwave for another minute. Repeat this cooking and stirring for a total of 3 more minutes.
Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir in the vanilla and baking soda. Stir well until all of the baking soda is well incorporated. Pour the hot mixture over the popcorn in the bag. Fold the top of the bag down once and shake, shake, shake to distribute syrup through the corn.
Microwave on high power for 1 minute. Remove the bag and hold it at the top and one of the bottom corners. Shake well and return to the microwave for another minute. Repeat cooking and shaking two more times for a total of 4 minutes. Turn the popcorn out onto the prepared parchment paper. Allow to cool completely.
Sprinkle, to taste with flaky sea salt. (Just take a good pinch in between your thumb and forefinger and rub the fingers together to break up the large flakes.)
Store in an airtight container. The caramel corn will keep well for 1-2 weeks.
See Café Tips above in the post for more detailed instructions and tips to ensure success.