Popcorn by Any Other Name
PUBLISHED: Friday, October 9, 2020

Popcorn by Any Other Name

We’ve touched on some varieties of specialty popcorn in previous entries, but there are two that you can easily make—or at least approximate—at home: caramel corn and kettle corn. Neither requires special equipment, and the only ingredient you might not have on hand is the appropriate popping corn (but even that can be substituted in a pinch). We’ll take a look at what goes into making each and, hopefully, inspire you to try one or both for yourself.

Kettle Corn

First, the obvious—unless you happen to own a particularly large, cast-iron kettle and the burner to heat it then you won’t be making kettle corn in the literal sense. But you can achieve all of the same taste and texture with a stovetop skillet, popping oil, salt, sugar, mushroom popcorn, and a wooden or metal spoon. Add the oil to the pan to heat. When it starts to shimmer add the sugar, salt, and popcorn and then stir continuously until most of the kernels are popped. Remove the popped corn from the skillet and let cool for a few moments before eating. It’s nothing but a scaled-down version of the same process that’s used in the carnival-sized kettles.

Kettle corn is this simple to replicate at home because the signature taste and slightly glassy texture are both due to the sugar added during popping. Constant stirring prevents the sugar from burning or caramelizing, but the heat in the kettle (or skillet) is enough to set the sugar and make it sticky to the touch. When it cools, it becomes the salty-sweet glaze that kettle corn fans know and love.

Caramel Corn

Caramel corn is both simpler and more difficult to make than kettle corn. On one hand, the kernels are popped separately from the caramel coating—you can let your popcorn machine work while you make the caramel. On the other hand, as anyone who’s ever made candy at home might tell you, making caramel can be tricky business. The line between “caramel” and “burnt sugar” can be thin, and it generally takes some practice to perfect. But the reward—homemade caramel corn—is worth the effort.

You might note that kettle corn and caramel corn recipes will usually call for mushroom popcorn. If you recall our previous entry on the types of popping kernels, you might remember that mushroom popcorn has a more spherical, robust shape than other types—it really is ideal for specialty popcorns that have heavier coatings like these. But in a pinch, you can use white or yellow kernels to achieve mostly the effect. Just expect more broken pieces than you would have with mushroom kernels.

At Home Theater Express, we have the knowledge and products to have you solve almost any popcorn pursuit. Our customer service representatives are available online and by phone at 1-800-774-0893 to answer any questions you may have.