This homemade kettle corn recipe is super-easy to make on the stovetop with 4 simple ingredients.
For over a decade, my friends have known me as the girl who brings nooch popcorn to just about every gathering. But this year, I have officially entered my homemade kettle corn era. ♡
I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I actually had no idea how incredibly easy it is to make kettle corn from scratch! Turns out all you need is a saucepan and 4 basic ingredients — popcorn kernels, sugar, salt and oil — and this irresistibly salty-sweet snack can be ready to go in just 10 minutes. Who knew?!
That said, after practicing for the past few months, I’ve found that there are a few subtle but important preferences that can emerge when it comes to the type of oil and sugar you use and the ratios of salt and sugar. I’m personally partial to the neutral flavor and high-heat versatility of refined coconut oil (although unrefined works just as well, with slightly more coconut flavor). And while you can arguably use just about any type of sugar here, I prefer turbinado sugar (a.k.a. “raw” sugar) whose natural molasses flavor is downright heavenly paired with the sea salt. I’ve included my favorite ingredient ratios in the recipe below, along with a handful of simple tips I’ve learned along the way.
So if you’re looking for a fun new party snack to impress your friends, or just a deliciously salty-sweet snack for a cozy night in, grab a saucepan and let’s make some homemade kettle corn together!
Homemade Kettle Corn Ingredients
Here are a few brief notes about the 4 essential kettle corn ingredients that you will need for this recipe:
Popcorn kernels: I find that the most important factor with kernels when making stovetop popcorn is freshness. Choose a good-quality brand that you love and be sure that the kernels are not expired and have been stored properly in an airtight container. This is the brand I usually use.
Refined coconut oil: I prefer making stovetop popcorn with refined coconut oil because it has a very neutral flavor and a very high and forgiving smoke point. That said, you’re welcome to use unrefined coconut oil instead, which has slightly more of a coconut-y flavor. Or you can also use any other high-heat oils that you prefer, such as avocado, grapeseed or safflower oil.
Turbinado sugar: After testing this recipe with many different types of sugar, I’ve found that I prefer the flavor of turbinado sugar (a.k.a. “raw sugar”) here. It has a touch of molasses flavor that I absolutely love and is less refined than traditional white or brown sugars.
Fine sea salt: Finally, we’ll use a hint of sea salt to bring out the best of these flavors and create that irresistible sweet + salty vibe that makes kettle corn so famous!
How To Make Kettle Corn
Full detailed instructions for how to make kettle corn are included in the recipe below, but here is a quick overview of the process:
Prep a sheet pan. We’ll need a flat parchment-covered surface to spread out the hot popcorn (and avoid clumps) and let it cool.
Heat the oil. I find that a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan works best for this recipe. We’ll heat the oil, add a few “test” kernels, cover the pan, and wait until they pop to add the rest.
Add the remaining ingredients. Next we’ll add in the remaining kernels and shake to coat in oil, then sprinkle with the sugar and salt, cover, and shake again.
Pop the popcorn. We’ll keep on with the cooking (and shaking the pan every 5 seconds) until there is about a 2-second delay between pops.
Cool. It’s important to immediately transfer the popcorn to the prepared baking sheet and use a wooden spoon to spread it out in an even-ish layer. Once it has cooled a bit, be sure to pick out and discard any unpopped kernels, since they tend to stick to the popped popcorn.
Serve. Once the popcorn has cooled to room temp, serve it up and enjoy, enjoy!
How To Store Kettle Corn
To store homemade kettle corn, first make sure that it has cooled completely to room temperature. Then transfer the kettle corn to an airtight food storage container or ziplock bag. It can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 weeks, but I find the texture is best within the first week.
Kettle Corn Tips
Here are a few more quick tips to help ensure success when you’re making kettle corn from scratch!
Use fresh popcorn. As I mentioned above, it’s important to use fresh popcorn kernels (not stale!) to yield the biggest, fluffiest “pops”!
Shake, shake, shake! I’m a big believer in regularly shaking the popcorn the entire time that it is cooking so that the popped kernels can fly to the top (and not burn) and leave the unpopped kernels to heat and pop on the bottom. Hold the pan handle with one hand and the lid with the other and you’ll be good to go.
Don’t overheat the pan. While it can be tempting to crank up the heat to speed up the popping process, we want to be extra careful when making kettle corn not to burn the sugar. So keep the stove set between medium to medium-high heat and you should be set. (If in doubt, you’ll be able to tell after your first batch whether the heat was correct or too high.)
Better to under- than over-cook. I’ve found the sweet spot for removing the pan from the heat is when the kernels slow to an interval of 1 to 2 seconds between pops. Again, if in doubt, better to remove the popcorn earlier than later to avoid any burned sugar or kernels.
Give it time to cool. If you can exercise restraint, let the kettle corn cool for at least a few minutes before diving in. This will allow the sugar coating to cool and harden, avoiding sticky fingers. :)
Here are a few additional twists you can try with this recipe. (I recommend adding any of these mix-ins to the popcorn while it is still hot on the baking sheet.)
Add spices: Sprinkle with a light dusting of your favorite spices. I’m especially partial to cinnamon, everything bagel seasoning, rosemary powder, or Tajin.
Add Parmesan or nooch: Sprinkle the popcorn with Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast.
Add butter: Drizzle the popcorn with melted butter or brown butter.
Add chocolate: Drizzle the popcorn with melted chocolate or white chocolate.
Prep a sheet pan.Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper and set it aside.
Heat the oil.Add the oil and 3 or 4 popcorn kernels to a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cover and heat over medium-high heat until the kernels begin to pop.
Add the remaining ingredients.Immediately add the popcorn kernels and shake the pan to coat the kernels in the oil. (I find it works best to wear an oven mitt with one hand to hold the lid, and carefully shake the pan using your other hand to hold the handle.) Sprinkle the sugar and salt evenly over the popcorn kernels, then cover and shake the pan to combine.
Pop the popcorn.Continue cooking, giving the pan a quick and vigorous shake every 5 seconds or so, until there is a 2-second interval between pops.
Cool.Immediately remove the pan from the stove, uncover, and pour the popcorn out onto the prepared baking sheet. Use a wooden spoon to break up any clumps and spread it out in an even-ish layer. Then once the popcorn has cooled slightly, remove any unpopped kernels. Let the popcorn continue to cool a few more minutes until it reaches room temperature.