We all have classic treats that make us nostalgic, and kettle corn is one of mine.
I first had it in my late teens, and every time I see (or smell!) it cooking it takes me back to that freer, simpler time of life.
But that’s not the only reason why I hunt down this treat. Memory lane is nice and all, but it pales in comparison to the tastiness of this sweet and salty popcorn. It’s become one of my favorite snack foods when lounging around the house, especially once I figured out how easy it was to make.
Becuase, you guys, a whole batch of kettle corn could be yours in 10 minutes or less.
It’s hard not to make a batch when it’s that easy!
What is kettle corn?
In short, kettle corn is popcorn that’s been sweetened with sugar while cooking. Once made, it’s typically seasoned with a touch of salt. This gives it a sweet and salty taste.
Where is kettle corn from?
I was first introduced to kettle corn during a Highlanders festival at college. I always assumed this meant it had a Scottish background, but come to find out, that’s not the case at all. It actually first appeared in Pennsylvania from Dutch settlers in the 18th century.
Flash forward a few hundred years and kettle corn has become an American staple at festivals and fairs, regardless of origin or occasion.
What kind of pan to use for stovetop popcorn
This recipe hinges on being cooked on the stovetop, and in order to do that, you need the “right” pan. I know this because I’ve tried using the “wrong” pan in the past and it was a total disaster.
You can always shell out the money for a special popcorn popper, but in almost all cases, that’s not necessary. In fact, I’ll bet you probably already have a perfect pan for popping popcorn hidden in the back of your pantry.
So, what pan should you use? Look for something that fits these requirements:
- A wide, shallow pan, like a high-sided skillet. I haven’t had as much success with deep pots like stockpots and saucepans.
- The thinner (and in some ways, the cheaper) the pan, the better. Don’t be like me and whip out your deluxe dutch oven. When cooking stovetop popcorn, and especially kettle corn, you want something that will transfer heat fast and be easy to lift.
- A pan with a glass lid would be ideal so you can watch the progress of the popcorn and the color of the sugar.
How long does kettle corn last?
In most cases, homemade kettle corn should last for up to two to three weeks when stored in an airtight container.
You can also store it “fair style” in a plastic bag, but this can limit the freshness to one week. You can never be 100% sure that there isn’t a hole in the bag, no matter how small, and that can impact the shelf life. So if longevity is your goal, store it in a hard plastic container (or something similar) with a sealable lid.
More great snack recipes
Notes & tips for kettle corn popcorn
- I mentioned this before, but I can’t stress it enough – make sure you’re using a good pop for popping popcorn. See the notes above for my tips.
- If you don’t already have one, you’ll need an extra large bowl to transfer the cooked kettle popcorn to.
How to make kettle popcorn
This next part is only a photo tutorial of the recipe steps. If you’re looking for the full recipe measurements and instructions, scroll down to Recipe Details.
Step 1 – Using a pot suitable for stovetop popcorn (see notes above), warm up some vegetable oil. Add popcorn and sugar, give it a quick toss to coat, and then cover the pot with a glass lid.
Step 2 – Listen for the popcorn to pop. Once you hear the first one, set a timer for three to four minutes. The key to kettle corn is continuously lifting the pop from the heat source, giving it a few good shakes, and then placing it back in the heat for five to ten seconds. You’ll repeat this shaking step for the full three to four minutes while the popcorn pops. Use the glass lid to keep an eye on the popcorn (making sure that the sugar doesn’t burn.) When the popping starts to slow, remove the pot from heat. Don’t worry if not all the kernels pop; it’s more important to make sure you don’t overcook the sugar.
Step 3 – Quickly transfer the cooked kettle corn to a large bowl. Don’t let the popcorn sit in the pot it cooked in; the sugar will burn, so move quickly. Season the popcorn with salt and then stir to coat.
Step 4 – If needed, remove any of the unpopped kernels while the popcorn is still warm. If you wait, they’ll end up sticking to the popped popcorn.
Step 5 – Either enjoy immediately or allow to cool before eating. Both ways are delicious!
Homemade Kettle Corn
Perfect for a movie night or gifting by the bag, this homemade kettle corn will cure all your sweet and salty food cravings. Plus, you can make this festival favorite in less than 10 minutes!
In a wide, shallow, and thin-edged skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. While oil heats, set a 13 quart mixing bowl nearby.
- Add popcorn and sugar to skillet with oil, then use a spatula to quickly stir ingredients together. Cover pot with a glass lid.
- Listen for the first kernel of popcorn to pop. Once it has, begin a timer of 3-4 minutes. Lift the skillet up from the heat source and (while also holding the lid in place) give the skillet a few shakes, ideally until you hear the sugar sizzle inside. Return the skillet to the heat source for 5-10 seconds, then repeat the shake. Continue this for the full 3-4 minutes or until the popping begins to slow down. While you work, keep an eye on the color of the sugar; a golden color is okay, but a deep, dark brown means that it's burning. It's okay if all the kernels don't pop; it's more important to cook the popcorn properly and not burn the sugar than get every kernel to cooperate.
- Quickly remove the skillet from heat and pour the finished popcorn into the large mixing bowl. Do not let the popcorn sit in the skillet; the sugar will burn and ruin the popcorn. Once transferred, you can remove any unpopped kernels with a spoon.
- Season kettle corn with salt, then use a spatula to gently toss and distribute.
- Finished kettle corn can be served immediately or eaten once cooled.
Recipe from PBS.