Homemade Microwave Caramel Corn

How to make homemade caramel corn in the microwave with no more than a few ordinary ingredients and a paper bag. (No mess, no fuss!) Just add some shake-it-up energy for some good family fun!

Homemade Caramel Corn ♥ KitchenParade.com, made in the microwave in a paper bag so no mess, no fuss. Fun for kids!

Just Two Steps & Six Everyday Ingredients. A Long-Time Family Favorite. A New Addition to The Homemade Pantry, a Kitchen Parade Specialty. Great for Food Gifts. Naturally Gluten Free. Rave Reviews. So Good!!

  • "I love it!!! We made it today and my kids are very very happy." ~ Jaden of Steamy Kitchen
  • "this popcorn was wonderful!! it was easy to make. it didnt take a lot of time and my parent and i loved it!" ~ Anonymous
  • What're you waiting for?!

Homemade Caramel Corn ♥ KitchenParade.com, made in the microwave in a paper bag so no mess, no fuss. Fun for kids!

Rethinking the Hustle & Bustle of the Holidays

Way, way back, my book club read Unplug the Christmas Machine: How to Have the Christmas You've Always Wanted (affiliate link) by Jo Robinson.

(Hmmm, very interesting. This book has real legs. It was brand-new when we read it in 1982 but there are new editions with the same title but a new subtitle, "A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season". Does one version speak to you more than the other? I dunno. I kinda prefer the first one. You?)


At the time, we were a group of mostly young mothers, some at home, some working outside the home. Many of us were caught up with creating memorable holidays for our families.

We wanted it all! The shopping, the gifts, the wrapping, the food, the parties, the decorating, the tree, the concerts, the church programs, the special outfits, the … you get the picture.

We had become “Christmas Machines” and had lost the real spirit of Christmas.

The book and our discussion helped us think about the holidays in a new way. Many of us decided to pare back our holiday activities to those we found most meaningful.

For families with children (and now, grandchildren!), making caramel corn some afternoon just might make the list. No special equipment is required. No big expense is needed. Paper bags are a little harder to come by than back then but the next time you (once again) forget your own reusable shopping bags and you're asked, "Paper or plastic," just answer, "Paper, please."

You can plan ahead or just wait until the right moment arises. Just imagine the fun of the kids (and the grandparents?!) dancing around the kitchen shaking their paper bags!

Homemade Caramel Corn ♥ KitchenParade.com, made in the microwave in a paper bag so no mess, no fuss. Fun for kids!

About This Recipe: Homemade Microwave Caramel Corn

  • Remember Cracker Jack? Mine isn't a copycat recipe (because Cracker Jack includes Spanish peanuts) but Homemade Caramel Corn coats already-popped popcorn with a light candy coating that's sweet, buttery, sticky and delicious! It's all made in the microwave in just two steps, first to cook the caramel, second to coat the popcorn with caramel. The second step uses a paper bag and this is where the real fun begins, as you "shake shake shake" that bag, distributing the hot caramel across all the popcorn.
  • Just Six Everyday Ingredients = brown sugar + butter + light corn syrup + salt + baking soda + popped popcorn (purchased or home-popped or even popped in the microwave in a paper bag)
  • This is a quick project, maybe a half hour tops, even with kids. It's not a project kids should do on their own, a grownup needs to be on top of this.
  • This is a fun project, watching the caramel cook in the microwave but mostly, just shake-shake-shaking the paper bag that holds the popcorn and caramel.
  • This recipe uses a microwave for both steps, cooking the caramel and coating popped corn with the hot caramel. No stove! No oven! Just the microwave.
  • This is pantry-friendly recipe, you may well have all the ingredients on hand, right now. Caramel corn ASAP, anyone?!
  • This is a budget-friendly recipe, no fancy ingredients, nothing special to shop for or have shipped.
  • This recipe works especially well for those Cooking for One or Two and in the mood for a quick sweet treat. As written, the recipe makes about 16 cups of caramel corn but it's easily halved and even quartered.
  • So good! I hope you love it!

  • Not quite what you're looking for? Check out my other ideas for holiday baking.
Homemade Caramel Corn ♥ KitchenParade.com, made in the microwave in a paper bag so no mess, no fuss. Fun for kids!

You Might Wonder Be Wondering ...

Have another question? Ask away, I'll do my best to answer!

  • Is it safe to use a paper bag in the microwave? Well, that depends. The USDA advises "no". (See USDA.) But as Taste of Home says, "... the paper bag method is a tried-and-true way to make homemade popcorn. To be safe, keep an eye on the microwave as the popcorn is popping."
  • I learned How to Cook Popcorn in a Microwave in a Paper Bag many years ago and how to make caramel corn in the microwave even longer ago. Never once have I experienced a problem.
  • BUT. I do use bags that have only contained dry goods, no produce, no dairy, no meat. I also use bags with minimal printed ink.
  • Most of all, I stay right by the microwave, ready to react instantly if the paper bag ignites. If the bag catches fire, I know to: (1) turn the microwave off right away and (2) leave the door completely closed until the fire burns itself out.

  • What is "light" corn syrup, exactly, again? First, corn syrup is NOT the same as the high-fructose corn syrup that we should avoid eating.
  • Light corn syrup looks like a clear, see-through simple syrup but it's thicker, more like pancake syrup. Dark corn syrup is a dark brown color, some families grew up using dark corn syrup for pancake syrup!
  • Your mom might just call corn syrup "Karo" (huh! pronounced kay-rho? rhymes with bay and know?!) because that's a popular brand of both light and dark corn syrup.
  • Are there substitutes? Yes. Similar caramel corn recipes substitute molasses or dark corn syrup for light corn syrup.
  • I haven't tried these but think that a golden syrup (like Lyle's Golden Syrup), brown rice syrup and our Midwestern favorite sorghum (also called sorghum syrup) would be good substitutes.
  • Would honey work? Possibly, maybe even probably. What about maple syrup? Again, yes, though maple syrup is usually slightly thinner than corn syrup.

Bookmark! PIN! Share!

How do you save and share favorite recipes? recipes that fit your personal cooking style? a particular recipe your mom or daughter or best friend would just love? If dancing in the kitchen to shake up caramel corn sounds fun, please do save and share! I'd be honored ...

Homemade Caramel Corn ♥ KitchenParade.com, made in the microwave in a paper bag so no mess, no fuss. Fun for kids!


Total preparation time: Take off your watch, round up the kids and have a good time!
Makes about 16 cups
  • 1 cup (200g) brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 8 tablespoons, 113g) salted butter
  • 1/4 cup (79g) light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (assumes table salt, use more if using unsalted butter)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

MAKE THE CARAMEL Combine the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt (no baking soda, not quite yet!) in a four-cup Pyrex measuring cup or a microwave-safe container of similar size.

In the microwave, heat the mixture for a few seconds and stir well to combine, repeat as needed until the butter melts and all the sugars can be stirred in.

Bring the mixture to a boil in the microwave, this will take 2 – 3 minutes on high, exactly how long depends on your microwave’s power. Once it starts to boil, boil for 3 minutes, stirring each time the mixture boils up and begins to overflow. Stay close! Do watch carefully so that it doesn't boil over!

Remove from the microwave and stir in the baking soda, the mixture will bubble up, don't worry, it's expected.

SHAKE IT UP! Meanwhile, place the popcorn in a large paper grocery bag. When the caramel is done, immediately pour it over the popped corn in the bag.

Close the bag (just fold the top over a couple of times) and shake it well, distributing the caramel throughout the bag.

Put the bag in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes on full power, shaking the bag thoroughly every 30 seconds to distribute the caramel onto the popcorn and to prevent burning.

COOL & DEVOUR Pour the caramel corn onto a cookie sheet to cool, breaking apart the pieces with your hands as it becomes cool enough to handle.

ALANNA's TIPS Before starting, make sure the paper bag you intend to use fits inside your microwave. If your microwave revolves, make sure that the plate can turn freely, that the bag isn't in the way. Do not double the recipe – if you want more, make multiple batches. If your microwave is small, work in batches using smaller paper bags. It may take a grown-up's touch every so often to give the bag enough "shake" to distribute the caramel. Similar recipes substitute molasses and dark corn syrup for light corn syrup.

FOR MORE INFO If you "skipped straight to the recipe," please scroll back to the top of this page for ingredient information, ingredient substitutions, tips and more. If you print this recipe, you'll want to check the recipe online for even more tips and extra information about ingredient substitutions, best results and more. See https://www.kitchenparade.com/2002/11/caramel-corn.php .
NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Cup when made with air-popped popcorn: 145 Calories; 6g Tot Fat; 4g Sat Fat; 15mg Cholesterol; 124mg Sodium; 23g Carb; 1g Fiber; 16g Sugar; 1g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 3 & PointsPlus 4 & future WW points
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Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail, you'll find my current address in the FAQs. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, for more scratch cooking recipes using whole, healthful ingredients, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. We love making caramel popcorn! It's just one of those fun family things that we do.

  2. look at us with our sweet popcorn makin'! I made some kettle corn (with BACON!!) this week. I've yet to try caramel corn, but your's sounds easy enough. I do love caramel...and popcorn...

  3. What? Wait a minute - you mean after you shake it, you put the bag and all back in the microwave for 3 minutes? I've never made caramel corn so I don't know. But this would be a fun thing to do with the grandson.

  4. Andrea ~ With three little boys, the excitement must be huge!

    Stef ~ I saw that, you had me drooling. I accidentally made 'bacon caramel' before Thanksgiving, in the cast-iron skillet my dad uses to cook his morning bacon. It was gorgeous. And yes, this is easy-easy, there's no going wrong.

    Sally ~ You've got it. When the caramel cooks first, it's in a liquid-y state, thick but definitely pourable. And so it needs to cook a bit more and adhere to the popcorn, hence the paper bag that yes, goes back into the microwave. Take pics of you and your grandson, shaking it up!!

  5. My mother made caramel corn every year - it was/is her favorite Christmas treat!
    Wouldn't go near a microwave, though.

  6. I'm excited to make this, looks so yummy! However, I have a very small microwave and I don't think that a large paper bag full of popcorn will fit inside. Should I half (or quarter...) the recipe and do it in batches??

  7. Maryanna ~ A full-size grocery bag fills my microwave, too, the bag touches the wall all the way around, though without scrunching the bag. So I think you'll be okay as long as you don't scrunch the bag. Or you can consider this an 'opportunity' and do multiple batches ~ more dancing in the kitchen!

  8. I love it!!! We made it today and my kids are very very happy.

    I'm very happy too - they sugar-crashed and went to bed early.


  9. Anonymous8/30/2008

    this popcorn was wonderful!! it was easy to make. it didnt take a lot of time and my parent and i loved it!


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna