I’m always tempted by the kettle corn in giant bags at fairs or farmers markets, especially when it’s made fresh from a giant cast-iron kettle. I rarely buy any, thinking it’s silly to pay several dollars for something that is pennies to make on my own. But then I never make it.
This summer I finally got around to making kettle corn at home. It is goofy easy, and you can tailor the sweet-salty balance to your liking. The first batch I made I thought was too sweet (and I like sweet), so I made another salty batch and mixed them together. And then I fed a whole bunch of kids. For pennies!
I’ve been attached to my air popper for many years, but I love how the old fashioned oil-and-stovetop method eliminates the step of melting and adding butter afterward. Plus I end up adding more butter to the air-popped corn than the oil I use in this kettle corn recipe.
Kettle corn reminds me of apple picking at Lynd’s Fruit Farm in Pataskala, Ohio, where we took the kids a couple of years ago. They had real-deal kettle corn, and we loved watching the kettle man stirring with the long wooden spoon.
Kettle corn doesn’t get any fresher than that. And we also got the candied nuts in the Brutus Buckeye bag.
At home, I like to put my popcorn and sugar together before I start. Normally I’m lazy with advance prep, but hot oil makes me nervous.
Everything ready at the stove.
My brother- and sister-in-law bought us this Whirley Pop popper years ago. It’s cute, but any large pot with lid will work just as well.
Add three kernels with the oil. When they pop, you’ll know the oil is hot enough. Add the sugar with the rest of the kernels.
Stir and cover. Or with the Whirley-Pop, you can cover and then stir with the built-in crank.
Hold the lid and shake your pot (or stir your Whirley-Pop) frequently during cooking. When popping slows down, remove the pot from the heat and pour into a large bowl. The sugar in kettle corn makes it more prone to burning/browning, so once it’s popped you’ll want to get it out right away.
The Whirley-Pop has an attached lid, with two halves hinged in the center. Half the lid is supposed to stay clamped shut while you pour the popcorn neatly out the other half. But my clamp doesn’t hold, so the whole thing flaps open.
Salt to taste.
Normally I’m too practical to buy specialty kitchenware, but when I saw the bottom of the bowls I had to get a few of my own.
Why wait for fairs when kettle corn makes such an easy home snack that satisfies both sweet and salty cravings? For pennies, a mere half-cup of kernels will make four quarts of popped corn.
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
- 2-3 tablespoons granulated sugar (2T will be lightly sweet)
- Salt to taste (about 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, less if table salt)
- Put popcorn kernels in bowl with sugar.
- In a large pot over medium-high heat, add oil and three kernels of popcorn. Cover pot. When kernels pop, add popcorn and sugar and stir. Cover pot again and cook, shaking pot very frequently (good idea to hold the lid as you do), until popping slows (1-2 seconds between pops; don’t wait, or you may scorch the whole batch). Turn off heat and pour popcorn into a large bowl. Salt to taste and serve.
Makes about 16 cups of popped corn, or about four servings.
- Because of the sugar, it’s much easier to scorch kettle corn than regular popcorn. I rarely buy specialized cookware, but I love my Whirly Pop stovetop popper, because its crank stir mechanism helps keep the popcorn from burning. It’s also easy to use and manageable for older kids making stovetop popcorn.
- For anyone going out to the movies, one batch of kettle corn fits nicely into four Ziploc sandwich bags and will save you from overpriced, chemical-laden movie theater popcorn.
- Store any extra in an airtight container, and it should be fine for a couple of days. The taste won’t change, it just gets a bit less crisp as it absorbs moisture from the air.
Here’s the link to a printable version.
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