I love popcorn. I eat it almost every day for my afternoon snack; some days it’s lunch. Drizzled with unsalted butter and Old Bay is best …. I know, I know; living on the edge. And I live in a house where there is always a hunk of BD’s home-smoked bacon in the freezer. It was kizmet; eventually I was going to find a way to get those two crazy kids together.
One day, I was having a hankering for a snack but had very few options in the pantry. I decided to make caramel popcorn but didn’t just want something sweet. It needed … something. What? I wanted sweet but then I wanted salty. Caramel corn’s crunchy but maybe it needs something chewy. Hmm… what about bacon. [The heavens opened; the choirs sang.] Not sure what the scientific term for the phenomenon is, but my entire mouth was happy. Ah, well, maybe not the sour segment but a twangy wheat beer takes care of that.
I’ve made this caramel corn for friends, family, road trips, and just munching around the house. I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t gobble it up. I’ve actually seen a person go full monkey tilt when they went to get a nibble only to find it was gone. That’s a testimony. It’s also affirmation of that old adage “the early bird gets the worm.”
Enjoy this fun treat and find a few someones to share it with. Otherwise, you may find yourself sitting with an empty bowl and nobody but yourself to blame. Enough chitter chatter. Go have at it!
I used a hunk of bacon and cut it into pieces just slightly smaller than a popped piece of corn. This size keeps a bit of chew to the bacon once it’s cooked which is a lovely contrast to the crunchy corn. If you use sliced bacon, get it as thick as you can and cook it before crumbling or cutting with a knife to add to the popcorn. Make sure you drain on several changes of paper towels. You want the bacon; not the grease.
You will need to pop 4 quarts (16 cups) of popcorn. Make sure you remove the unpopped kernels. They are not pleasant to bite into. I pop the corn into my large bowl, measure it onto my baking sheet, and then dump all the bits and kernels at the bottom of the bowl out. At this point, very lightly spray the inside of the mixing bowl with no-stick spray and put the popcorn back into the bowl for the next step. The spray will help immensely with mixing and clean up. As a side note, I do not cook popcorn in oil so I can’t vouch for how the recipe would work if you went old school and popped the corn in oil in a covered pan. My first thought is that it would be way too greasy. If you try that method, please let me know how it works out. And I’m not even entertaining the idea of store-bought popped corn. Get to the big box store and you can get a right proper air popper for under fifteen dollars.
This caramel is no fail. Okay, well, don’t take that as a challenge. Let’s just say that if you put the ingredients into a sturdy pot, turn the heat to medium, stir occasionally until it starts to boil at which point you will stop stirring, set the timer to five minutes and let it boil without bothering it, and then remove from the heat, you will have success. Seriously, this is just that easy. Do NOT be tempted to taste at this point. You are welcome.
After the caramel comes off of the heat, quickly add the baking soda and then [USING POT HOLDERS … I recently had a bad kitchen burn so apologies for yelling but seriously, heed the warning] carefully pour it over the popcorn and bacon. Stir it in thoroughly and quickly. Do NOT taste at this point either. You are welcome.
Pour the thoroughly combined mixture onto the baking sheet and spread it evenly. It will be a generous full pan (or two if you’re using smaller pans). Put into the preheated oven for one hour and remember to stir every 20 minutes. Do NOT taste at this point, however, if you find a few bits of popcorn and bacon that didn’t make it to the baking sheet, give them about five or six minutes and then have a taste. Now you are really welcome [slow knowing wink].
Cover your counter or kitchen table with aluminum foil, parchment, or waxed paper. When you remove the bacon caramel popcorn from the oven, spread it out onto the covered surface and let it cool for 10 minutes. NOW you can eat it with abandon. As it cools, it will crisp up more. Do not store it until it is completely cooled, about an hour.
As I’ve been typing, I’ve been nibbling on the latest batch. Alas, I just reached in and found the bowl empty. I guess that means I’m done.
Bacon Caramel Popcorn
6-8 oz bacon (hunk or thick preferable but really any cut will work)
4 quarts air-popped corn (approx 1/2 cup unpopped kernels)
Non-stick cooking spray
1 cup butter, unsalted
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp baking soda
sea salt (I use Maldon) for sprinkling, completely optional
If using slab bacon, cut it into 1/2 inch dice. If using sliced bacon, cook in strips (you can crumble it later). Cook bacon over medium-low heat until cooked through, chewy not crisp (it will be in the oven for an hour with the popcorn so will crisp a bit then). Put onto paper towels to absorb excess grease. If you used bacon slices, coarsely crumble it. Change the paper towels once or twice to make sure the bacon is not sitting in its own grease. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200º F.
Put the popped corn into a generously large bowl that you have spritzed with a bit of nonstick cooking spray. Make sure to remove any unpopped kernels.
Add the chopped (or crumbled) bacon to the popped corn. No need to stir it in. Set aside.
Cover a half-sheet baking sheet (or two smaller baking sheets) with foil and spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
Into a heavy-bottomed medium pot (I used a 4 qt), combine the butter, brown sugar, kosher salt, and corn syrup. Over medium heat, stirring occasionally bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes without stirring. Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda.
Carefully pour the caramel over the popcorn and bacon and stir to incorporate.
Pour the caramel-coated corn and bacon onto the baking sheet(s) and place in the oven. Bake for one hour, stirring every twenty minutes, switching racks if you’ve used two baking sheets.
When you take the bacon caramel popcorn out of the oven, spread out on aluminum foil, parchment or waxed paper laid out on the counter.
**If you like the taste of salted caramel, fresh out of the oven is the time to sprinkle a flaked sea salt, like Maldon, onto the popcorn. Add to taste.
**To store, I always put it back into the large mixing bowl that I started with (washed, natch) and pop it, uncovered, into the cool oven. It can be transported in sealed gallon storage bags but should be opened a bit before serving to keep it from getting soft.