Spicy Cheese-Caramel Popcorn

[Photograph: Jennifer Olvera]

About the author: Jennifer Olvera is a veteran food and travel writer and author of Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago.

Spicy Cheese-Caramel Popcorn

About This Recipe

Yield:makes 10 cups popcorn
Active time:20 minutes
Total time:50 minutes
This recipe appears in: Bar Bites: Chicago-Style Spicy Cheese-Caramel Popcorn


  • ¾ cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
  • For the Caramel:
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • For the Cheese:
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 ½ tablespoons cheddar cheese powder, divided
  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • Kosher salt


  1. 1

    Pop popcorn in a large pot, an air popper, a popcorn popper, or a microwave as desired. Separate popcorn into two even batches, placing them in large bowls. You should have about five cups for each batch.

  2. 2

    Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 225°F.

  3. 3

    Add butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt to a medium saucepan set to medium-high heat. Whisk to incorporate and bring to a boil. Let bubble untouched for three minutes until gooey and caramel-scented. Remove from heat and add baking soda, whisking to combine.

  4. 4

    Pour caramel onto one batch of popcorn, stirring with a spoon until surfaces and crevices are covered. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread caramel corn on baking sheets in a single layer, splitting evenly between the two trays. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from oven allow to cool completely, until caramel has a glossy, hardened, candy-like appearance.

  5. 5

    Meanwhile, combine melted butter, 1 tablespoon cheese powder and Tabasco in a small bowl. Pour mixture over second batch of popcorn. Toss to combine and season with salt, as needed. Sprinkle with remaining cheese powder and stir thoroughly to combine.

  6. 6

    Mix caramel and cheese corn together and serve.


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