Chica and Jo
...simplifying life
Chica and Jo
...simplifying life
Chica and Jo

Make kettle corn at home

by: Chica

I remember the first time I tasted kettle corn. It was at a local art fair in the park and I saw the booth where they were using the giant copper kettle to make popcorn and I thought they were crazy… that is, until I tasted a free sample. I was instantly hooked and bought the largest bag they had. Since then, I simply can not pass a kettle corn booth without buying some. Fairs don’t happen every day, though, and sometimes I need some perfectly sweet and salty popcorn at home, so I learned how to make my own, and for mere pennies a batch!

You’ll start with a simple hand-cranked stovetop popcorn popper, such as a Whirley-Pop. These guys have been all the rage over the last few years, and lots of people have one, but now you’ve got a reason to actually use it! What’s great about these (and key to making kettle corn) is the fact that there’s a little stirring blade inside that you can turn with the crank on the handle. This lets you keep the popcorn moving and evenly coat it with sugar as it cooks (and you don’t have to shake the pan at all while it’s popping).

kettle corn

The next thing you’ll need is some ordinary popcorn. Forget those bags of microwave stuff that cost a fortune and contain more calories than you should probably eat in a day. Just buy a jar or bag of regular popcorn kernels. Jo happens to prefer the Orville Redenbacher White Popping Corn, but I insist that there’s no difference between that and a $1.35 bag of generic popcorn from the local grocery store.

Now you need to get everything prepped and ready. When the popcorn starts popping, you’ll have to move fast, so get it all together now:

  1. Measure out 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels and dump it into the popper (don’t put it on the burner yet!)

    kettle corn

  2. Add 3 tbsp of vegetable oil to the kernels.

    kettle corn

  3. Measure out 1/4 cup of sugar and have it ready next to the stove.

    kettle corn

  4. Have a large bowl ready nearby.
  5. Get the salt shaker and have it ready.

All set and ready? Let’s make some kettle corn:

  1. Put the popper on the burner on medium-high heat.
  2. Start turning the crank on the popper somewhat slowly (take about 1-2 seconds per rotation) and wait while the oil and popcorn heat up.

    kettle corn

  3. As soon as you hear one or two kernels pop, QUICKLY open the lid, dump in the sugar, and close the lid back up. Do this fast so you don’t end up with popcorn all over your kitchen!
  4. Continue to turn the crank on the popper, at the same rate. You’ll notice that the popping slows down, because the sugar has cooled the oil slightly. Keep turning the crank and soon you’ll hear the popping start up again.
  5. As soon as the popping starts again, increase your speed on the crank to about 3 turns per second. You’ve got to keep it all moving so that the sugar doesn’t burn and the popcorn is evenly coated.
  6. When the popping reaches its peak, remove the popper from the burner but KEEP turning the crank! Do not stop until the popping has almost stopped.
  7. Dump the popcorn into a bowl.

    kettle corn

  8. Immediately sprinkle the popcorn with salt.

    kettle corn

  9. You’ll see that the popcorn is sticking together and may be one giant clump. Turn it over and over in your hands and add more salt, as desired. You don’t want to put too much salt on, but you want to get it on all the kernels.
  10. As the popcorn cools, the clump will break apart easily with a quick stir.

Now you’ve got yourself a yummy, sweet and salty snack to enjoy, and it’s low-calorie and inexpensive to boot. And it was so easy!

kettle corn

Right about now is when you’ll look at the popper and wonder how you’ll ever get it clean. It’s easy — just put it in the sink and fill it with hot water. Come back an hour later and all the sugar will have dissolved and it will rinse clean.

Some final tips:

  1. If you want to make more popcorn in a single batch, you can try increasing your quantities of kernels and sugar to 1/2 cup of each, but be careful not to do too much at once, or it won’t fit in the popper! I prefer smaller batches, which gives me control over the sugar and prevents burning.
  2. If you want to make a second batch after the first one, you can do so without cleaning the popper in between uses. Anything more than twice, though, and you’ll have too much sugar build-up in the popper and it’ll burn.
  3. Kettle corn will stay fresh and crispy in an air-tight container for several days. If you set it out for a party or outdoor event, keep in mind that humidity will cause the popcorn to lose its crunch and stick together (I learned that lesson the hard way!)

You can also add extra flavor to kettle corn if you want to punch it up. I recently got some Sweet Sensations popcorn seasoning in cinnamon and peppermint, and sprinkled it on instead of salt in a batch of kettle corn. The peppermint is an unusual, fun, and tasty flavor twist. The cinnamon was amazing, and Jo went nuts over it!

homemade kettle corn

84 comments so far:

  • 1
    Chica 04/13/2011 at 7:12 am

    Hello Mary, and we’re delighted to be hearing from you in Italy. We are actually planning to visit Italy next summer! I’m excited that we’ve given you the recipe you need, but I’ve never thought about making a Whirley Pop before. Hmm… As you can see in this picture, there are two metal arms at the bottom of the pan that rotate around to stir the popcorn on the bottom. If you can fashion something like that out of heavy wire and feed it up to a turning gear in the lid of the pan… Gosh, I think it would be a lot easier to just buy one on Amazon :)

  • 2
    Heather 06/08/2011 at 10:37 pm

    Thanks for the sugar substitute recipe. I just made a batch and it tastes sooo good! I wasn’t sure if splenda alone would create the crunch I love so much, but adding white sugar did the trick.

    And if you are looking to change it up (just a little), add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract. Yum!

  • 3
    Chica 06/09/2011 at 8:18 am

    Heather, a little vanilla sounds like a great addition. I wonder how it would taste with some of the vanilla-butter-nut flavoring that we use with our Butterbeer recipe and sell in our store? Hey Jo – you should give that a try!

  • 4
    Jo 06/10/2011 at 4:38 pm

    Hmmm…Butterbeer kettle corn! Sounds yummy to me!

  • 5
    Lena 07/15/2011 at 3:51 pm

    My late husband used to make Kettle corn in a “Stir Crazy”.

    Unfortunately I don’t know how much oil, corn and sugar he used..

    Now I do want to get a stir crazy and try your recipe!

    Thank you for sharing it!

  • 6
    Chica 07/15/2011 at 7:48 pm

    Lena, I haven’t seen one of those in ages. Since it has the revolving arms on the bottom, I bet it would work much like the Whirley Pop. One thought, though… you can completely soak a Whirley Pop in water to get the hardened sugar off, but it doesn’t look like you could do that with the Stir Crazy. But the Stir Crazy has a nonstick surface, so maybe it wouldn’t matter? If you get one, let us know how it works out!

  • 7
    Stephanie 07/27/2011 at 12:14 am

    Necessity is the mother of invention. I don’t have a Whirley Pop and I had an uncontrollable craving for kettle corn this weekend so I figured I’d try it in a pot and just go for it. It worked! I have one of those non-stick pasta pans with holes in the lid to drain water from (this was perfect for letting the steam vent). I googled several recipes and settled on 1/4c oil, 1/2c kernels, 1/4c sugar. You add the oil in the pan on medium-high heat, and toss in 3 kernels. Once all three kernels pop the oil is hot enough, then you dump in the sugar and kernels. To keep it from burning I used a wooden spoon and stirred for 20-30 seconds or as long as I dared before the popcorn starting going. Then I put on the lid and started shaking while keeping it on the burner. I took it off the heat before it was done popping (it goes extremely fast) and then once it stopped, immediately put it in a bowl to sprinkle with some kosher salt. Shake it up and you’re good to go! I’ve made it 3 times since then (Yes, every night – this is bad, very bad!) and haven’t burnt it once. :) Plus, since the pan is non-stick it is a breeze to clean.

  • 8
    Chica 07/27/2011 at 8:03 am

    Stephanie, I’m glad to hear you had good results with a regular pan and stirring. I tried that myself and it didn’t turn out well at all. You must be a stronger (or braver) stirrer than I am! :)

  • 9
    CherylAnn 07/30/2011 at 4:52 pm

    Kettle Corn has been around for ages and I have had my Whirly Pop for years, since before 2005. Recipes came with it, incluing the one above, thought they recommend as the #57 post states to put 3 kernels in the oil, then when those pop add the rest of kernels and the sugar. They also had a recipe variation, that I am surprised hasn’t been mentioned yet. Use brown sugar instead of the white/granulated sugar and it gives a caramel corn taste to it. Yummy!

  • 10
    Chica 07/30/2011 at 5:05 pm

    Hi CherylAnn! I’m tickled to hear that the recipe we came up with while experimenting is so close to the “official” one from the packaging. Great minds think alike, I guess! I like the idea of testing with 3 kernels, and I love the idea of using brown sugar… I bet that makes it very tasty.

  • 11
    joann 07/31/2011 at 8:20 pm

    Hi…. I just made a batch of kettle corn for the first time the other night…I used a Stir Crazy and the recipe was 1/4 cup each of popcorn, sugar and oil. I used olive oil and I used white popcorn.
    I let the oil heat a bit, added the corn and when the first kernel popped, I dumped in the sugar..had to be fast to do that for the corn was starting to take off… end result was PERFECT..the corn was just the way it should be, it had a nice crisp coat to it and did not burn.

    I flipped it over into its own bowl..then started breaking it up..but realized the plastic bowl which is also the cover to the Stir Crazy had hardened sugar drops on it…so I put the corn in to a different bowl and soaked the plastic bowl/lid..the sugar dissolved by the time the popcorn was eaten… no issue there.

    The bottom of the Stir Crazy has a non stick it wiped clean very easily…however I have been wondering if the sugar will build up in the mechanism that turns the wire stirrer??…I dont know yet as I only made the one batch..but it came out perfect..and I am trying right now to justify making another batch tonight…. IT IS A KEEPER! But think I will try a bit of Splenda or Truvia next time and not use so much real sugar.. I will try to come back here and post if I do that and what the ratio was that I used..

  • 12
    Jo 08/01/2011 at 1:04 pm

    joann, we’ve been making the kettle corn in our Whirley Pop for years now and it hasn’t clogged up our stirrer so as long as you soak it immediately in some hot water, you should be fine. Let us know how your batch turns out with the lower sugar. I have been trying to perfect that myself!

  • 13
    Denise 08/14/2011 at 2:31 am

    I have made this for several years. I use a pan on stove. The key I found is to only use glass lid. And a non stick kettle. I put in 1\2 cup oil, and 3 kernels when they pop I add 1\4 cup sugar and stir it in than add 1 cup of pop corn. And let it pop shaking a bit. When done I dump in glass cake pan and salt. than when cooled enough to handle I put in large container with lid. 1. You do not have all the unwanted kernels . 2. It is ready and fresh for many days kept up to a week in Tupperware.

  • 14
    tom 08/29/2011 at 7:39 pm

    for the true authentic Kettle corn recipe you have to use mushroom popcorn. It pops into a round ball and has more surface area to hold the sugar and salt… I just bought some mushroom popcorn on eBay and it makes the world of difference:

  • 15
    Sara 09/17/2011 at 6:18 pm

    Hi. I was just wondering, I’ve never done this previously, but is there a way to color dye the popcorn ? I wanted to make kettle corn this year as gifts to give to family members since I’m on a strict budget. I don’t know how to go about adding food coloring and making sure it coats evenly. Thanks!

  • 16
    Chica 09/17/2011 at 9:55 pm

    Sara, you can definitely color the kettle corn. Jo first tried this last year for some Halloween popcorn and has used the technique several times since. Check out that post to see the details on how to do it!

  • 17
    Jim from Minnesota 09/28/2011 at 1:24 pm

    I just made a variation of this recipe using a sugar substitute. I put in a stir popper 1/4 cup of Orville Redenbacher Buttery Popcorn Oil; 1/4 cup of yellow popcorn, 1/4 cup of Altern which is Walmart’s Great Value sugar substitute. I think any sugar substitute would work. I set the electric stove on medium high.

    I stirred the popper three or four turns and then shook the kettle so the mixture would be in the center of the kettle. Let stand and cook 20 seconds and did another three to four turns, shook to center oil and corn and let cook again.

    When it started to pop, I continued to stir until it started to give a good strong popping acting and then shut the heat off. I stirred another 15 seconds and then dumped it into a large bowl.

    I then took a fine salt salt and mixed it in. The popcorn came out 99.5 percent perfect. The taste was great. I only had around 6 to 7 slighly burned pieces and they even were good to eat.

    Clean up was simple. Fill the kettle half full of hot water. Add some soup and any sticky materials in the kettle wash right away. If there is anything burnt on the bottom, use a scrub pad and it will come right off. Clean the top the same way. Everything washes up perfect. Clean up took about five minutes.

    Next time I will put the sugar substitute in when the first piece pops and see if there is a difference.

    Highly recommend using a sugar substitute if you are watching carbs or need to be on a low sugar diet.

  • 18
    Chica 09/28/2011 at 7:48 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing your results, Jim. I’m very glad to hear that the recipe worked with sugar substitute!

  • 19
    Annette 10/22/2011 at 10:44 pm

    This recipe for kettle corn was so easy and quick…and the best part is it is even better that the kettle corn we usually get at our local farmer’s market. I’m definitely addicted. Thanks for posting.

  • 20
    Marilyn 01/06/2012 at 10:39 am

    Why don’t you add the salt to the kettle with the sugar?? won’t it be more evenly distributed to the popcorn?

  • 21
    GailG 06/02/2012 at 4:55 pm

    I had bought some kettle corn packets from an on line supplier and although the popcorn was great, it was quite expensive. I took one of the packets and separated the contents into measuring cups to get the exact amounts. I get great kettle corn every time now. The commercial kettle corn recipe uses soy oil. I have found that it’s soooooooo much better using coconut oil. The flavor is lighter and you can taste the popcorn along with the sugar and salt instead of just sweet and salty. The commercial recipe id 1/3c soy oil, 1/4c sugar, 1c popping corn and salt to taste

  • 22
    Shanda 09/21/2012 at 9:52 pm

    Thanks for the recipe and all the tips in the comments! I just tried this with a couple of my own variations (coconut oil and less sugar) I also read some where else to put about 3 kernels in the oil and wait for them to pop before you add the rest. I’m a bit impatient so I only waited until I heard them sizzle. I also turned up the heat, because of previously mentioned impatience, a couple of pieces came out a bit caramelized but still yummy!

  • 23
    Jeanne 10/16/2012 at 3:40 am

    Thanks so much for this recipe! I love popcorn! The REAL kind.. not those in the microwave bag, or popped in an air popper. Over the stove and in a pan! :}} I’m 54 yrs old and JUST tried kettle corn for the 1st time a few weeks ago at our downtown counrty market. It’s closed now for the season, and I was so sad to know I missed the last day when I had planned on getting one last bag of kettle corn. I don’t know how I found your page, but boy am I glad I did. I want to make this recipe for family members for Christmas gifts and give it along with some Harry Potter ButterBeer! I can just imagine the combination! YUM! BTW, thanks Sharon ^ for the diabetic recipe (I’m diabetic myself, so that really helps!) I don’t have a Whirley Pop yet, but I just hit Amazon after reading all these wonderful posts and one is now on it’s way! I can’t wait to have my grandbabies taste all the yummy goodness of the kettlecorn once I make it! (I hope mine comes out as good as yours!) Again, thanks so much for all the tips and comments and posting something I know I am REALLY going to enjoy for years to come! :}}

  • 24
    Chica 10/16/2012 at 7:25 am

    Jeanne, we’re so glad you found us! Like you, I had my first taste of kettle corn at a festival very late in summer and then couldn’t find it again for ages. It was so frustrating to wait to taste that salty-sweet delight again! Now I never have to wait, because I can just make it myself. Good luck with the popcorn and the Butterbeer and we hope you continue to enjoy the many projects on our site.

  • 25
    Eileen 10/22/2012 at 4:08 am

    very fun site with great instructions!

  • 26
    Victoria 10/24/2012 at 3:03 am

    change out the vegetable oil with coconut oil (found at Trader Joe’s) and the flavor is great and much healthier still

  • 27
    Chica 10/24/2012 at 8:16 am

    Thanks for the tip, Victoria!

  • 28
    John 12/02/2012 at 8:41 pm

    I just made a batch. I used just over half of the sugar and couple of tablespoons of melted butter added with the salt after popping. It is amazing, and so easy.

  • 29
    Alora 01/07/2013 at 10:53 am

    Thanks for this recipe. We found our old popcorn popper that was stored down in the basement for many years to try this out. The results were excellent. We used olive oil instead of vegetable oil but had fantastic results!

  • 30
    Tiffany 01/26/2013 at 2:40 pm

    I have been looking for a good kettle corn recipe, and came across your post. I was so excited because I had just purchased the Whirley Popper about 2 weeks ago, and just got a great sale on the Orville Reddenbacher pop corn, so I had everything that I needed. This is the best kettle corn I’ve ever tasted, so satisfied, thank you for sharing.

  • 31
    Chica 01/26/2013 at 4:08 pm

    Hooray, Tiffany! Sounds like everything came together for you perfectly :)

  • 32
    Lisa 01/26/2013 at 7:07 pm

    Followed the kettle corn recipe. My husband and I both love, love, loved it. It is perfect. A little to perfect. I could eat it every night. The next time I make it, I’m going to try it with all Splenda. Has anyone tried this to cut the calories?

  • 33
    Lisa 01/26/2013 at 7:13 pm

    BTW. I used the walmart brand, True Value, popcorn and was surprised at how big the popcorn kernel was. Thanks sooooo much for the recipe.

  • 34
    Chica 01/27/2013 at 11:44 am

    Lisa, glad to hear that the Walmart brand worked so well, and sorry (but not really!) to have given you a new addition :) We have not tried this with Splenda before, but in the comments above, Heather said that she used Splenda and some white sugar to ensure crunch, and that “did the trick”. If you try it out, please come back and let us know how it worked for you.

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