Thursday, February 10, 2011

Addicting Kettle Corn

Kettle corn is, by far, my number one snack to get at farmer's markets. I was first introduced to it when I was in high school. My church used to meet right in the hub of town on Del Mar Street in the middle of San Clemente. There was a Sunday morning farmer's market on Del Mar, so every week after church, we would stroll up the street market. First, it was that amazing, sweet smell that drew us to the kettle corn cart; but then I actually tasted the fresh, warm, crunchy treat. Unfortunately, it became a habit of mine to buy a big bag of that sweet-n-salty snack every week.

This past fall, my love for kettle corn was rekindled when Peter bought me a big bag of that same fresh street-vendor style when we were at a USC football game. Since then, I have figured out how to recreate that warm, crunchy treat at home! I have played around with this recipe a bunch, so I am finally ready to share the finished product. I will share with you not just the recipe, but also a few tips from some of my trials and errors so that you won't have to endure any wasted test batches like I did.

Recipe List:
3 Tbsp Oil (preferably vegetable, corn, or peanut)
1/3 cup Popping Corn Kernels
3 Tbsp Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt (I actually like a pinch less than a full 1/4 tsp, but you don't have to be so exact if you aren't as particular)

First mix together the corn kernels with the sugar. You'll want to have this done first so that it will be ready to go when the oil is hot. You'll also want a long handled spoon ready and waiting as well.

Then heat the 3 Tbsp of oil in a 3 quart pot over medium-high heat. Watch the oil closely, because you need to know right when it starts to smoke (not the desert mirage type of ripple in the air, but the actual lightly faint smoke). I watch the pot from this angle so that I can see the faint smoke as soon as it starts to lightly billow up: 

then dump in the sugar 'n kernel mixture and stir quickly with your long spoon for about 5 seconds. This is important to mix the sugar into the oil and coat the kernels, or else the sugar can harden together and cooking into one big clump on the bottom of the pot. (Sorry I don't have a picture of this step; it moves so quickly that there's no time to stop and take a picture here)

Then put the lid on the pot. With the lid on tightly, shake it around a little bit, being careful not to remove the pot from the heat source too much. After just a few seconds, you will hear the kernels starting to pop. After just a few more seconds, they will all be done popping. Really, this all moves at the speed of light, and it's done before you know it!

As soon as you hear the majority of the kernels pop all at once, immediately remove your pot from the hot burner and slide it onto a cool one, but leave the lid on, so that the sugar wont burn on the bottom but the pressure can still pop any few remaining kernels (this should only take a total of like 2 seconds):

Swirl it around a bit, and if you don't hear anything else popping in those 2 seconds, then take the lid off, sprinkle the salt in, stir it around a bit, and let it cool just a little. 

If you try to eat it right away, you will find that it is a bit tacky to the touch. But wait about 1 minute and the kettle corn will still be nice and warm to eat, yet the sticky clumps will have cooled just enough that they will shatter apart like broken glass. 

It is the perfect treat: salty, sweet, crunchy, warm... oh my! It hits all the driving forces of hunger; did you know that food satisfaction is centered around any combination of these three things: salt, sugar, and fat. You can have two, or even all three of these factors, to satisfy your cravings. Studies have found that higher levels of satisfaction are reported as more factors (salt, sugar, and fat) are hit :) 

**Warning: this is an extremely addictive snack. And now that it takes a total of just 2 minutes to make at home, it is even more dangerous.
It is seriously JUST like the stuff you find at farmers markets :)

Okay, now here is my biggest tip, (besides having everything lined up and ready to go to appease the speedy timeline of making this recipe), it is important that you have the right sized pot. I've found that my 3 quart pot is perfect for making this kettle corn. If you have a pot that is around 3 quarts, give or take a little, I'm sure you'll do just fine.

I originally thought my BIG pot (that I use to steam my tamales) would be great for popping corn. After one burnt batch, I realized that a simple physics lesson will explain where my logic went wrong; corn pops due to pressure. My big pot was so big that it took too long to heat all of its space, thus it took too long build enough pressure to pop the corn. By the time the corn finally did pop, the sugar had cooked too long and had burt onto the bottom of the pot.
The smaller pot is pictured here right after I used it to make the kettle corn for this post; no burnt remains. The larger pot pictured here shows the stubborn burnt remains after I had already turned my arms into spaghetti noodles from scrubbing it so much. Moral of the story: Use the right size pot that will allow the right amount of pressure to pop your corn kernels in a timely manner before the sugar burns!


  1. Found this on pinterest and it was sooo good. We've done kettle corn in the past but this was the best. I think the salt is the secret ingredient! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hmmmn... I think the correct word will be addictive.