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Homemade Cracker Jack (Easy Caramel Popcorn)

If you loved that delicious little rectangular box of Cracker Jacks as a kid, have I got a treat for you! With this easy recipe you can make your own homemade version any day of the week! 

Take Me Out to the Ball Game. . .

Take me out to the show! No doubt you know the rest of the lyrics to this popular song from days gone by. A ball game meant peanuts and Cracker Jack!

When I was a child I had a fascination with this sweet, crispy treat. I remember fishing around in the narrow box for the prize. 

The prize was worth the wait, wasn’t it? 

These days, I don’t often think of Cracker Jack. But I opened up my mama’s old cookbook and stumbled across the recipe for her homemade caramel corn and had an immediate flashback. 

Why not make my childhood favorite? I had the popcorn. I had a jar of peanuts. I had plenty of brown sugar and Karo syrup. Voila! I had the makings for my own trip down memory lane. 

What are Cracker Jacks? 

This is such a simple treat, one you can whip up in a hurry with little effort. Cracker Jacks are simply caramel corn with peanuts. 

You can use Spanish peanuts, dry roasted, or whatever you have on hand. I happened to have dry roasted, so that’s what I used. 

The key to a good caramel corn is the syrup you pour over the popcorn and peanuts. It’s a simple mixture of butter and sugars, much like a peanut brittle or hardened caramel. 

To make the syrup you’ll need a heavy saucepan. 

I made my popcorn in the microwave in my handy-dandy Pampered Chef popcorn popper. If you con’t have that on hand but you have store-bought microwave popcorn, that will work just fine. Mama’s recipe calls for five quarts. 

Cracker Jack Ingredients

Homemade Cracker Jack from Out of the Box Baking.com

You will find a full printable recipe card at the bottom of this post but here’s a quick peek at what you’ll need. These are simple ingredients you probably have on hand. 

  • popped popcorn
  • packed brown sugar (light or dark brown sugar will do)
  • butter (salted or unsalted butter, your choice)
  • white Karo syrup
  • cream of tartar
  • baking soda
  • peanuts (optional, not pictured)

How to Make Homemade Caramel Popcorn

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pop 5 quarts of corn and place in a large roasting pan or buttered 9 x 13-inch baking dish. (If you prefer, you can line with buttered parchment paper.) Make sure you remove any unpopped kernels.

Add one cup of peanuts to the top of the corn if you like. 

Homemade Cracker Jack from Out of the Box Baking.com

In a heavy medium saucepan combine brown sugar and Karo syrup. Cook over medium-low heat until butter is fully melted. 

Homemade Cracker Jack from Out of the Box Baking.com

Add brown sugar and cream of tartar. Stir well. Cook over low heat for five minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t burn. 

Homemade Cracker Jack from Out of the Box Baking.com

Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Caramel mixture will foam up. (Magic!) Stir well. 

Homemade Cracker Jack from Out of the Box Baking.com

Pour over popped corn. Stir well until all corn and nuts are coated. Place popcorn mixture in preheated oven and cook for one hour until set. 

Homemade Cracker Jack from Out of the Box Baking.com

Remove and cool fully before serving. (You don’t want to burn yourself with hot caramel.)

Homemade Cracker Jack from Out of the Box Baking.com

Once the caramel corn has full cooled place break it up and place it in an airtight container to store. It will stay fresh up to a week. I can pretty much assure you it won’t last that long. It’s that good. 

What to Expect from this Cracker Jack Recipe

Believe it or not, this was my first time to make this tasty treat! It was super-duper easy and didn’t even require a candy thermometer. It’s one of my new favorite treats!

This delicious childhood favorite gave me “all the feels” as my grandchildren like to say. Cracker Jacks are so blissfully reminiscent of my childhood. I love the crunch of the corn and the caramel topping. I also enjoy the sweetness. 

And the addition of those peanuts? Sheer perfection. 

Homemade Cracker Jack from Out of the Box Baking.com

This is such an easy treat. I can’t wait to make it for my grandkids next time they come over. Now I see what it was so popular with our mothers and grandmothers. It’s easy, it’s inexpensive, it’s delicious! 

Make a batch and take it to baseball games, family gatherings, or picnics in the park. No matter where you serve it, folks are going to love it. It’s the perfect snack!

Fun serving idea: Place each individual serving in a small brown paper bag and add a small toy. Just make sure it’s not small enough to be swallowed!)

Variations on this Recipe

This is one of those recipes that lends itself to variations. In some ways it reminds me of my Puppy Chow, in that it is both salty and sweet. Here are some things I might add next time: 

M&Ms. I think they would be a lovely addition to this treat. Delicious, in fact! (Great for family movie night.)

Pretzels: Mix a few tiny pretzel twists into the popcorn before pouring on the caramel syrup. 

Pecans. I love pecans and think they would be yummy in place of peanuts. (If you’ve got peanut allergies but can handle other types of nuts, pecans might be a good choice.) 

Reese’s Pieces: Peanut butter and caramel go together, so try stirring in a cup of Reese’s Pieces. 

Popcorn Balls: While still warm, form into balls and allowed to harden. Baseball-sizes balls are fine.

Dark brown sugar and dark corn syrup: If you want a richer flavor, choose darker sugars. Yum!

Vanilla extract: For added flavor, add vanilla or maple extract to the caramel syrup before stirring in the baking soda.

Other Sweet Treats from Out of the Box Baking

If you like this yummy snack you’re bound to love some of the following candies: 

Creamy Maple Walnut Fudge: In this post I share a delicious and creamy maple walnut fudge recipe. This fudge is easy and incredibly tasty!

Easy Caramel Pecan Pralines: If you love those chewy, rich pralines, the kind that leave your teeth feeling a bit sticky, you’re going to flip over this great recipe. You cook these pralines up in a heavy saucepan. There’s no baking involved! 

Traditional English Toffee: It’s light, it’s crunchy, it’s buttery, it’s covered in chocolate nuts. What more could you ask for from a simple English Toffee recipe?

Easy Homemade Turtles: If you love the combination of caramel, chocolate, and pecans, have I got an easy treat for you! These classic Turtles are a no-bake recipe. In fact, they’re easy that the kids can help you!

Check out this fun recipe for Chocolate Robins at Southern Style Recipes!


That’s it for this post, friends. I hope you enjoy the recipe for this iconic popcorn treat! I sure did! This delicious homemade cracker jacks recipe is really going to make your guests feel at home!

See this recipe at

Full Plate Thursday 

Weekend Potluck

Busy Monday


About the Author

Janice Thompson is an author, baker, and all-around mischief maker! She has overcome a host of baking catastrophes, including a toppled wedding cake, to learn more about the baking process. Janice has published over 150 books for the Christian market but particularly enjoys writing recipes and baking devotions. To learn more about Janice or to drop her a note, visit her About the Author page.

Homemade Cracker Jack (Easy Caramel Corn)

Homemade Cracker Jack (Easy Caramel Corn)

Yield: 5 quarts
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

If you loved that delicious little rectangular box of Cracker Jack as a kid, have I got a treat for you! With this easy recipe you can make your own homemade version any day of the week!

Ingredients

  • 5 quarts popped popcorn
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter (salted or unsalted butter, your choice)
  • 1/2 cup white Karo syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup peanuts

Instructions

    How to Make Homemade Cracker Jack

    Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Pop 5 quarts of corn and place in a buttered 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Add one cup of peanuts to the top of the corn if you like. 

    In a heavy saucepan combine brown sugar and Karo syrup. Cook over medium-low heat until butter is fully melted. 

    Add brown sugar and cream of tartar. Stir well. Cook over low heat for five minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t burn. 

    Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Caramel mixture will foam up. (Magic!) Stir well. 

    Pour over popped corn. 

    Stir well until all corn and nuts are coated. 

    Place in preheated oven and cook for one hour until set. 

    Remove and cool fully before serving. 

    Once the caramel corn has full cooled place break it up and place it in an airtight container to store. It will stay fresh up to a week. I can pretty much assure you it won’t last that long. It’s that good.

Simple Engagement Party Food Ideas That Will Wow Your Guests

Wednesday 12th of July 2023

[…] Popcorn. Make homemade caramel popcorn with a sprinkle of sea salt for a delicious and addictive […]

Janetta

Monday 9th of January 2023

Oh, how I love caramel popcorn!!! Again, I'm saving this recipe and will fix it when I'm finished with my sugar fast. Happy New Year!!!

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