My Favorite Snackaroony: Kettle Corn

Kettle corn is, in theory, not all that exciting. It’s just sugared popcorn dusted with salt. Except there’s nothing “just” about it. The sugar melts in the hot oil and, as it cools, encases each popped kernel in a thin, glassy shell. Then comes the salt, and at that point for me, I can’t even begin to think about dinner–I’m ready for popcorn! I have skipped dinner exactly twice over the last month due to kettle corn overconsumption. I’m not proud; I just thought you should know. Consider it a warning. It’s the sweet and salty combination that does it. And the crunch doesn’t hurt. The effect is hypnotic. After a handful or two, I’m in a full-on kettle corn trance. Scoop. Eat. Repeat.

The only thing that could get in the way of a perfect batch of kettle corn is a layer of burnt kernels along the bottom of the pot. That’s true of all popcorn, to be sure, but the sugar in kettle corn heightens the risk. Here are two tips to keep your kettle corn from burning:

1. Remove the pot from the heat sooner than you normally would.
Over the years, I have refined my popcorn popping skills so that I end up with very few unpopped kernels at the bottom of the batch. Twice in my life I have actually popped every last one of those suckers, without scorching a single kernel. Those were big days for me, people. Big. But when it comes to kettle corn, I check my pride at the kitchen door, and I urge you to do the same. The sugar will burn before the popcorn, so if you wait until (what is typically) the very last moment to remove the pot from the heat, it will probably be too late. When the popping slows considerably – if you can count more than a second, two seconds, maximum, between pops – get that pot off of the flame! You’ll end up with more unpopped kernels at the bottom of the pot, but it’s a small price to pay for unscathed kettle corn.

2. Transfer the kettle corn immediately from the hot pot to a large bowl.
If you don’t, the sugar at the bottom of the pot will continue to cook, and might burn.

Most recipes for kettle corn – and popcorn, in general – call for some kind of vegetable oil, but I’ve been popping corn in olive oil for years. I like the stronger flavor, and I think it’s especially delish in this sweet and salty recipe.

¾ c. corn kernels
1/3 c. olive oil (not extra-virgin), or enough to thickly coat the bottom of a large pot
¼ c. granulated sugar
Several generous pinches (about ½ tsp.) sea salt

Heat the oil and a couple of kernels in a large covered pot. Meanwhile, measure the corn kernels and sugar into a bowl so that you’re ready for a quick dump. When you hear the test kernels pop, remove the lid, and quickly pour the rest of the kernels and sugar into pot. Stir briefly to coat the kernels with oil and sugar, and replace the lid. With mitted hands, lift the pot by the handles (use your thumbs to keep the lid in place), and shake occasionally.

When the popping slows, remove the kettle corn from the heat, and immediately dump into a large bowl. Sprinkle with a few generous pinches of sea salt. Yum! Yum! Eat ’em up!

Leave A Comment