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Chicago Style Popcorn

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It’s no secret that sweet and salty is the dynamic duo behind many of the world’s greatest flavor combos. One of the most famous and unique combos is Chicago Popcorn. With a unique marriage of cheddar cheese and caramel, Chicago popcorn raises eyebrows in the uninitiated, but once you try it it’s hard to put down.

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Tips to Ensure Success

The Popcorn

There’s a million different ways to make popcorn. Original Chicago style popcorn from Garrett’s air pops them, meaning they do not use oil. To air-pop popcorn effectively, you need fresh kernels and an air-popped popcorn maker. There are both electronic and microwaveable options available that are fairly inexpensive.

If you do not have a popcorn maker, you can make it in any pot that has a tight fitting lid. However, I do recommend you use a little oil with this method, as the kernels will burn if no oil is used at all. The key to getting away with using minimal oil is to KEEP IT MOVING. When there’s not enough oil to fully submerge each kernel, it’s important to toss the kernels often to evenly distribute the heat.

The Caramel

Caramel is all about timing. Take it out too soon, your popcorn will be ruined by a coating of gloopy tooth glue. Take it out too late, and it’ll burn. The best way to get it just right is to monitor the temperature with a candy thermometer. Just heat the sugar to 300°F (150°C), and it will be the perfect texture every time. If you do not have a thermometer, the next best thing is to occasionally test the caramel by dropping a small spoonful of caramel into cold water. If it forms brittle threads that easily snap, that means it’s reached the right temperature.

Garrett’s makes their popcorn in a giant kettle. The extra space in the kettle enables them to add the popcorn to the caramel instead of pouring the caramel onto the popcorn. This small detail, combined with the superior heat retention of the kettle, keeps the caramel hot for a longer period. Which is how they achieve an even and thin hard candy coating on each individual kernel. I recommend using a large heavy bottomed pot, like a Dutch oven, to recreate this.

The Cheese

Cheese popcorn is flavored with an uncommon ingredient: Cheese powder. There’s unfortunately no substitutes for this, but it can be ordered online.

Chicago Style Popcorn



Prep time


Cooking time


Total time






  • Popcorn
  • 1 cup popcorn kernels

  • 3 tbsp coconut oil (optional)

  • Caramel
  • 1 cup brown sugar

  • ¼ cup water

  • 2 tbsp corn syrup

  • ¼ cup butter

  • ¼ tsp salt

  • ¼ tsp baking soda

  • Cheese
  • ¼ cup cheddar cheese powder

  • 4 tbsp butter, melted


  • Place a large saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tbsp oil and 1/3 cup popcorn kernels. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid. Gently shake the pan back and forth over the burner every 15-30 seconds. Once the popcorn starts popping, keep shaking the pan until the popping sound slows to 1 pop every 3-4 seconds. Remove from heat and set aside the popcorn in a large bowl. Repeat 2 more times to pop the rest of the kernels.**
  • Place a large heavy bottom pot over medium-high heat. Stir together brown sugar, water, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil. Let boil undisturbed until the caramel reaches 300°F (150°C). Turn the heat to low. Stir in the butter and salt. Once the butter is fully incorporated, stir in the baking soda. Add half of the popped popcorn (about 7-8 cups). Gently fold the caramel into the popcorn until evenly coated.
  • Pour the caramel corn out on a parchment sheet. Spread it out into a single layer. Let cool. Break apart any super large chunks.
  • Melt 4 tbsp butter. Toss the melted butter in the other half of the popcorn. Add the cheese powder and toss to evenly incorporate.
  • Combine the cheese corn and caramel corn.


  • **If you have a popcorn maker, ignore the first step and just make popcorn however you want  

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