Homemade Spicy Caramel Corn is easier to make than you might expect. Dangerously so, honestly. A handful of pantry ingredients and an hour or so is all that’s between you and the best homemade caramel corn. For a note of savory spiciness, I like to add a couple heaping teaspoons of gochujang. It rounds out the flavors and adds a nice note of spice that takes something craveable and makes it totally addictive. 

Spicy Caramel Corn 

There are a variety of ways to add spice to caramel corn—black pepper, cayenne and red pepper flakes are all good options. But for something a bit more unique, gochujang is a great option. In addition to heat, it also adds a bit of savoriness which I find to be key to making a great caramel corn. 

You could also take this an herby route and add fresh rosemary to the caramel mixture—I do that in my Sea Salt Caramels.

Butter, vanilla, brown sugar, gochujang, corn syrup, popcorn and salt set out on a counter in preparation for making caramel corn.

Ingredients Needed

  • Popcorn Kernels: popcorn kernels last forever in your pantry. But I do find fresh kernels pop a little more evenly. If you anticipate your kernels may be a few years old, consider buying a new bag of kernels. 
  • Oil: you’ll need a neutral high-heat cooking oil such as canola oil or avocado oil. 
  • Brown Sugar: you can use light brown sugar or dark brown sugar. Dark will add a bit more of a molasses flavor (reminiscent of Cracker Jacks). 
  • Butter: I like to use unsalted butter so I can control the seasoning. But you’ll be adding salt anyway, so salted will also work, though you may want to consider pulling back on the added salt. 
  • Corn Syrup: use light corn syrup here. You can also use Lyle’s Golden Syrup, but I do not recommend using dark corn syrup.
  • Gochujang: Gochujang is a fermented Korean chili paste that’s sweet, spicy and savory. It’s bright red in color, is sticky and thick, and is used as a condiment or in sauces in Korean cooking. Look for it sold in the Asian aisle of your grocery store or at your local Asian market. 
  • Kosher Salt
  • Baking Soda: baking soda reacts with the acidic ingredients in caramel to create carbon dioxide bubbles. The bubbles cause the caramel to foam which will make the caramel appear lighter in color and more airy. The airness of the caramel will make it easier to evenly coat the popcorn and make for crisp caramel popcorn, instead of hard popcorn.  
  • Vanilla Extract: just a splash of vanilla rounds out all of the flavors. Make sure you add it at the end or all of the flavor will be cooked out during the boiling. 

How to Make Spicy Caramel Corn 

  1. Pop the Popcorn 
Popcorn in a large pot.

Add a glug of oil to a large pot over medium-high heat. Add a few kernels of corn and heat until a couple of kernels pop. Add the rest of the corn kernels, cover and shake the pot to coat the kernels in oil. 

Cook, shaking pot occasionally, until the kernels start to pop. Continue shaking the pot frequently as the corn pops until the popping slows to about 3 seconds between pops. Remove the pot from heat; uncover and let the popcorn cool. 

  1. Make the Caramel 
Caramel in a saucepan with a whisk set in it.

Combine the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, and gochujang in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Once melted, whisk to combine then bring to a boil. Cook the caramel, without stirring, until it’s deep golden brown and registers 250—255ºF on an instant-read thermometer or candy thermometer, this will take about 3 minutes.

Spicy caramel in a saucepan with a whisk set in it.

Off heat, stir in the vanilla, salt and baking powder. The mixture should bubble and foam. 

  1. Coat the Popcorn with Caramel 
Caramel popcorn in a large pot.

Quickly and carefully drizzle the caramel over the popped popcorn and stir to coat evenly. 

  1. Bake the Caramel Corn 

Transfer the caramel corn to a parchment-;lined baking sheet and bake until caramel has darkened and popcorn is somewhat dry to the touch, this will take about 1 hour. I recommend tossing the popcorn every 20 minutes or so to avoid burning on the bottom. 

Allow the caramel corn to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Spicy caramel popcorn on a parchment lined baking sheet.

How Long Does Homemade Caramel Corn Last?

Homemade caramel corn will last up to 2 weeks stored in airtight container or zipper-lock bag at room temperature. The key is to keep moisture away/out of the container to retain the crispness. 

Why is My Caramel Corn Soggy?

It’s either underbaked or the caramel wasn’t cooked long enough on the stove top. Right out of the oven, the popcorn will still be slightly soft and chewy. But once cooled completely, it should be nice and crisp.

If it’s still soft and chewy after cooling on the counter for an hour, pop it bake in the oven and cook it until it’s dry to touch.

Caramel popcorn up close.

Do I Have to Use Corn Syrup?

Yes, this recipe requires the use of corn syrup. It’s key to creating a smooth caramel (it prevents the caramel from crystalizing). You can use Lyle’s Golden Corn Syrup, but I do not recommend using dark corn syrup, honey or maple syrup.

More Party Snacks

Gochujang Caramel Corn

5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Yield 7 cups
Category Dessert
Cuisine American, Korean-Inspired


A simple homemade caramel corn recipe with a hint of savory spice.


  • ¼ cup yellow popcorn kernels
  • 1 ½ tablespoons avocado or canola oil
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoon corn syrup
  • 2 heaping teaspoons gochujang
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Heat oven to 250° F (121ºF) with rack set in middle position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Heat 1 ½ tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium-high. Add 5 kernels of corn and allow to heat until a kernel or two pops. Add ¼ cup corn kernels, cover pot with lid and give it a shake to coat kernels in oil. Cook, shaking pot occasionally, until kernels start to pop. Continue shaking pot frequently as corn pops until popping slows to about 3 seconds between pops. Remove pot from heat and uncover; cool while making caramel.
  • In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, combine ½ cup packed brown sugar, 5 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons corn syrup and 2 heaping teaspoons gochujang. As mixture heats, whisk to combine. Bring to a boil and cook, without stirring, until mixture turns deep golden brown and registers 250–255ºF on a thermomter, about 3 minutes.
  • Remove pan from heat and whisk in 1 teaspoon vanilla, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon baking soda.
  • Drizzle caramel over popcorn and, using a rubber spatula, stir quickly to evenly coat.
  • Transfer popcorn to prepared baking sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake, stirring every 20 minutes, until caramel has slightly darkened and popcorn is nearly dry to touch, about 1 hour. Let caramel corn cool completely on sheet pan, at room temperature, before breaking apart (as needed) and serving.
  • Store in an airtight container or zipper-lock bag for up to 2 weeks.


Storage: Homemade caramel corn will last up to 2 weeks stored in airtight container or zipper-lock bag at room temperature. The key is to keep moisture away/out of the container to retain the crispness. 
Corn syrup: use light corn syrup or Lyle’s Gold Syrup. I do not recommend using dark corn syrup. 
This recipe is adapted from a Caramel Corn recipe by Bon Appetit. 


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Spicy caramel popcorn in a large yellow serving bowl.

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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