Recipe: Chicago-Style Popcorn

updated May 1, 2019
Chicago-Style Popcorn
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

As the perfect snack food, popcorn works as a flavor delivery system with an endless number of ways to customize it. But around the holidays, a few flavors stand out as favorites.

If you love the mixed tins of caramel and cheddar popcorn, known as the classic Windy City blend, give this mix a try at home — and even give it as a homemade edible gift. The sweet crackle of caramel corn is the perfect foil to intensely cheesy popcorn. You’ve got to get both in a bite to really experience the joy of these two opposites coming together for such a rich, crunchy treat.

The Best of Both Worlds

Chicago-style popcorn brings together the best parts of those tall popcorn tins — the orange-dusted cheddar popcorn and sweet caramel-coated popcorn — in one bowl, bag, or handful. This gift-worthy snack food does not believe in separation. Each bite takes your tastebuds on a journey of sweet, salty, cheesy, and buttery flavors.

Why Chicago?

So what exactly does Chicago have to do with this sweet and savory popcorn blend? There’s much debate about where exactly this caramel and cheddar popcorn duo originated. Some argue Garrett Popcorn Shops was the creator, while others stand by G.H. Cretors. What we do know for sure is that it hails from the city of Chicago, hence the name, and we’ve been smitten with the unique combo ever since.

Make the Popcorn

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

Chicago-Style Popcorn

Makes 6 quarts

Serves 12

Nutritional Info


For the caramel popcorn:

  • 3 quarts

    (12 cups) popped plain popcorn (from about 1/2 cup of kernels)

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 3/4 cup

    packed light brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons

    light corn syrup

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    fine salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    baking soda

For the cheddar popcorn:

  • 3 quarts

    (12 cups) popped plain popcorn (from about 1/2 cup kernels)

  • 1/2 cup

    cheddar cheese powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    fine salt

  • 4 tablespoons

    unsalted butter, melted


Make the caramel popcorn:

  1. Place the popcorn in a large bowl; set aside.

  2. Place the butter, sugar, and corn syrup in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula until the sugar is melted. Boil for 3 to 4 minutes while stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan continuously.

  3. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in the vanilla, salt, and baking soda. The sugar mixture will bubble up and froth. Continue stirring until it forms a thick, glossy sauce. Slowly pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn while stirring the popcorn, and keep stirring until evenly coated. Pour the popcorn onto a parchment or wax paper-lined baking sheet, breaking up any clumps if necessary, and cool completely.

Make the cheddar popcorn:

  1. Place the popcorn in a large bowl; set aside.

  2. Stir together the cheese powder and salt in a medium bowl. Drizzle the butter over the popcorn and toss to coat. Sprinkle the cheese mixture over the popcorn and stir until evenly coated.

  3. Combine the caramel and cheddar popcorn. Store in an airtight container, or divide into cellophane gift bags.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Popcorn can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.