Homemade Cracker Jack

Growing up, we weren’t routinely allowed to eat junk food, sugary cereals, pop or anything like that. My parents didn’t keep stuff like that in the house and the closest we got to “fun” cereal was Frosted Flakes. But every once awhile we got to enjoy a treat. One of the things I always loved eating was a box of Cracker Jack. I mostly attribute it to my unbridled infatuation with peanuts and peanut butter. Those little caramel-covered peanuts were little bits of heaven. In fact, when I realized that there were no more peanuts left in the box, it was always a slight letdown. Sure, I still enjoyed the caramel popcorn, but the more peanuts the better! Homemade caramel peanut popcorn has been on my list for some time, and I am chastising myself for not making it much, much sooner. This is perfect for packing up and taking with you to the ballpark, stuffing in your purse and sneaking into the movie theater (shh!), eating at home while lounging on the couch, or for packaging up and giving away at the holidays. Bottom line – there is no bad way to enjoy this. And it’s heads and tails better than the boxed original.

Caramel Peanut Popcorn

This popcorn is actually very simple to make and the only piece of specialty equipment that you need is a candy thermometer. This is the one I own, and it’s definitely worth its weight in gold. Just think – if you get it, then you can also make the Ale and Pretzel Soft Caramels! To make the caramel, all you do is whisk together the ingredients, let it simmer away and wait for it to hit 250 degrees. Pour over the popcorn, mix in the peanuts, and then pop it all into the oven.

Then, sit back and be prepared to be completely and utterly addicted. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Note: You can use microwave popcorn for this (I would go with plain or “homestyle” – you don’t want that fake butter flavor here), but I definitely prefer popping the popcorn fresh. If you’ve never done it before, check out my tutorial on How to Make Perfect Homemade Popcorn (omitting any butter and salt).

Two years ago: Buttermilk-Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake
Three years ago: Bostini Cream Pie

Homemade Cracker Jack

Yield: About 10 cups of popcorn

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients:

10 cups of freshly-popped popcorn (or 3.5-oz bag of microwave popcorn, plain)
1 cup light brown sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons water
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup lightly salted peanuts

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

2. Pop the popcorn. Coat a large mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray, and then transfer the popcorn to the bowl; set aside.

3. In a small saucepan, whisk together the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt and water, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Continue to simmer, stirring often, until the mixture reaches 250 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Turn off the heat, and whisk in the vanilla and baking soda. Immediately pour the hot mixture over the popcorn. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the caramel into the popcorn until all of the popcorn is coated. Gently stir in the peanuts, and transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet, spreading it out.

5. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Gently break up the popcorn. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

(Recipe adapted from Ezra Pound Cake)

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77 Responses to “Homemade Cracker Jack”

  1. the blissful baker on October 27, 2010 at 12:40 am

    ohh i haven’t had cracker jack in ages, but i use to love it as a kid. it’s so addicting!

    Reply

  2. Echo @ Barely Mommy on October 27, 2010 at 1:48 am

    Ohh! That looks so yumnmy!

    Reply

  3. Becka on October 27, 2010 at 3:19 am

    Ooh, this looks yummy! Not something we get in the UK so I’ve not tried it before.
    I wonder if it would work with mixed nuts instead of the popcorn… I’m thinking almonds, peanuts & pecans :) worth a shot!

    Reply

    • Michelle on October 28th, 2010 at 8:37 pm

      Hi Becka, Do you mean mixed nuts instead of the peanuts? You would need an awful lot of nuts to make up for all of the popcorn here!

      Reply

  4. Penny Wolf on October 27, 2010 at 5:57 am

    This looks great!Caramel corn is on my top ten list for sure. Another great corn recipe is at Big Red Kitchen, Captain Jack’s Shark Attack Popcorn. It has red hots in it and you simply can’t stop eating it. This will be an awesome duo!!

    Reply

  5. amanda @ fake ginger on October 27, 2010 at 6:30 am

    I get so sad when the peanuts are gone too!

    This looks so yummy. I’m glad your recipe calls for fresh popcorn – every recipe I’ve seen uses microwave popcorn and I don’t own a microwave! I wasn’t sure if there was a textural difference between the 2 but now I know! woohoo! Definitely making some soon!

    Reply

  6. Lauren at KeepItSweet on October 27, 2010 at 6:37 am

    yum! peanuts were always my favorite part of the mix too!

    Reply

  7. Tabitha (From Single to Married) on October 27, 2010 at 6:46 am

    Oh wow – I didn’t know you could make homemade cracker jacks! My world is now complete.

    :)

    Reply

  8. notyet100 on October 27, 2010 at 7:23 am

    too good,.

    Reply

  9. Liz @ Blog is the New Black on October 27, 2010 at 7:45 am

    What a nostalgic food… great job!

    Reply

  10. Amalia on October 27, 2010 at 8:07 am

    the best part is totally the peanuts! I love tham! thanks!

    -Amalia

    http://buttersweetmelody.wordpress.com/

    Reply

  11. briarrose on October 27, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Yum. The peanuts were my favorite parts too. ;)

    Reply

  12. Paula on October 27, 2010 at 9:34 am

    This brings back memories. Feel like I want to go to a Saturday Matinee! Thanks for posting.

    Reply

  13. Sarah K. @ The Pajama Chef on October 27, 2010 at 9:50 am

    this looks yummy! and by the way, i totally sneak treats into the movie theater too, but it’s usually just candy that you could get there anyway to be sneaky about it. my youth group leader in HS takes the cake though… he brings raw cookie dough and a spoon!

    Reply

    • Michelle on October 28th, 2010 at 8:38 pm

      Raw cookie dough and a spoon DEFINITELY takes the cake! Haha!

      Reply

  14. Tina from PA on October 27, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Candy coated popcorn peanuts and a prize , that’s what you get in Cracker Jacks! O.k am I the one that remember this? Boy did I just age myself! This looks so good… Thanks for sharing !

    Reply

  15. Jen on October 27, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Thanks for this! I’m DEFINITELY going to be making it to give away to my husband’s customers for the holidays along with some homemade granola!

    Reply

  16. Lael Hazan on October 27, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Thank you! The photos are gorgeous and the recipe brings back memories. I wasn’t allowed junk food either but I sometimes got cracker jacks at parties. I love the idea for making it at home. Thank you for suggesting it and giving me a way to do it. My girls’ are having a sleepover this weekend. This will be perfect!

    Reply

    • Michelle on October 28th, 2010 at 8:39 pm

      Oh how perfect for a sleepover! I hope the girls enjoy it!

      Reply

  17. Maria on October 27, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Great snack for game days:)

    Reply

  18. Michelle on October 27, 2010 at 11:32 am

    What a cute idea! I’ve thought about making Cracker Jacks but just never got around to it!

    Reply

  19. Steph@stephsbitebybite on October 27, 2010 at 11:54 am

    I am now craving this! Definitely needs to show up to a football party :)

    Reply

  20. Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking on October 27, 2010 at 11:56 am

    This is a great recipe, Michelle! I actually bought a big bag of popcorn kernels the other day, thinking I would find some creative popcorn recipe, but until this one, I never did! Thanks so much for sharing this. I’d love to dive into a bowl of this right now!

    Reply

  21. Jarrelle Sartwell on October 27, 2010 at 11:57 am

    My best friend is obsessed with this child hood favorite snack!! I am going to visit her for a bestie weekend next weekend and I think I am going to have to make this and take it with me!! Hope I don’t dig into it while I’m flying!! Thank you for another fabulous recipe!

    Reply

    • Michelle on October 28th, 2010 at 8:40 pm

      Aw how sweet of you! I bet your friend will love her surprise :)

      Reply

  22. Evan Thomas on October 27, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Beautiful! This would certainly make staying at home and watching a movie feel special.

    Reply

  23. RavieNomNoms on October 27, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    I agree with Evan, perfect treat for movie night!

    Reply

  24. Kate H on October 27, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    That sounds delicious! I’m going camping this weekend, and I think I just might make some to take with us! Thanks for sharing!! :)

    Reply

    • Michelle on October 28th, 2010 at 8:40 pm

      You’re welcome! Have fun camping!

      Reply

  25. Belinda @zomppa on October 27, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    So much better than the original – thank s for sharing the secret of Cracker Jack – you just need a removable tattoo at the bottom.

    Reply

  26. Heather I. on October 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    This is perfect for starting off the World Series tonight! I couldn’t agree more about the peanuts being the best part of the mix. Brings back fun memories :)

    Reply

    • Michelle on October 28th, 2010 at 8:41 pm

      Oh Heather, you’re right, this is definitely a great treat for watching the World Series!

      Reply

  27. joudie's Mood Food on October 27, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    OH my goodness. This looks so sticky, icky, gooey, ooey. Love it!

    Reply

  28. Rachel on October 27, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    I’m totally making this next time I go to a movie!

    Reply

  29. Tracy on October 27, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Looks delicious! I bet it would taste just as great without the peanuts, too!

    Reply

    • Michelle on October 28th, 2010 at 8:42 pm

      Tracy, it definitely does!

      Reply

  30. Heather Lynne on October 27, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    This looks so much better then the boxed stuff!

    Reply

  31. Kelsey on October 27, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    My boyfriend’s favorite things are pretzels and popcorn. Zero substance but great snackability. This is something he’d love.

    Reply

    • Michelle on October 28th, 2010 at 8:43 pm

      Your boyfriend would definitely love this!

      Reply

  32. Rebecca Jean on October 27, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Great. I now have one more thing to add to my weekend “To do” list. Thanks a lot.

    I better save it for last, cause I have a feeling not a lot of work will be getting done after this is made. ;)

    ♥ Rebecca Jean
    Midnight Maniac

    Reply

  33. Kim - Liv Life on October 27, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    I’m headed to a Halloween Party this weekend and this will be the perfect treat to bring! Nicely done!

    Reply

  34. Lisa Sorrell on October 28, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    I made 2 batches of this last night and took it to my bible study today. The ladies loved it. Thanks for sharing – it was delicious!

    Reply

    • Michelle on October 28th, 2010 at 10:25 pm

      Woo!! So glad you and the ladies enjoyed it!!

      Reply

  35. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction on October 28, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    This looks dangerous… I love popcorn, and I can never keep myself from snacking on it constantly. None the less, I will probably make this over the weekend (and devour the whole batch in the process!). Yum!

    Reply

  36. Betty @ scrambled hen fruit on October 29, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    The peanuts are the best part of the Cracker Jacks! I used to love them when I was little but recently I had a box and it was a real let down. (And the prize was really lame as well.) This home made version sounds wonderful. :)

    Reply

  37. Farrah on October 31, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    This would be great addition to my Christmas baskets that I make for people. Saving this recipe. Thank you brown eyed baker.

    Reply

    • Michelle on November 1st, 2010 at 10:24 pm

      You’re welcome! Love the idea of putting it in holiday baskets!

      Reply

  38. Cookin' Canuck on October 31, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    I swear that we lived in the same household growing up. I would have loved these as a treat as a kid and I’m sure my kids would be thrilled if I made these for them.

    Reply

  39. Bakingbre on November 3, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Just made a double batch of this and am very happy with the results. Thank you for sharing this recipe! I was a little scared to attempt it but it was super easy and less messy than I had anticipated. I would definitely advise having all your prep work done and ingredients out and ready to go because once your carmel is ready to go time is of the essence. Definitely worth trying!

    Reply

    • Michelle on November 8th, 2010 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks so much for the review, I’m glad you liked this and didn’t find it too daunting!

      Reply

  40. Jessica on November 4, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    I found your blog today when looking for a caramel popcorn recipes to use as holiday gifts. I tried it, and the caramel was wonderful coming off the stove top, but when I took the popcorn out of the oven, the caramel was a bit overcooked. But, that was a quirk of my oven rather than the recipe! Next time I will lower the oven temp to 200 and stir every 15 minutes.
    I will be back!

    Reply

    • Michelle on November 8th, 2010 at 9:46 pm

      So glad you’ve found your way here Jessica! Glad you loved the popcorn even though it got a little overdone!

      Reply

  41. Ez on January 5, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    Your recipe looks scrumptious. Sadly all did not go well when I attempted to replicate it. I’ve made caramels without a problem in the past (so I think that part went okay), but the oven cooking time seemed way off. After baking on 250 for 35 min. (stirring twice) the popcorn was totally burnt. So sad. Will definitely give it another try though and mess around with the baking time/temperature variations on the next batch. Thanks for sharing with us!
    -Ez

    Reply

    • Vince on April 12th, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      I just tried this recipe and had the same problem! only 35 mins, stirred twice and it was getting way too dark so I took it out but the caramel allready turned bitter and had to throw the whole batch away, got me kinda pissed off but luckily the aren’t that expensive so next time I will just bake it for 20 mins and take it out.

      Reply

  42. Sarah on January 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Question:
    I want to try this recipe, can someone tell me how many cups of kernels to pop to make the 10 cups popcorn? I’m feeling stupid…..please help. I already am a homemade popcorn maker and have abandoned my microwave popcorn…..forever! I’m ready to step it up & make cracker jacks!

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 15th, 2011 at 9:33 pm

      Hi Sarah, I just follow the directions on the jar of Orville Redenbacher kernels and make that, then measure out 10 cups. There is a little leftover.

      Reply

  43. Air Force Betty on July 30, 2011 at 9:50 am

    I just found this website today while looking for some delicious recipes and I’ve got to say, though this is a little off-topic, never before have I seen a website that as positive as this. Also, this recipe sounds delicious. I can’t wait to try it out tonight. ^-^

    Reply

  44. Victoria on November 30, 2011 at 9:58 am

    I’ve been back to this recipe SO many times. I’ve made it twice with great success. I love it and it’s always a crowd favorite.

    Reply

  45. Bev on August 9, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    Why is there no way to print only the recipe and directions without all the comments, etc??

    Reply

    • Michelle on August 9th, 2012 at 5:52 pm

      Bev, There is. All you need to do is click the “Print” button (it’s under the recipe, next to the “Email” button) – only the recipe will show up.

      Reply

  46. Jon on November 4, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    We made this…amazing. Thank you so much!

    Reply

  47. Jess2248 on December 18, 2012 at 10:38 am

    I will definitely be making this…without the peanuts though!! Have always tried to find cracker jacks without the peanuts, and never could.

    Reply

  48. Allison McCall on December 21, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Just made this and it turned out great! With my oven only 20 min was enough and it came out perfect. I’m giving a tub of this away as a Christmas gift. I might even include a prize like the original Cracker Jacks did just for fun.

    Reply

  49. abi on January 22, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    hi. i made this for me and my sister. something to munch on while watching NCIS. the caramel was thick. how did you coat your popcorns so evenly? want to know what i did wrong before i attempt to do it again. reaaally soon. :) but it was delicious!! yummm! only thing left are the popcorn with big globs of caramel.

    Reply

    • Michelle on January 24th, 2013 at 3:09 pm

      Hi Abi, It sounds like your caramel may have cooked for just a minute or two too long and started to harden up on you. The key to making this is to work quickly and not over-cook the caramel. I’m glad you liked it anyway! :)

      Reply

      • abi on January 29th, 2013 at 12:01 am

        thanks for the tips michelle. :) i’ll keep them in mind. :)

        Reply

  50. Vickie Blair on June 5, 2013 at 10:10 am

    I’ve been making my MIL’s recipe of this for 20+ years (same as yours except no peanuts!). It’s amazing, and nothing disappears quite as fast as this does. You must make at least a double batch. I use my air popper. I think it gives the finished popcorn a “cleaner” flavor.

    Reply

  51. Kammie on September 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    I made this today and it is delicious! I was worried about burning it since some people commented on that, so I only baked it 20-25 minutes and mixed it every 5 minutes. It came out really yummy. Great flavor!

    Reply

  52. Stephanie Walp on September 22, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    OMD! My kids love Cracker Jacks and those boxes are so little so I had to give this a try. Turned out so yummy in fact it was gone within an hour. I am making a double batch as we speak

    Reply

  53. Melanee on December 16, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    I didn’t see anyone make mention — use honey roasted peanuts!!!!! It makes the coating stick to the peanuts and adds more flavor. Heck, I’d love to just do the peanuts w/o the popcorn. I highly recommend them in this bowl of deliciousness!!

    Reply

  54. Becky C on February 1, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    Can you use dark brown sugar? I don’t have light brown,

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 2nd, 2014 at 10:10 am

      Hi Becky, Yes, you could use dark brown, it’ll just be a tad bit sweeter.

      Reply

  55. Pat on February 21, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Hi
    I love getting recipes from the internet and this one sounds like a great treat to make and share with friends. Thanks for making it available. There is one thing that would make your site and dishes shared more enticing to viewers and that is a PRINT FRIENDLY option to copy the recipe. I ended up with 17 pages of comments and noticed most were from 2010 just to get the recipe . Hope you can get the option on your site I think it would be a big plus for you.

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 21st, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      Hi Pat, There is a print-friendly option available. If you look at the recipe, right above the thumbnail photo, there are three buttons – print, save and email. Simply click “print” and you will be directed to a printer-friendly version that includes just the recipe and thumbnail photo.

      Reply

  56. Ashley on October 20, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    I will be making this, but without the peanuts (my almost 7 year old son is severely allergic to peanuts).

    Reply

  57. Patti on November 21, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    I think you have to add a little molasses to make it taste just like Cracker Jack. I have a problem getting the peanuts to stick when I add them to my caramel corn. They tend to break away (I think because they have oils in them). Any suggestions on how to get them to stick better? (Maybe that is why there are always peanuts in the bottom of the box.) ha thx for the recipe

    Reply

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