Spicy bacon caramel corn is just what it sounds like. Smoky, salty, spicy, sweetly enticing, and a little difficult to stop eating. Made with beer and a pleasure to nosh alongside the rest of the bottle.
Though you don’t have to pair this caramel corn with alcohol, we highly recommend it. There’s just something about that salty-spicy-sweet goodness that begs for a cold brew or a shot of whiskey. We don’t skimp with our pork, so this recipe is smoky and rich in flavor, with a touch of heat and sweet.–Agatha Kulaga | Erin Patinkin
Spicy Bacon Caramel Corn FAQs
One of the reasons that you need to get that caramel hot—we’re talking 300°F hot—is so that it doesn’t end up sticky. Properly cooked caramel will cool to a hard, shiny, crisp shell. While we’re not shaming a sticky caramel (we’re not animals!), if you want your spicy bacon caramel corn to last and be easier to eat, make sure to get that sugar hot.
A small strip or cube of slab bacon, a lardon is more than just thick-cut bacon though. Lardons are salty and cured but aren’t generally smoked so you get a true pork flavor. Because of the cut, they get crispy but still stay tender, unlike bacon which can just crumble to small bits, while lardons will remain luxuriously sized cubes of flavor. If you can’t get your mitts on lardons, thick-sliced bacon will work, if you cut them into decent-sized bits.
Spicy Bacon Caramel Corn
- 1 1/2 cups lardons or 10 slices regular thick-cut bacon
- 3 tablespoons drippings (from the lardons or bacon)
- 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup Brooklyn Brewery Pennant Ale (or any English ale)
- 1/4 cup water
- 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 oz) unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 tablespoons table salt
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C). Spray 1 large bowl, 1 rimmed baking sheet, and 2 metal mixing spoons with nonstick cooking spray, or coat them with oil using a paper towel.
- If using lardons, cut them into 1/4-inch (6-mm) cubes, and bake them on a separate ungreased rimmed baking sheet until very crisp, about 30 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the lardons from the baking sheet, and spread them on a paper towel-lined plate, reserving the bacon fat on the baking sheet. If using sliced, thick-cut bacon, bake it on a separate ungreased rimmed baking sheet until crisp, 25 to 35 minutes. Use tongs to move the bacon slices to a paper towel-lined plate, reserving the bacon fat on the baking sheet. Once cool, crumble the bacon.
- If making the popcorn in a large pot with a lid, heat the bacon fat over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn kernels to the pot, cover with the lid and cook until all the kernels have popped, shaking constantly to prevent burning, 3 to 5 minutes. If using a popcorn popper, follow the manufacturer’s directions, using the bacon fat in place of butter or oil.
- Pour the popcorn into the prepared bowl, add the cooked lardons or crumbled bacon, and mix.
- In a small bowl, combine the baking soda and cayenne (to taste).
- In a large heavy-bottomed pot, combine the sugar, ale, water, butter, and salt. If available, attach a candy thermometer to the edge of the pot. Cook on high heat until the mixture boils. Let the mixture boil until the thermometer reaches 305°F (152°C) or the caramel is a golden color, 5 to 7 minutes. If the caramel doesn't reach 300°F (149°C), the caramel corn will turn out powdery, so we recommend using a candy thermometer.
- Once the caramel has a light caramel color or has reached 305℉ (152°C), quickly remove it from the heat and mix in the baking soda and cayenne. Stir for 30 seconds, ensuring all clumps of baking soda and cayenne have dissolved.
- Immediately pour the caramel evenly over the popcorn in the bowl. Combine the caramel and the popcorn using the prepared spoons. Mix until the popcorn is well coated with the caramel.
- Spread the caramel corn on the prepared rimmed baking sheet. Let it cool, and then break it into bite-size pieces by hand or with a dedicated chisel. Store the caramel corn in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
The one word that best describes this spicy bacon caramel corn is addictive! The popcorn is beautifully coated with caramel with bits of crispy bacon clinging on. It is both a very pretty snack and one that will elicit “oooh”s as you merrily crunch along.
Although children will love this snack (if they like spicy), it’s most definitely an adult snack. Enjoy it with that English ale that it contains. My one word of warning is that once the caramel reached 305°F, the temperature rose very quickly and I had to remove the pan from the heat very quickly so the caramel did not burn.
This recipe should come with a warning that it is highly addictive. It is a wonderful mix of flavors that make for a great snack. Sweet, salty, and just the right amount of spice. This comes together quickly with simple ingredients that you are likely to have on hand. I agree wholeheartedly with the recommendation that this spicy bacon caramel corn is paired with alcohol. Specifically, a cold beer!
Caramel corn is my jam. I make it as gifts and make large batches of it for the holidays so the idea of adding a little heat AND BACON really sounds like a great idea.
My first stumbling block in this recipe was finding “English ale.” None of my local stores carried it so I had to drive into a larger town to get some and they only had one type, Boddington’s Pub Ale. Having procured this, I was ready to start on the recipe! My lardons didn’t quite render enough bacon fat for the popping. Fortunately, being a southerner, I keep bacon fat in my fridge so I was able to grab a bit more to make up the difference.
I chose to use “ladyfinger” popcorn kernels which weighed in at 125g for 1/2 cup. Next time, I’ll use a larger-sized kernel as the ladyfinger was a bit delicate for this application. I used 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper which seemed the perfect amount as both my non-spice-loving kids AND my spice-hungry husband loved it with my husband saying it wasn’t spicy and kids saying it was plenty spicy.
Ingredients assembled, I started the process of browning the lardons in the oven. I do own a Whirley Pop so I used this to pop the corn and it came out perfect, as always, with just a hint of bacon flavor from the fat it was popped in. This took about 15 minutes to fully pop.
The longest part of the recipe time is getting the caramel up to temperature. It took 30 minutes of stirring and watching for it to reach 305°F and even then, it was not what I would call “caramel” colored. I think it could have browned a bit more to look like the photo in the recipe. Once stirred into the corn and bacon, I spread it out on the sheet pan to cool but, of course, needed to taste it right away. When first done, it’s chewy and sticky but once cooled it becomes hard and brittle, a little harder than I like my caramel corn, so while cooking it MORE for color might sound like a good idea, that would make the caramel harder. So, it’s a toss-up as to which would be the best course, a little less cooking for a softer caramel or a little more cooking for a better color. I may have to experiment and see!
All in all, this spicy bacon caramel corn is a very tasty snack and one I’ll most likely make again, with a little more bacon and either more or less cooking time on the caramel. While we’re not drinkers, I can see this being a very popular bar snack!
Originally published April 3, 2021