How to Make Cracker Jack at Home

October  6, 2015

The only downside of making it at home? You have to provide the surprise inside.

Cracker Jack is an iconic American snack that has been around for over 100 years—and that means that most of us have tried the molasses-flavored caramel-covered popcorn and salty peanuts at least once in our lifetime. Eating Cracker Jack brings back childhood memories of sticky caramel goodness and picking those last bits of salty peanuts (and the prize!) at the bottom of the box. 

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Whether or not you're a fan of the original Cracker Jack, you’ll love this updated version: Airy fresh popcorn, crisp buttery caramel, and crunchy salty peanuts make this caramel corn hard to stop eating. It's seriously good. 

A couple of helpful tips: First, be sure to have all the ingredients measured out all of the kitchen tools nearby before you get started. It’s a simple recipe, but once the caramel is ready, the process will need to move quickly before the mixture begins to firm up. Second, a candy thermometer is essential for cooking the caramel to the required temperature. In regards to the ingredients, it’s okay to use unflavored microwave popcorn if you don’t have any popping kernels available. If you prefer a light molasses flavor, feel free to only use one teaspoon of molasses or omit it all together. It’ll be delicious with any of these options.

Homemade Cracker Jack

Makes 8 to 9 ounces (232 grams), around 5 cups

50 grams (1 3/4 ounces) freshly popped popcorn, lightly salted (about 5 cups)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
70 grams (2 1/2 ounces) salted Spanish peanuts
85 grams (3 ounces) brown sugar
43 grams (1 1/2 ounces) light corn syrup
43 grams (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons molasses
Pinch kosher salt 
Pinch fine sea salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 250° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.

In a large bowl, place the freshly popped popcorn. Set aside until ready to use.

Measure out the baking soda, vanilla extract, and Spanish peanuts separately and set each aside until ready to use. 

In a small pot, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, molasses, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, over medium-high heat, and cook to 250° F (around 1 to 2 minutes after it begins to boil). 

Remove from heat and immediately stir in the baking soda and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Pour over the popcorn and gently but quickly stir the mixture to evenly coat all the popcorn kernels. Add in the peanuts and gently stir to distribute evenly. 

Pour out mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. With the back of a spatula, quickly spread mixture out into a single layer. Bake for 1 hour, stirring mixture halfway through.

When done, remove from oven and stir the caramel corn once more. If using, sprinkle with the fine sea salt. Set on a cooling rack and allow it to cool completely. Once cool, enjoy right away or store in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days. 

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Third photo by Bobbi Lin; fourth by James Ransom; all others by Teresa Floyd

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Katherine
  • Bella B
    Bella B
  • Lucy Straw
    Lucy Straw
  • Teresa Floyd
    Teresa Floyd
Teresa Floyd is a freelance photographer, food writer, and pastry chef living in Kansas City, MO. She is the creator of Now, Forager, a pastry blog focused on seasonal pastries and desserts.


Katherine October 28, 2015
it appears that the measurements are by weight. Is there a conversion for dry and liquid measure? Tablespoon, cup etc.
Lucy S. October 28, 2015
British measure. A measuring cup will show ounces. Otherwise, a kitchen scale is a good investment, as it is always handy to be able to weigh things.
Teresa F. October 28, 2015
Hi Katherine, unfortunately there isn't a cups version of this recipe. When developing this small of a recipe I chose to use ounces to provide the most accurate & consistent results. There are some really affordable kitchen scales out there today and are handy to have as a kitchen tool. Another option is to convert the amounts using an online conversion website, but the outcome of the recipe with vary a bit since it's not exact. Good luck!
Bella B. October 6, 2015
I have got to try this later this week. It looks terribly addictive.

xoxoBella |
Teresa F. October 8, 2015
It is addictive in the best way possible. Enjoy, Bella!