Homemade Cracker Jacks Recipe

I have such wonderful memories of eating Cracker Jacks as a kid and finding a prize at the bottom of the box!  The candy-coated popcorn and peanuts were also just as good as the prize.  The flavor that makes Cracker Jacks unique from classic caramel corn is the molasses syrup added in.

Cracker Jacks Popcorn

History:  Cracker Jack was introduced by F.W. Rueckheim & Bro at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.  The confection started as popcorn and peanuts covered in molasses, but people didn’t like the stickiness.  The Rueckheim brothers then came up with an improved recipe that made the molasses coating crispy and dry.  Legend notes that the name “Cracker Jack” came into use when a customer who tried the product, exclaimed  “That’s really a cracker – Jack!”  Actually the words “cracker jack” was a slang expression on those days, meaning “something very pleasing.”  Learn more about the History of Cracker Jacks and the Legends of Popcorn.

Below is a copycat recipe that comes very close to the original and just as hard to stop eating!


Homemade Cracker Jacks Recipe:

Homemade Cracker Jacks Recipe

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour 30Mutes

Yield: makes many


24 to 25 cups (2 large batches) popped corn*
3 to 4 cups Spanish or roasted peanuts (optional)
2 cups firmly-packed dark brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup salted butter
2 tablespoons molasses
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

*  Remember to remove any un-popped popcorn kernels.



Popcorn can be air popped to reduce fat or cooked in oil (your choice).  Cooking in oil will actually help the caramel corn separate easier to reduce clumping.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.  Lightly butter or use non-stick cooking spray in a large roasting pan.

Place the popped popcorn and peanuts in the prepared roasting pan. Place in the oven while the Caramel Sauce is cooking.

Prepare Caramel Sauce:  In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over medium-low heat, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and molasses.  Stir until smooth and melted. Increase heat to medium, stirring constantly until the caramel sauce begins to boil.  Set a timer to boil for 5 minutes only, stirring occasionally during this phase.  Let boil until the time is up or the temperature reaches 235 degrees F. on your cooking thermometer.  Immediately remove from heat and carefully stir in the vanilla extract, baking soda, and salt.  Mixture will begin to boil violently and may spit out hot candy!  Using a long-handled wooden spoon, stir down the mixture until boiling subsides.

Thermapen Instant Read Meat ThermometerThis is the type of cooking thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking.  I get many readers asking what cooking thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking and baking.  I, personally, use the Thermapen Thermometer shown in the photo on the right.  Originally designed for professional users, the Super-Fast Thermapen Thermometer is used by chefs all over the world.  To learn more about this excellent thermometer and to also purchase one (if you desire), just click on the underlined: Thermapen Thermometer 

Cracker Jack Caramel Ingredients
Combining Caramel Ingredients

Cracker Jack Caramel Melted
Melted Caramel Ingredients







Cracker Jack Violet Boil Stage
Caramel - Violent Boil Stage


Cracker Jack - Stirring Caramel into popcorn
Stirring Caramel Into Popcor










Pour the hot caramel syrup over popcorn and peanuts, stirring to evenly coat.  Use a non-stick cooking spray on the spoon to help prevent the caramel corn from sticking to the spoon.

Place the roasting pan, with the coated popcorn and peanuts, in the oven and bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes.  The Caramel Corn is done when the caramel sauce has hardened into a crisp shell around every piece and no longer dripping to bottom of the pan.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely.  Once cool, break apart any large clumps with your hands.

Store in airtight containers or resealable bags.

Serve many.




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These old-time popcorn balls are great anytime, but the a’re especially fun to enjoy at Halloween or Christmas time.











Candy History    Caramel    Fall    Great Lakes    Halloween    Kid Friendly    Popcorn    Snack Foods   

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