Should You Use The Dry Or Wet Method To Make Caramel Sauce?

Caramel is the sweet, sticky substance that never fails to hit the spot when you want a saucy treat. Sure, it might be easy to grab from the store, but why not try your hand at a homemade caramel sauce when you want a DIY spin on that Starbucks Frappuccino or another sweet recipe? It's similar to making caramel syrup (which is done by melting sugar), except that you also stir in some fat (like butter and heavy cream).

There are some cheat caramel recipes, like our two-ingredient boozy caramel sauce. However, if you want to do it properly, there are two recognized methods: dry and wet. While the dry caramel technique is faster and creates a more richly flavored sauce, it can be easy to mess up. On the other hand, the wet method is better for beginners but is a longer process. No matter which you choose, we have some tips to make sure your next caramel-making session is a sweet success.

The dry method is quick but tricky

The dry method of making caramel sauce stays true to its name; there is no liquid involved in the first stages. The caramel is made by heating sugar in a heavy-bottomed pot or pan and gently stirring the sugar until it starts to melt. As soon as that happens, it's important to stop stirring. If you continue moving the sugar around, the dreaded crystallization will occur, leading to a crunchy, lumpy sauce instead of a silky smooth caramel.

When all of the sugar is melted, then caramelization starts. This is where it gets tricky. The sugar can caramelize quickly, and if you take your eye off of it for too long then you could end up with a burnt mess in the bottom of your pan. If you nail the technique, however, you can then incorporate butter followed by heavy cream at just the right moment.

The dry method is an efficient way of whisking up your batch of caramel sauce, so it's great if you're short on time. It's also good for creating a rich, almost burnt flavor in the caramel, which is great if you want a sauce with more of a punch.

The wet method is great for beginners

The wet caramel method involves dissolving the sugar in water before caramelizing it. The water acts as a handy way of preventing burnt clumps, because it ensures that the sugar caramelizes more evenly. That's great news. However, there are some things to be aware of when making the sauce with this method.

As soon as the sugar water begins to boil, you'll have to stop stirring to avoid any crystallization. Another thing to note is that you'll have to spend more time on this method, because it'll take longer for the water to evaporate. This has to happen for caramelization to occur. Once the sugar has caramelized, you can combine it with some fat to achieve a silky sauce.

If you're a novice at cooking caramel sauce, the wet method is a more forgiving way to start your sweet caramel journey. The flavor in a wet caramel is more complex than what the dry method produces, so it's perfect when you want a hit of that classic caramel taste, like when it's drizzled on some vanilla ice cream during a hot day.