Old-Fashioned Popcorn Balls Recipe

Here's a recipe from Scottsdale, Arizona-based recipe developer and private practice dietitian Kristen Carli that you'll want to keep handy from now all the way through the winter holidays. Apparently, not only is Halloween the perfect reason to indulge in the delightfully crunchy, sweet, and salty treat that is good old-fashioned popcorn balls, but so are various winter holidays and related parties, Carli tells Mashed. So that it feels a bit more unique to each holiday, you can do what Carli does to lend these old fashioned popcorn balls a bit of a holiday theme: "I like to stir colored sprinkles into them for holidays," Carli tells Mashed. 

If that sounds appealing, then by all means go and get some colored sprinkles with the theme of whatever holiday you're making these old-fashioned popcorn balls for. Then stir those sprinkles into the popcorn and syrup mixture (just make sure the syrup has slightly cooled before doing so, or you'll end up with melted sprinkles). When you're finished, you'll be left with a delicious treat that everyone will enjoy.

Ready to get started?

Gather your ingredients for old-fashioned popcorn balls

To make Carli's recipe for old-fashioned popcorn balls, you will need what might seem like a LOT of popcorn: 14 cups to be exact. However, Carli assures us that to get 14 cups of popped popcorn, you'll need a mere a half cup of popping kernels.

For the gooey, sticky, delicious stuff that holds these old-fashioned popcorn balls together, which is actually a candy syrup, you'll need a cup of sugar, three-quarters of a cup of corn syrup, a quarter-cup of water, a half a teaspoon of salt, and three tablespoons of unsalted butter. As noted above, as an option, consider colored sprinkles!

You will also need a large bowl to hold all 14 cups of popped popcorn and nonstick spray for your hands for when you form the popcorn balls. 

Pop your popcorn for these old-fashioned popcorn balls

When Carli brought Mashed this recipe for old fashioned popcorn balls, it suddenly dawned on us that — now, no judgements please! — we have been relying on microwave popcorn so much that we are actually fairly out of practice at popping corn the old-fashioned way. But as it turns out, Carli prefers using an air popper herself. "It's a game changer," she tells Mashed. "This way, you do not have to use butter or oil."

This syrup will hold your old-fashioned popcorn balls together nicely

In a small to medium-sized saucepan, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water (the smaller your saucepan, the longer it will take for this mixture to heat up, but you don't want to go too big, or it will heat up quicker than you may be prepared for). Then pop in a candy thermometer, turn your heat source to medium-high, and let the mixture cook until the thermometer registers 235 F. At that point, you will want to immediately remove the mixture from the heat source so that it doesn't get any hotter. The reason you'll want to stop at this point is because at 235 F, sugar syrup is at the "soft ball" stage, which is exactly where you want it to be for this recipe.

One way that you'll know it's getting there is that at about 215 F, you'll see the mixture starting to bubble. But "be patient, and wait until you see 235 F," Carli advises. "This way, the corn syrup will be able to hold the popcorn balls together."

Form your old-fashioned popcorn balls

With the hot mixture removed from the heat, add the butter, and stir until it is completely melted. Then pour this mixture over the popcorn, and stir well to ensure that all of the popcorn is coated. Make sure that the popcorn and syrup mixture is not too hot for you to handle comfortably. Then spray your hands with nonstick cooking spray, and working quickly, roll out 20 evenly sized balls. Serve when fully cooled, and enjoy!

Old-Fashioned Popcorn Balls Recipe
5 from 32 ratings
Here's a recipe from recipe developer and dietitian Kristen Carli that you'll want to keep handy from now all the way through the winter holidays.
Prep Time
Cook Time
popcorn balls
old fashioned popcorn balls closeup
Total time: 15 minutes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup corn syrup
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 14 cups popped popcorn
  1. In a small saucepan, add sugar, corn syrup, and water. Heat over high heat until a thermometer registers 235 F. The mixture will begin to bubble at around 215 F.
  2. Remove from heat, and add in butter. Stir well until completely melted.
  3. Pour butter over popcorn. Stir well to ensure even coating.
  4. Spray your hands with nonstick cooking spray to make sure that the popcorn does not stick to you when rolling. Work quickly to roll out popcorn balls when sugar mixture is warm but not too hot to handle.
  5. Let cool and enjoy.
Calories per Serving 118
Total Fat 3.3 g
Saturated Fat 1.4 g
Trans Fat 0.1 g
Cholesterol 4.6 mg
Total Carbohydrates 23.1 g
Dietary Fiber 0.6 g
Total Sugars 19.8 g
Sodium 66.7 mg
Protein 0.5 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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