Father's Day Fix: How to Make Bacon Peanut Caramel Corn

Dad's big day demands an epic snack. Our friend Zac Young has the bacon-infused 411, plus a cocktail bonus round.

 
My father is quite the snack monster, aka he has a not-so-secret drawer where he hides all of his popcorn, pretzels and candy bars. Clearly, I get my love of sweet and salty treats from him. If you're fresh out of gift ideas this year, this bacon peanut caramel corn is a perfect choice for the Dad who has everything. Make the presentation extra-special by going big with the packaging–trick it out with festive cellophane bags, take out containers or gift tins. Oh, and a bourbon cocktail on the side sure doesn't hurt. 

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1 Cook the Bacon

Start with the bacon. The easiest way to do this is on a baking sheet in the oven. Don't throw away the fat—you'll need it in a second.
 

2 Pop the Popcorn

Use the rendered bacon fat as your cooking oil. If you prefer, you can use one tablespoon of vegetable oil instead. If you’d like to use air-popped or microwave popcorn, that will work as well. Make sure it’s the natural kind without the artificial butter flavor. Two bags of microwave popcorn will give you more than enough for eight cups.
 

3 Make the Caramel

Be sure to follow the recipe and be careful not to overcook it. If you do not want to use corn syrup, you may substitute honey, agave or maple syrup. Just note that the color of the syrup will be darker in the beginning, so the resulting caramel will be darker as well.
 

4 Spread Everything Onto a Baking Sheet

Spread the popcorn onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper (if using parchment paper, make sure it fully lines the baking sheet or the caramel corn will stick). Sprinkle the peanuts evenly over the sheet. Crumble the cooled bacon over the popcorn and peanuts and season everything with a generous pinch of salt. 
 

5 Drizzle the Caramel and Mix

Once the caramel is light amber, drizzle it evenly over the sheet of popcorn and immediately stir to mix. The caramel will start to harden and not fully coat everything, but that’s ok, you just want to get the process started. 
 

6 Bake and Keep Mixing

Place the sheet in the oven and bake for thirty minutes, stirring the corn every eight to ten minutes. When you stir the corn, make sure to scrape the caramel off the silicone mat and turn it over to coat. Once fully coated, remove from the oven and break the clusters apart with a fork or your hands.

Let fully cool. Once cool, the caramel corn will store for a week in an airtight container protected from humidity.
 

7 Flavor Variations

Substitute any nuts for the peanuts (toasted hazelnuts and toasted cashews are a personal favorite).

For a fruity variation, add a generous handful of dried fruit (cranberries, cherries or blueberries) in the final five minutes of baking, stirring to fully incorporate into the corn and caramel.

Skip the corn entirely and use eight cups of mini pretzels or a mix of both.

Spice it up! Add a tablespoon of curry powder or cinnamon or a ½ teaspoon of cayenne to the caramel before pouring over the tray of popcorn.
 
 

8 Bonus Round: Cocktail Time

Dad needs something to sip with his homemade snack, so call in this simple Father's Day Tee Time Cocktail that's equally at home on the rocks or whirred up as a slushy in the blender.
 

About Zac Young

Contributing Host of Cooking Channel's "Unique Sweets" and Executive Pastry Chef of David Burke Group.