Make cheddar cheese popcorn when you’re craving this crunchy, cheesy snack. You won’t be able to get enough of it, and you’ll love my easy shortcut for this homemade stovetop version.
Hold the phone because it’s true, you can make homemade cheddar cheese popcorn. Right in your kitchen. Without scouring the internet to find cheddar cheese powder, only to have to wait days to have it to make cheese popcorn. No, my friend, you can have this irresistible, cheesy, coat-your-fingers-orange homemade popcorn in just 5 minutes.
It’s no secret that popcorn is one of my all-time favorite vegetarian snack recipes. And while parmesan garlic popcorn is my favorite with a glass of red wine, and lemon parsley popcorn hits the spot when I want some unique fresh brightness to my snack game…this recipe hits every nostalgic point.
It reminds me of those big holiday tins filled with a combination of cheddar and caramel popcorn that somehow you just can’t stop eating (it’s not just me is it?!). And trips to Chicago where popcorn is a must. And road trips when white cheddar popcorn was the snack of choice.
It’s the snack you won’t be able to stop noshing, which just means you’ll have to make another batch (good thing it’s easy!).
The Best Cheese Powder for Popcorn
First things first, we need to cover this cheese powder situation before we get into the tips and tricks for the how-tos.
I tried really hard to figure out a way to make cheddar popcorn using real cheese. I dehydrated cheddar cheese in the microwave, then pulsed it in a spice grinder, which worked…kind of. It wasn’t great and it was still clumpy and it just wasn’t working out as I wanted it to.
Honestly, I’d given up. I didn’t want to buy a giant bag of powder on Amazon because: A) where the heck am I going to store that?! and B) will I really make enough cheddar popcorn in my lifetime to use it all?!. I wasn’t sure, I had all the reservations.
All that being said, thanks to an article in the Chicago Tribune, I realized that in those little boxes of macaroni and cheese lied a packet of cheddar cheese powder. And that, my friends, is the shortcut.
Use cheddar powder that comes in macaroni boxes for a quick and easy hack to make homemade cheddar cheese popcorn.
How to Make Cheddar Popcorn
Making cheddar popcorn on the stovetop is really so easy. It only takes 5 minutes and it’s hardly any more work than making good ol’ fashioned popcorn.
To start, you need to make stovetop popcorn.
Get a heavy-bottomed stockpot or dutch oven and heat the oil, adding three kernels that will signal to you when the oil is hot. Add the remaining kernels, cover, and remove the pan from the heat for about 20 seconds. Place it back on the heat and wait as the kernels all pop.
Be sure to read my full stovetop popcorn post for all the details, tips, and tricks for making the best homemade popcorn!
If you use an air popper, be sure you shake it well with butter or lightly spritz with oil so the powder will stick.
Shake the Popcorn and Cheese
Now, once the popcorn has popped, transfer it to a large bowl that preferably has a lid. I hear large paper bags work well too, however, I haven’t tried it myself.
Toss or shake the popcorn with melted butter until it is completely coated. Be sure to get it as covered in butter as possible, because the butter (and oil from cooking) is what will help the cheese stick to the popcorn.
Now it’s time to add the cheddar powder! Sprinkle the cheddar evenly over the popcorn, then toss to completely coat it. Ideally, you will be able to cover the large bowl and shake it well. If you have two people, one person can toss the popcorn with spoons while the other sprinkles the cheese, too.
Be sure to shake the popcorn well so the powder coats each piece evenly.
Should I add salt?
I get it, there’s already salt in the cheese packet and you’re maybe not looking to go overboard. The beauty of making recipes at home is that you can taste test and adjust depending on your preferences.
I do recommend adding some fine sea salt to the popcorn, because it seems to balance out the cheesy flavor, making it even more irresistible.
Make White Cheddar Popcorn
If you prefer white cheddar popcorn, it’s just as easy to make! Instead of buying a regular box of macaroni and cheese, grab a white cheddar mac and cheese box – just be sure it’s the kind that uses cheese powder.
Which Cheese Powder is Best?
There are so many varieties of boxed mac and cheese out there it might seem overwhelming to really know which one to get to make cheddar popcorn.
The best answer I can give you is one that you like to eat! The same cheese flavor will come through – just more intensely – on the popcorn. My favorites are either Kraft or Annie’s; I do have to say I did not prefer the store-brand mac and cheese powder. It was a little sweet for my tastes.
Be sure you’re purchasing a regular boxed mac and cheese, not the microwavable cups.
If you’re looking to buy cheese powder separately, some spice stores may sell it, King Arthur has a white cheddar powder, and as always, you can turn to Amazon, too.
What about the noodles?
Don’t throw them out! This recipe isn’t about food waste, just maximizing our options and making life easier. Store the noodles in an airtight container and use them in another recipe. Throw them in with this parmesan orzo recipe, or make your own creamy garlic sauce to toss them in.
How Much Cheese Powder to Use
I hate to say it…but I’m gonna say it… it’s up to your preference. I like to use 4 tablespoons of powder which gives the popcorn a nice cheddar flavor throughout without being overpowering.
A packet from a box of mac and cheese will be just shy of 1/3 cup, which is a little more than the 4 tablespoons. Often, I’ll just toss in the entire packet for good measure (because let’s be honest, I’m not gonna argue with more cheese really).
For a little extra tang, add a teaspoon of ground mustard to the cheddar mix!
If you want it extra cheesy, I would recommend using 6 or 7 tablespoons of cheddar powder (in which case you’ll need two packets or to buy in bulk). Remember to toss it quickly while the butter is still wet, and to toss it well, so the cheddar sticks all over the popcorn.
Cheddar Cheese Popcorn
- 3 Tablespoon oil of choice, refined coconut oil is preferred
- 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
- 4 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 cheddar cheese powder packet, see note
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard, optional
- Fine sea salt, to taste
- In a large heavy-bottomed large stockpot or dutch oven, add the oil and three popcorn kernels, heating over high heat. Cover the pan. These are the "test kernels" and once they pop, it signals that the oil is officially hot enough to pop all the kernels at the same time.
- Meanwhile, measure out the remaining 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels and begin preparing your butter by melting it either in a microwave-safe bowl or on the stovetop. If microwaving, run it in 20 second intervls, checking often to keep it from exploding.
- Remove the cheddar cheese packet from the box of macaroni. Stir in mustard powder, if using.
- Once the three test kernels have popped, immediately add the 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels to the pan. Cover and remove from heat, gently swirling from side to side for 20 seconds. Return the pan to the heat, and the popcorn kernels will almost immediately begin popping.
- Once the kernels are about halfway done popping, slightly crack the lid to allow excess steam to escape. Do this when the stockpot is approximately halfway full with popcorn, or about 30 seconds to 1 minute after they've popped – this does not have to be exact.
- If needed, you can gently shake the pan side to side to allow any remaining kernels to make it to the bottom of the pan to pop. Once the popping has slowed or just stopped, immediately pour the popcorn into your serving bowl. It's helpful if you have a large bowl with a lid. Alternatively, use a large brown paper bag to toss.
- Toss the freshly made popcorn with the melted butter until evenly coated, ensuring it's tossed well. Then, sprinkle the powdered cheese evenly over buttered popcorn and toss or shake to coat until completely covered. Add salt and adjust to taste. Enjoy immediately!
- Cheddar Cheese Powder: I like to use the packet of cheese that comes in boxed macaroni – it’s easy, cheap, and accessible. You can also purchase cheddar cheese powder in bulk or at some specialty stores.
- 1 packet is just under 1/3 cup (about 4 1/2 tablespoons); I recommend 4 tablespoons for a mild cheddar flavor and 6 to 7 for a more intense cheddar flavored popcorn.
- Nutrition is based on 16 cups; the popcorn will make approximately 16 cups of popcorn, which can easily serve up to 8 or more, depending on your hunger levels and situation.
Disclaimer: The nutritional information provided for this recipe is only an estimate. The accuracy of the facts listed is not and cannot be guaranteed.