The salty, sweet, cheesy popcorn I can't stop eating

A cheddar and caramel popcorn that's a taste of Chicago

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published June 30, 2022 6:30PM (EDT)

Chicago mix popcorn (Mary Elizabeth Williams)
Chicago mix popcorn (Mary Elizabeth Williams)

Do you have a "no brakes" food? You know, a "Get this stuff away from me" food? For me, it's the Garrett Mix from Garrett Popcorn, aka the Chicago Mix. An astonishingly addictive blend of cheese and caramel popcorn, it's the company's most famous creation. It's also the one food I am truly powerless against.

I discovered it, naturally, in Chicago several years ago. I'd taken my older daughter to the Windy City for a special weekend away, and there was a Garrett's near our hotel. We stopped in and ordered a big bag of their most popular item, then went back to the hotel to order a movie.

RELATED: In strong defense of Molly Yeh's popcorn salad recipe

I should say here that I am generally indifferent to popcorn; I never even buy it at the movies. But from the moment I reached my hand into that fateful bag, I could not stop myself. I have had dumplings in Beijing and jamón ibérico in Barcelona, and I have had Garrett Mix in Chicago; they are all transcendent culinary experiences. It's the salt, it's the sweet, it's the buttery, it's the… cheesy. Thank God I don't live in Chicago, I'd have a medical condition from all the Garrett's I'd eat.

While I definitely advise you to try the real thing for yourself, if you are feeling that certain itch and want to try your hand at a home version, it's a relatively simple procedure. Garrett's uses "mushroom" popcorn, which creates up an exceptionally round popcorn that holds toppings well, but your own favorite supermarket brand makes a serviceable substitute. And while there are plenty of recipes for cheddar popcorn out there, most seem to casually list cheddar powder as an ingredient, even though it's not exactly a household item. I make mine with the little package in a box of mac & cheese, then just repurpose the pasta.

Would this mix fool anybody in a showdown against Garrett's? Heavens, no. But would I devour an entire bowl moments after putting it in said bowl? I would and I did. Get this stuff away from me. It's just too, too good.


Recipe: Chicago Mix Popcorn
Inspired by Gale Gand and Recipe Tin Eats

 2 - 3  servings
Prep Time
 10 minutes
Cook Time
 15  minutes


  • 1 bag of your favorite natural style microwave popcorn

For the cheese popcorn:

  • 4 tablespoons of melted butter
  • 1 package of cheddar cheese powder from a box of macaroni and cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon of mustard powder
  • Salt and pepper

For the caramel popcorn:

  • 1/2 cup of   brown sugar
  •  2 tablespoons of light corn syrup
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/8 teaspoons of  baking soda
  • 1/4 of  teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt



  1. Preheat oven to 200°F.
  2. Microwave your popcorn to package directions. 
  3. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Spread out half the popcorn on one of them.
  4. Over medium heat in a medium pan, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and a pinch of salt. Cook until just boiling, stirring from time to time. Continue stirring another minute or so.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the melted butter, cheddar cheese mix, and mustard powder. Stir in the other half of the popcorn and mix to coat well. Spoon the popcorn on to the second sheet pan.
  6. Remove the caramel  pan from heat and carefully stir in the vanilla and baking soda. The baking soda will make it bubble up, so watch out.
  7. Pour the caramel over the first sheet of (plain) popcorn. Stir well to coat as much as possible.
  8. Stick the pans in the oven for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice to dry things out a little.
  9. Remove pans from the oven and let cool so you don't destroy your mouth. Mix both your popcorns in a large bowl, and enjoy.

Cook's Notes

Hate macaroni and cheese? You can purchase cheddar powder separately online.


Want more great food writing and recipes? Subscribe to "The Bite," Salon Food's newsletter.

More of our favorite easy snacks:

Salon Food writes about stuff we think you'll like. Salon has affiliate partnerships, so we may get a share of the revenue from your purchase.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

MORE FROM Mary Elizabeth Williams

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Garrett's Mix Popcorn Recipe Snacks