2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 tsp. Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 1/8 tsp. table salt
2/3 cup lightly salted peanuts
1/3 cup miniature salted pretzels
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup or Lyle's Golden Syrup
1/4 cup whiskey
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
3/4 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt, or 3/8 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1. Position oven racks in bottom and top thirds of oven. Preheat to 250°F . Line two baking sheets with parchment paper ; have two heatproof rubber spatulas or wooden spoons handy.
2. To make popcorn, heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until very hot; add popcorn kernels and shake the pot to form a single layer on the bottom. Cover, and reduce heat to medium once you hear the first pop. Shake pot a few times; listen for steady popping. Remove from heat once the kernel pops slow down to a few at a time. Transfer to an extra-large bowl or large roasting pan and sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. kosher salt or 1/8 tsp. table salt. Sprinkle with peanuts. You should have 12 to 14 cups.
3. To make caramel, melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar, corn or Golden syrup, whiskey, maple syrup and 3/4 tsp. kosher salt or 3/8 tsp. table salt, stirring until combined. Raise heat to medium-high. Once mixture begins to boil, cook without stirring until mixture reaches 250°F, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add baking soda and stir until mixture foams then settles.
4. Pour over popcorn mixture. Using two heatproof spatulas, quickly stir to coat evenly. Sprinkle with pretzels, if you wish. Divide among prepared pans and bake on top and bottom racks, stirring every 15 minutes, and switching and rotating pans until mixture is evenly coated and crisp, 30 to 45 minutes total. Remove from oven and cool completely. Caramel corn is best within first 3 days, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.
Makes about 14 cups