GALLERY: Making popcorn at Pops Kettle Corn
It's a sweet and salty snack that's a staple of most festivals and fairs around the state, and dates back as far as the 18th century. Still, kettle corn is as popular as ever. Pops Kettle Corn has two locations in Mukwonago and Waukesha, and they claim to make the best in the Badger State.
Mark Knudson is the shop's owner after taking over from his parents Terri and Richard. It's truly a mom and pop shop that offers over 50 unique flavors. They have everything from their Milwaukee Mix of cheddar and caramel, to the spice of Dragon's Breath and because it's Wisconsin, the Old Fashioned.
"We actually take brandy, bitters, we reduce it down, then we add SoulBoxer, which is an awesome Wisconsin drink. It gives it a nice cherry, orange finish on a gourmet corn," Knudson explained.
Despite all of the variety, I'll be making the their most famous flavor: the original kettle corn.
It's not a complicated process. It starts by heating the kettle, adding oil, then the seeds and sugar. Still, you have to be attentive, making sure the oil and sugars combine well together.
We begin to stir with little action, but it doesn't take long before the first popping begins. Before it gets too crazy, we need some protective measures like masks and gloves.
"It burns," says Cody, the secondary chef at Pops Kettle Corn. "It burns a lot if it hits you. Sometimes when my sleeve falls down I get burned on my wrist. Masks always help."
Before long we've got a kettle full of corn that gets dumped into a swifter. That's where we add the salt and weed out the unpopped kernels, which don't go to waste.
"It gets all the kernels to fall through the bottom," Cody explains. "We give them to farmers to feed to their animals."
Now that the corn is cooled, it's ready to be packaged to ensure you get the freshest kettle corn. They fill each bag to the brim and place it right out front, ready for you to enjoy.
They've got the process down to a science, but it doesn't stop them from pushing the envelope.
"We do a lot of pairings with beer," Mark says of their future plans. "We're starting to pair with some of the breweries that we can essentially have flights and pairings. It's actually going to be a line of ours called 'C & C' (Crafts and Corn)."
"No matter what it's a try before you buy policy. Make sure you try the corn before you buy it. That way you're going home with something you really like."