Why Garrett Popcorn Is Simply The Best

Step aside, cookie tin. This year, we're all about the popcorn tin. Garrett Popcorn, that is.

While Christmas means cookies and eggnog to most people, if you're from the Midwest—or at least know someone who is—your favorite holiday treat is that iconic tin of popcorn that's been making Chicago proud since 1949.

True fans may eat it all year round, but it becomes a staple in any respectable household around the holidays. You might know it as the tin filled with caramel- and cheese-flavored popcorn, or recognize it as the one showing off various Chicago sports teams' logos.

For anyone who's tasted the glory of a perfectly balanced handful of caramel and cheese, it's legendary: the ultimate care package, the best after-school snack and maybe even the breakfast of the champions. To anyone who's from Chicago, it's a taste of home.

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Just ask Mitsu Nozaki, the pastry chef for Gibsons Restaurant Group, another Chi-town icon.  

"My parents used to take me to their store on Madison Avenue. We were those people that you got annoyed with, because we would buy 15 souvenir cans for friends and family that lived out of state," Nozaki says. "To this day, whenever I am heading to see my family, I need to get at least two extra-large bags to bring back. One for my mom and one for my sister, because they both need their own bags."

Nozaki favors the signature Garrett Mix (as one should) and even created a dessert for a dinner at the James Beard House based on the famous snack. Think caramel mousse dusted with cheddar cheese powder, with a caramel-and-cheese tuile and crème fraîche.

Marjorie Easley, the pastry chef at Chicago's Coda di Volpe, has a similar attachment to Garrett's. "I love that you can smell the caramel crisp from a block or two away. I traveled through the Loop to commute to high school, and I remember loving that smell," she says. 

Our new editor, Meredith Heil, isn't immune to the nostalgia either. "When I was a kid in Saint Louis, I was all about those giant Garrett's tubs," she says. "There's absolutely no finer snack for getting you through an epic Christmas Story marathon. My godmother used to always get us the tin with three flavors: caramel, cheese and butter. Everybody would fight over the caramel corn, except me—I was a cheese fan—and no one would touch the buttered stuff, since it was just sad, plain popcorn. But as soon as all the other sections were drained, we'd definitely start digging our grubby paws in there. You never wanted Garrett's to go to waste."

What makes the popcorn so addictive? The sweet and salty combo always leaves you craving more, but it goes deeper than that. It might be one of Oprah's Favorite Things, but it's still made in old-fashioned copper kettles and is still mixed by hand. The exact recipes for the caramel, cheese and every other flavor are, of course, family secrets. But the famous three-flavor mix? That was invented by fans who asked for a blend before it was even an option. It's a great American story of coming together despite differences to create one perfect, tasty union.

So if you really want to nail Christmas this year, it's not going to get any better than a big tin of Garrett Popcorn—or two.