Here are two ways to make caramel, with step-by-step photos so you don’t miss a beat. Plus, I’ll also show you how to make this incredibly luscious caramel sauce.

How to make caramel (with step-by-step photos) on

If you are under the assumption that caramel is tricky or difficult, I am here today to tell you that it doesn’t have to be! I know the process of caramelizing sugar can be quite intimidating, I really do, because I’ve been there. But once I got over my fear and practiced it a few times, I discovered how simple it really is, and that all I was lacking was a little confidence.

And I have confidence in you! You got this. I’ll show you how:

The Wet Method

Caramel begins as granulated sugar placed over heat to melt, darken in color and take on a deep and bittersweet flavor. As the name suggests, this method of caramelizing sugar uses sugar + water. It’s the easier of the two, and the one I’d recommend for caramel newbies.

How to make caramel (with step-by-step photos) on

First, combine 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a medium saucepan and set over medium heat.

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As the sugar melts, resist the urge to stir and instead swirl and gently shake the pan back and forth to distribute the liquid and make sure it melts evenly. Stirring the sugar causes recrystallization and clumps to form— not a good thing.

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Even without stirring, crystals can still form on the sides of the pan. Simply dip a pastry brush in water and brush the sides of the pan down to dissolve the crystals.

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Now, all there is to do is wait and watch. In a matter of minutes, the sugar will change color from clear, to light amber, and finally a nice dark amber. Continue to swirl the pan as needed to make sure it’s caramelizing evenly (no stirring!).

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The caramel can burn quickly, so keep a close eye on it. As soon as it reaches dark amber, immediately remove it from the heat.

At this point you can proceed with your recipe, whether it’s for a caramel cake, caramel pudding, caramels, caramel applescaramel rice krispie treats, or caramel sauce (see below!). Whatever you’re doing with the caramel, just make sure to use it right away as it will cool and harden very quickly.

The Dry Method

Unlike the Wet Method, this method uses only sugar. It will caramelize more quickly, and therefore can burn more easily.

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Start with 1 cup of granulated sugar sprinkled evenly on the bottom of a medium saucepan and place over medium heat.

And then wait.

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All on its own the sugar will melt and caramelize, starting with the edges and moving inward.

You’ll be really tempted to stir it, but don’t. Again, swirl and shake the pan to distribute the caramelized sugar in and around the unmelted sugar and to promote even browning.

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As soon as it reaches that dark amber color, remove it from the heat.

And that’s it, you’ve made caramel! Whew. Now, let’s make some caramel sauce and drizzle it over vanilla ice cream to celebrate.

How to Make Caramel Sauce

The easiest use for caramelized sugar is a basic caramel sauce. There’s no substitute for the real thing and it’s a perfect topping for all sorts of desserts.

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Picking right up from where we left off, once your caramel has reached that perfect dark amber color, remove it from the heat and immediately add 3/4 cup heavy cream in a small steady stream while whisking constantly. The caramel will bubble violently and may even seize up slightly, and that’s okay.

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Return the caramel and cream mixture to medium heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until any clumps have been dissolved and caramel is smooth.

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Remove it from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and any desired flavorings such as vanilla extract, vanilla beans, or even whiskey.

With the two batches of sauce I made while creating this post, I added vanilla bean to one and bourbon to the other. I’m not sure which one I like more, they both are so rich with unbelievable flavor. I kept dipping a spoon back and forth trying to pick a favorite, and in the end I decided to quit and call it a draw before I accidentally ate it all.

Whatever you decide to do with your homemade caramel, I hope you give it a try!

How to make caramel (with step-by-step photos) on

Caramel Sauce
Caramel sauce is easy to make and the perfect topping for desserts!
Yield: Approximately 1½ cups
Making Caramel - Method 1 (Wet Method)
  • 1 cups (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) water
Making Caramel - Method 2 (Dry Method)
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
For the Caramel Sauce:
  • Caramel
  • ¾ cup (178 ml) heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter
  • ½-1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds removed from the pod (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons whiskey (optional)
Making Caramel - Method 1 (Wet Method):
  1. Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Allow sugar to melt and bring to a boil. Let the mixture caramelize and wait for it to turn dark amber in color. Do not stir, swirl pan as needed to promote even caramelization.
Making Caramel - Method 2 (Dry Method):
  1. Sprinkle sugar evenly on the bottom of a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Allow sugar to melt and caramelize, swirling as necessary to promote even caramelization. Do not stir.
To make the Caramel Sauce:
  1. As soon as the caramel is dark amber in color, immediately remove it from the heat and slowly add the heavy cream while whisking constantly. Caramel will bubble violently.
  2. Return mixture to medium heat and simmer until any clumps have dissolved and mixture is smooth.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in butter and salt. Add vanilla extract and if desired, vanilla bean and whiskey.
Note: Store caramel sauce in the fridge for up to several weeks.

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43 Responses to How to Make Caramel, Two Ways

  1. Rachael says:

    Will both the wet and dry versions quickly harden if not made into a sauce?

    • Annalise says:

      Hi Rachel! Yes. The dry caramel will harden into a solid and the wet caramel will be hard, but with a little plasticity. After a few minutes you will no longer be able to whisk in cream to make a sauce, for example.

  2. Do you know how much I love caramel? LOVE it. There would be not time to harden, if I had a spoon nearby. LOL

    Thanks for the great “how to.”

  3. Mary Frances says:

    Homemade caramel is the best! It needs your full attention though, which can be difficult for multitaskers like me!

  4. Becky says:

    Does the cream need to be room temperature or can you just add it cold without ruining the caramel?

    • Annalise says:

      It will incorporate easier if the cream is at room temperature. But I usually forget to take it out ahead of time, and so mine is almost always cold, and it turns out just fine.

  5. I totally thought making caramel was super hard. I need to try this!!

  6. Jess says:

    This is great! For some reason, caramel really scares me. I always think it’s going to be so hard. I need to give this a go!

    • Annalise says:

      Totally understandable. I think it’s scared us all at one point or another. But you can do it! I know you can. :)

  7. Wowzer – I’ve never seen the dry method before!! I will have to try that with my next batch, because I’m *ahhh* almost out of caramel right now! The horror!

    • Annalise says:

      The dry method is actually my go-to, but I admit it’s a little crazy looking. But not difficult! Let me know how it goes when you give it a try. Thanks, Megan!

  8. Connie says:

    If I wanted to make a Caramel Cake, will just adding the cream make it spreadable/smooth-able/creamy without adding anything else? Or, will it get hard and crunchy?

    • Annalise says:

      Adding cream will result in a liquid caramel sauce, it will not get hard and crunchy. Are you looking to add it to a cake recipe or use it for frosting?

      • Connie says:

        I would love to make a cake and use this for frosting…will it not work? My aunt make a caramel cake that was stupid good and creamy and would love to find that recipe.

      • Annalise says:

        It will be more like a drizzle than a glaze or frosting. You can try adding 1/4-1/2 cup (of room temperature caramel sauce- you don’t want it to be hot) to a plain buttercream frosting to make a caramel buttercream frosting. The amount you add will depend on what frosting recipe you use. Start with 1/4 cup and add more if needed. Hope this helps!

  9. What a coincidence! I made caramel sauce too. And can’t stop drizzling it all over :)

  10. michele says:

    is this sauce a ‘thin’ sauce for pouring on ice cream etc…or is it a sauce that can be used to make caramel apples and popcorn balls….which im looking for..thxs

  11. Alanna says:

    does the caramel need to be a certain temperature before adding the cream? It didn’t bubble up when I tried it.

  12. Nadia says:

    Instead of using heavy whipping cream would using the substitute 3/4cup of milk with 1/3 cup of butter work?

    • Annalise says:

      You know, I don’t know. I know it will be a different kind of caramel sauce, but I can’t be certain that it won’t be delicious. Give it a try and let me know!

  13. Nat says:

    I am so glad and grateful to finally find such a clear and detailed recipe for making caramel especially since I just burnt a batch. I’ve a question though is there a proportion of cream to sugar caramalised? Also why is butter added at the end? Some recipes Heat up cream n butter to add to the boiling sugar is there a difference?

  14. Erin says:

    how about adding the vanilla AND bourbon??

  15. Teresa west says:

    I just have to tell you how grateful I am for finding your recipe. I rarely if ever leave comments But I felt the need to let you know that my homemade caramel turned out delishious thanks to your step by step directions and photos. So thank you very much

  16. Aleisha says:

    So what do you mean by you store in to fridge for several weeks, do you mean we have to do that before we use it or can we use it when ever we want and thats how long you can keep it for when putting in fridge.

  17. Aleisha says:

    What do you mean by store in to fridge for several weeks. Do you mean we have to wait that long to use it , or can we use it when we want and that’s our place to store it every time we finished with it .

    • Annalise says:

      I just mean the caramel sauce leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to several weeks. You can of course use it right away.

  18. Juliet says:

    Have you tried canning your caramel sauce? Would love to make large batches for later use, or as gifts.

  19. samina says:

    Wanna learn caramel and chocolates

  20. Crystal says:

    Well i just made this but i didn’t have the whipping cream so i made a substitute for it which was 2/3 cup milk warmed & 1/3 cup real butter (melted) and it tastes delish!! It tastes like a buttery caramel !! Thank you so much for sharing and now that i know it’s not such a daunting task I will be making and experimenting more with your recipe !!

  21. Jessica says:

    Can I use the caramel sauce to make caramel apples

  22. Carol says:

    This was such an easy thing to make (from some one who has no experience) thank you for the detailed instructions and pictures it helped me a lot my husband LOVEEESSS it.

  23. Angela says:

    I have never thought of making my own caramel. Read your post and just made this using dry method. It came out beautifully. Now to pour caramel sauce with nuts over my pumpkin cheesecake for thanksgiving dinner. Thanks very much!!

  24. monica says:

    I just made it and it turned out absolutely delicious! Thank you so much for the recipe and for the easy way to explain! :)

  25. Jacqueline says:

    I just completed this recipie. First time making caramel and I used the dry method and it tastes professional. I actually used a metal whisk when it says “whisk”….. Dont do that. Use a rubber spatula. Added whiskey and it’s salty, sweet, and delicious.
    An excellent recipie. It’s going on a cheesecake tomorrow night.

  26. ICHA says:

    I just tried the dry method… and it turned out… burnt! I didn’t realize it until I tasted the bitter end taste. :( The texture is really good and creamy, though. But bet I should start over and throw it away! *cry*
    Nothing wrong with the recipe, it was just me – the first timer. lol

    Thanks for the step-by-step recipe, Annalise! :)

  27. Qsilv says:

    omigoodness –who knew? I used to make sauce for Flan by pouring a bunch of sugar into the glass casserole and heating it directly over a flame, tilting it this way and that as it began to melt, until the whole thing was coated in dark gold. Then I’d pour in the egg ‘n’ cream ‘n’ whatever (vanilla, over-ripe bananas…) and it would crackle like breaking glass. Set the whole thing into a larger pan with a moat of water and bake…. and you’re telling me I was making caramel??! Delighted laughter here! THANK you!

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