To a large frying pan over medium heat, add strips of bacon. Cook until all the fat is rendered and the bacon is mostly crisp, about 7-10 minutes. Transfer bacon to a paper towel lined plate and allow it to cool. Remove about 7 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat and set aside. Once the bacon has cooled, roughly chop it and set aside in a small bowl.
Pop the kernels using your preferred popping method, using the rendered bacon fat (I use my Whirley pop. It’s the BEST!). Place the rendered bacon fat popped popcorn in a very large bowl and add the peanuts. Set aside.
Note: Use a bowl that is large enough to toss the popcorn.
Preheat the oven to 250° F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
Make the caramel – Melt the butter in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the corn syrup, brown sugar and Kosher salt. Whisk until the mixture comes together, and then increase the heat to medium-high and bring it to a boil, whisking frequently.
Once the mixture reaches a boil, allow it to continuously boil for about 5 minutes without stirring. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla bean paste. The mixture will bubble up a bit and froth (stand back). Whisk quickly until vanilla bean paste is combined. Pour the caramel over the popcorn and toss to coat thoroughly with a silicone spatula. You can use salad tongs as well, but I find silicone spatulas work best for me.
Spread the popcorn evenly onto your prepared baking sheets. If it’s clumpy, that’s fine – The caramel will melt and you will eventually coat all the kernels evenly.
Bake for 30 minutes, tossing the popcorn with tongs every 10 minutes or so to incorporate the caramel evenly. Open the oven and sprinkle bacon over the caramel corn and toss with salad tongs to incorporate.
Close the oven door and allow the caramel corn to bake for about 10 more minutes, tossing every 5 minutes to ensure the bacon doesn’t burn and gets coated with caramel.
Open the oven, and remove a couple of pieces of popcorn from the baking trays and allow them to come to room temperature. If they’re not completely crispy and still mushy when you bite into them, toss with salad tongs and bake for 5-8 more minutes. Continue checking this way until the popcorn has a crisp bite to it.
Remove the baking sheets to a wire rack and allow popcorn to cool completely before breaking apart for serving or packaging…
Makes about 4 quarts of popped caramel corn.