How to Make a Campfire Popcorn Cage

A campfire popcorn cage is great for showing kids exactly what is happening to popcorn as it cooks. And because they are cheap and easy to make, you can make enough for everyone to have one each.

Cooking things on sticks has to be the most fun way of cooking with kids over a campfire. We’ve toasted marshmallows, and muffins, and cooked damper bread and sausages. And using these little cages, we’ve popped popcorn too!

popped popcorn kernels in a DIY cage over a campfire

Not got much time or just want the bullet points on how to make these? Click here for the Quick Read Instructions.

Campfire cooking with kids

I used to make popcorn over the fire using sieves joined together in the same way as these mini baskets. But I was never completely happy with that design. With larger sieves, you get bigger portions, but because it is bigger, it’s also harder to balance. So I found that with the sieves, the younger kids end up mostly just watching.

Yet a big part of why we cook things on sticks in forest school sessions is so that the kids can do it themselves. They LOVE being in control! And as the sticks put them at a good distance from the fire while they cook, it also minimises risks.

Girl cooking popcorn over a campfire using a cage on a stick

So when I found a bunch of these mini frying baskets in a charity shop, I knew they would make perfect campfire popcorn makers. And unlike the sieves, these ones would be small enough for the kids to use without help.

To make them, you only need a pair of pliers to bend the handles, and wire to join them together. Even if you are not particularly crafty, you’ll find it easy. And not only is this a fun way of making delicious popcorn over the campfire, this activity also makes for a great way to explore the science behind what makes popcorn go pop too. Because you don’t just hear it happen; you see it too!

How to make a campfire popcorn cage

All the materials you need for these campfire popcorn cages are easy and cheap to source. You can usually buy the frying baskets in sets of eight, which is enough to make four separate campfire popcorn makers.

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Materials needed

Materials needed to make campfire popcorn cages.

Campfire popcorn cage instructions

1. To make a campfire popcorn cage out of the mini frying baskets, the first thing you need to do is to adjust the handles. This is so you can sit one basket upside down on top of the other to form the cage.

At the rim of one basket, pinch the handle in, using your pliers.

At the rim of the other basket, widen the handle outwards. Again, you can use your pliers for this.

Pinching the handle of a frying basket to make it narrower.
Bent handles on mini frying baskets

Sit one basket on top of the other to check if they line up, with one handle sitting inside the other. You will probably need to check and adjust the handles a few times to get them right, but this shouldn’t be particularly hard to do as the metal is relatively soft and easy to bend.

Mini frying baskets being used to make a popcorn pan for a campfire

Make fasteners to keep the popcorn cage closed during cooking

2. Before you join the two baskets together, add a loop to one and a simple hook to the other. When the hook is bent through the loop, it should fasten the front of the baskets together temporarily but securely, and needs to be able to be easily undone once the popcorn is cooked.

It’s much easier to add the hook and loop to the baskets BEFORE you join them together at the handle side. So don’t be tempted to leave this until last.

Close up of the fastener on a campfire popcorn cage

Make a hinge

3. Once you’ve bent the handles to the correct position, and have added the fastening loop and hook, you then need to join the two baskets together with a hinge made from your garden wire.

You can do this any way you like, as long as the baskets can still open and close.

Close up of the hinge on a campfire popcorn cage

4. Test out your baskets to make sure that the hinge allows them to open, and that the loop and hook keep the baskets firmly closed when needed. Don’t worry if there is a small gap but try to get them as close fitting as possible to avoid losing too many kernels to the fire.

Making campfire popcorn cages

Attaching the campfire popcorn cage to a pole

Once your campfire popcorn cages are done, you can fasten them to your poles. You want these to be a good length – at least a metre – so that they can be held safely over the fire. Broom handles work perfectly, but you could use any long and sturdy pole.

You are going to fix only ONE of the basket handles to the pole, as the other basket needs to be able to open to get the popcorn in and out.

So that I would know which is the fixed basket during cooking, I always made the basket with the loop the one that was fixed in place. This is helpful when you are using them, as they can get spun around when shaken over the fire. You can easily lose track of which way up they go.

Campfire popcorn cage

You can see in this picture that the broom handles I used had a hole pre-drilled for a hanging loop (they were intended for garden brooms). This was really useful for anchoring the basket in place. Wrapping the wire around and through this hole and the handle meant that there was no way the basket could fall off.

If your poles don’t have a hole, you could just drill your own.

The hook and loop at the front of the baskets keep the campfire popcorn cages closed during cooking, so there is no need to fasten the loose handle to the pole.

Just add popcorn (and fire)…

Once attached to the pole, your popcorn cages are ready to use!

The beauty of these little cages is that they are light enough for even very young children to hold over the fire, letting them take control of the experience. Of course this does mean that you may get less than perfect results, as it can be a little tricky to keep a campfire at the perfect temperature for cooking.

It’s rare that we don’t get any popcorn kernels popping though, and if you get it right, just a tablespoon of kernels will fill these cages with enough tasty popcorn to fill a paper cup.

Cooking popcorn in cages on sticks over a campfire

However, if you are doing this with kids, I suggest you do as I do… To keep everyone happy, I always bring along a bag or two of ready-popped popcorn, just in case. That way, even if it all goes up in flames (which the kids enjoy almost as much!), everyone still gets a taste.


How to cook with a campfire popcorn cage

I find that about a tablespoon of popcorn is about the right amount for each cage, and is enough to fill it up if you can get all the kernels to pop. This works out to enough popcorn to fill a medium sized paper cup.

To cook, add your kernels and then fasten the cage securely. Because the wire can get hot during cooking, I use a pair of pliers to undo and fasten them.

Hold the cages over the fire, ideally over the red hot embers rather than the flame. It’s a little like fishing after this, as you’ll then have a good few minutes of absolutely nothing happening. But then suddenly you’ll get a pop, and once one goes, the rest should follow quickly.

Once your popcorn starts popping, be extra careful of the flames because those popped pieces will catch fire like nobody’s business!

If you do get a fire in the cage (and it is bound to happen at least once), don’t panic. Continue to hold the cage over the fire pit, though move it away from the campfire. The popcorn will burn up safely in the cage, and with no further fuel, the flames will go out by themselves. You’ll be left with a basket of shrivelled charcoal popcorn – lovely!

After that, just shake the bits out and try again…

popcorn kernels cooking in a cage over a campfire

More from Rhubarb and Wren

Looking for more recipes to cook on the campfire with kids? Check out these great ideas from Rhubarb and Wren!

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Quick-Read Instructions

For when you just want to get right to the point…

Materials needed: 
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Mini frying baskets
Thin garden wire
Pliers
Long pole or broom handle
Popcorn kernels
A fire!

Method:
1. Use pliers to pinch the handle of one basket, and widen the handle of the other.
2. Check that one basket now sits upside down on top of the other, with both rims touching all the way around. Adjust the handles further as necessary to make this work.
3. Make a wire loop and attach to the front of one basket (the opposite end to the handle).
4. Double over another piece of wire, and attach this to the front of the other basket. Make sure that this wire can fit through the loop of the other basket.
5. Join both baskets together with a hinge at the handle end, using another piece of wire.
6. Attach the baskets to a long pole by fixing only ONE of the basket handles to the pole, using galvanised (non-plastic) garden wire.

Hints and Tips:
Use pliers to open and close the wire fasteners during cooking, as this wire will get hot!
Cook over the embers of the campfire, avoiding the flames if possible as it is very easy to burn your popcorn or set it alight.
Use pre-flavoured microwave popcorn kernels if you want to add more flavour.

4 Comments

  1. What a great idea, I would love to do this myself and kids will love watching their popcorn pop away.

  2. This looks like fun! Might try this in the garden. We pop our corn on the stove in a pan that has a glass lid, so you can see a bit but it steams up pretty quickly so this would be much better.

    • Definitely a good one for the garden, and I think this might work even better over coals on a BBQ – the only really tricky bit is keeping the fire at the right temperature, so I think that would be easier to do with charcoal rather than wood!

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