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!
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.
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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- Mini frying baskets
- Galvanised garden wire (without a plastic coating!)
- Pliers (you’ll need wire cutters and gripping pliers – or needle nose pliers that can do both things!)
- Long pole (a broom handle works well)
- Popcorn kernels
- A fire!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. This is much easier with charcoal than wood.
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. There is no need for oil or other additives, as the popcorn will cook perfectly just from the heat.
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 if you are cooking over flames rather than embers, 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…
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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Mini frying baskets
Thin garden wire
Long pole or broom handle
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.