Campfire popcorn in a pan
A simple way to cook a large quantity of great tasting (and not smoky) popcorn.
Age Range: 6+
Duration: less than an hour
Time Of Day: any time
Category: bushcraft & survival food outdoors
There are a number of ways to cook popcorn outdoors, including on a campfire with a sieve popcorn maker or using a popcorn net. Here we’re looking at cooking kernels in a pan with a lid.
If you want popcorn to eat as a tasty snack for a number of people, we recommend you use a pan or popcorn net as this creates a much tastier, and less smoky, result. If you want to see those little golden kernels explode in their amazing way then go for the sieves cooking option.
Consider the environmental impact of: preparing for, carrying out and finishing the activity. Could this impact be reduced? A few considerations specific to this activity are:
- leave no trace fires
- reusable serving utensils
Health & safety considerations
Follow your usual operating procedures and carry out appropriate risk benefit assessments. A few considerations particular to this activity are:
- fire safety
- hot food/equipment
Gather everything you’ll need
- pan with lid – this could be a saucepan or casserole-type pan, but requires metal NOT plastic handles
- container with corn kernels
- container with cooking oil
- flavourings if required – butter, salt, etc
- cups or bowls for serving
- spoon/ladle or use a bowl/cup to scoop out popcorn once its cooked
- fire gloves
- a fire with embers* – you need to cook popcorn on embers not the flames of the fire – see building a cooking fire
* We used the Muddy Faces double fire box as it’s a great way to cook on embers, but you can use any fire pit that produces an ember fire.
Pour in enough cooking oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
Heat the oil up with 3 corn kernels in it, and only once you hear these pop take the pan off the fire.
Add the rest of the kernels and give them a swish around to cover them in oil.
Here’s a bit you may not have tried – replace the lid and count for 30 seconds (everyone can join in) before placing the pan back over the heat.
This allows all the kernels to warm up to near-popping temperature, which should help more of the kernels pop at the same time, leaving less un-popped kernels.
Return the pan, with the lid on, to the fire.
From time to time give the pan a little shake to prevent the kernels burning, as there may be hot spots over the embers.
When the kernels start popping, give the pan a shake once in a while – but avoid taking the pan off the heat for too long – just a few seconds at a time
Tip: keep hold of the lid whilst shaking the pan
As the kernels start to pop, if possible* try keeping the lid slightly ajar to let out the steam. It makes the popcorn a little drier and crisper.
* not always easy when campfire cooking
Ideally, empty out the popcorn into a bowl straight away to prevent it burning on the bottom of the pan.
Alternatively, if you have limited resources outdoors, remove the pan and put it in a safe place to cool for a short while and until you are sure all the popping has finished. Keep shaking throughout this process to avoid the popcorn burning on the bottom of the pan.
Use a ladle or cup to serve into bowls or cups.
Eat and enjoy!
A little note from Liz about which oil to use
I guess the answer to this is to experiment and find out what works best for you. If you’re not sure, just use your usual cooking oil such as sunflower oil.
The nut oils – hazel, peanut and almond – all have high smoke points as does sunflower oil.
Most unrefined oils have lower burn temperatures. I always thought olive oil had a low burn/smoke temperature but it would appear high quality (low acidity) extra virgin olive oil has quite a high burn temperature.
Sunflower oil gives a slightly nutty flavour and coconut oil is very popular from the taste tests results.
Peanut oil, although a popular taste choice with a high smoke point, is often avoided due to allergies. Interestingly, avocado oil has a very high smoke point – not sure what it would taste like on popcorn though.
Take it further
If you are adding flavours (such as sugar or cinnamon) you can sprinkle directly over the warm popcorn.
You can also melt butter in the hot pan, ideally until it goes just slightly brown, and pour over the popcorn. Bake this under the fire box for about 10 minutes if you wish.
Always allow to cool before serving melted butter or sugar as they can cause severe burns.