Campfire popcorn in a pan

September 6, 2018

A simple way to cook a large quantity of great tasting (and not smoky) popcorn.

woman holding pan of popcorn wearing red fire gloves
Author: Muddy Faces

Age Range: 6+

Duration: less than an hour

Location: anywhere

Time Of Day: any time

Season: any

Tags: campfire, campfire cooking, cooking, food, popcorn

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.

Environmental considerations

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
  • allergies
  • 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.

red fire gloves plastic container with kernels plastic contianer with cooking oil plastic cups large spoon and stainless steel pan with lid

Step 1

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.

pouring oil into a stainless steel pan

Step 2

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.

stirring corn kernels in a pan close up

Step 3

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.

pan with lid on grill above flames on a fire box

Step 4

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

woman wearing red fire gloves removing pan with lid from embers of firebox

Step 5

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.

stainless steel pan and lid on a stone

Step 6

Use a ladle or cup to serve into bowls or cups.

three plastic beakers filled with popcorn

Step 7

Eat and enjoy!

two boys sitting eating popcorn next to double firebox with burning embers