How to Peel a Chestnut

Without Cutting Off Your Thumb!

October 20, 2016

Here’s how to peel a chestnut—without cutting off your thumb!

Chestnuts are harvested in the fall. When cooked, they add a sweet, meaty taste to stuffing and stews. Traditionally, chestnuts are a popular addition to the Christmas menu.

If you are foraging, just ensure that you are collecting the edible variety, the sweet chestnut. Horse chestnuts, also called conkers and buckeyes, are not edible. The sweet chestnut variety always has a pointed tip. Its toxic relative bears no such pointed end on its brown shell.

Now, chestnuts can be a royal pain to peel, so we are here to help with advice on how to go about it.  Our method is as follows:

  1. Make an X on the flat side of the shells with a sharp knife. Wear leather gloves, because the nuts are slippery.
  2. Place the nuts in a single layer in a glass baking dish, cover with waxed paper, and microwave on High for about 6 minutes, until the shells begin to peel back.
  3. While the nuts are still warm, use a small sharp knife to peel off the shells and as much of the inner brown skins as you can. Work patiently to avoid bloodshed (your own).
  4. Before adding the nuts to stuffing or other dishes, saute them in 1 tablespoon butter until golden brown.

Photo credit: Charmaine Mitchell

Another Chestnut Peeling Method

A forager friend shared another chestnut-peeling method, finding it to be the best in obtaining an intact chestnut.

  • First cut in half. Grab the shell with a pair of pliers ( it has to be real pliers) and pull off/pop out the nut. It is very easy to remove the outer shell when it is cut in half and cold.
  • Put the half into boiling water for 10 to 20 seconds only, remove, and rub off the inner husk with a tea towel. The inner husk is very easy att this point. 
  • Put in jars and freeze for Christmas!

Did you know that All Saints’ Day traditionally features chestnuts on the menu, too—as well as gingerbread and doughnuts.

To celebrate this day or any day, here are a few chestnut recipes:

Chestnut Stuffing

Roasted Chestnut Soup

Chestnut Croquettes

Chestnut Creme

Of course, chestnuts are also wonderful straight from the oven or fireplace. They’ll warm your hands and your mood!

Reader Comments

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Eating Chestnuts in the yard.

One comment said They open the Chestnuts with Their teeth and eat them fresh. I Cannot resist this, I have one large American Chestnut tree in my yard, and it produces hundreds of Nuts each year. They all have to be picked up just to Mow the lawn, due to the large Thorny husks, and I always sit on the front porch and Eat a few, biting the Nuts to crack them, and Eating the Delicious Sweet Nuts after peeling them. They are very Good and Sweet, I also have Pecans, both are great, but the Chestnuts are Sweeter. The first time I Roasted some, They Exploded in the oven, making a terrible mess, this was before I learned to Slit them first to allow the steam to escape while roasting. I still Prefer them fresh and crunchy the day they fall from the tree, on the front porch with a glass of sweet tea.

cooking and peeling chestnuts

It took me many years to finally come up with a foolproof way to cook chestnuts. Here's what I do: First, be sure to select nuts that are are full rounded and do not show any blemishes, mold, or are starting to split. Scrub chestnuts in warm water. Using a chestnut knife (there actually is such a thing) or a bird beak parer, make an "X" on the rounded side of each nut. Put in a pot of boiling water that is well salted and simmer 7 minutes. Take them out of the water and place on a shallow pan or pie plate (I use a discarded aluminum pan from the bakery). Place in a 425 degree oven for 24-27 minutes. Remove from the oven and quickly and gently squeeze each nut to pop shell. Let them cool enough to handle and finish peeling them. We are chestnut addicts and it works for us every time. Some people score the nuts around the circumference rather than make an x, but I think that's too much work.

No microwave

I don’t use a microwave. How would I do method #1 in a conventional oven?

peeling chestnuts

The Editors's picture

We would cook them by roasting or steaming.  After you cut an X into the shell: 1) roast in a pan or on a baking sheet at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes or unti shells pull apart and nuts are tender. Or, 2) boil an inch of water in a saucepan and set the chestnuts in a steam basket for about 20 minutes (covering the pot).

Roasted chestnuts

I have never had a roasted chestnut but seeing them on so many movies and Christmas movies I would love to try some. On the Internet it says they’re nasty tasting but still to me it would be wonderful at Christmas. I see that you can cook them in the oven other than an open fire could you send me any recipes or ways to cook them in the oven and over an open fire, would appreciate any information for me to have successful roasted chestnuts thank you so much


We used to open them with our teeth and eat them straight out of the yard when I was a kid.

Chestnut Preparation

Now I know why they're $6.00 for a small jar! Please remember to add "blood" to all suggested recipes.

All Saints day

Never knew that chestnuts were a tradition on All Saints Day (November 1st) I was born on Nov1st. I believe I will have some on that day growing up my Mom always had them on major Holidays Christmas,New Years and Easter. I haven't had them in years.

Chestnut Soup

Catherine Boeckmann's picture

I love chestnut soup.  Thanks for the recipe!