Learn how to roast chestnuts at home in your oven or over hot coals! Get tips on how to buy, prepare and store chestnuts, too.
This ultimate guide to roasting chestnuts has been a work in process for the past three years. I’ve prepped, cooked and shelled more chestnuts than I care to admit, and I’ve got the burnt fingers to prove it!
I’ve done by best to include everything you need to know to successfully roast chestnuts at home. I hope you’ll find this guide helpful!
If you’ve never cooked or eaten a chestnut before, you’re in for a treat. Freshly roasted chestnuts are delicious!
They do take some work to prepare and cook, and you’re going to find more than a few hard or mouldy chestnuts along the way, but it’s worth it.
What Are Chestnuts?
Chestnuts are the edible seeds of the sweet chestnut tree that grow inside of a prickly casing called a burr. They have an inedible dark brown outer shell, and a bitter paper-like skin that needs to be removed before eating.
The flesh of a chestnut has a somewhat soft texture, and a sweet nutty flavour. I usually eat mine with melted butter and salt, so it kind of tastes like popcorn, just less crunchy.
The important thing to remember here is that raw chestnuts must be cooked before you eat them.
It’s important to note that while chestnuts look similar to conkers – the seed of the horse chestnut tree, they are not the same. Although horse chestnuts are safe for animals to eat, they can be poisonous to humans.
Where to Buy Chestnuts
Fresh raw chestnuts are generally available in groceries and farmers markets around Thanksgiving in Canada and the United States. I usually see them in stores from October to December.
Most of the chestnuts that I’ve purchased from the grocery have been from either China or Italy. They don’t taste exactly the same, but I haven’t found that I prefer one over the other.
Imported chestnuts are a good option, but keep in mind that by the time they reach Canadian shelves, they are far from fresh.
This often means that the chestnuts have become dry or mouldy long before you bring them home, and you might not realize it until you’ve gone through the trouble of cooking and peeling them.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell if a chestnut has gone bad while it’s still raw and in the shell. I’ll share some tips for selecting good chestnuts below!
Buy Locally Grown if You Can
If you have the option to buy locally grown chestnuts, go for it! The absolute best chestnuts that I’ve eaten have all been small, locally grown chestnuts.
The level of freshness seems to make a big difference. I get far less bad chestnuts in a pound of locally grown chestnuts compared to imported chestnuts.
Also, small chestnuts cook quickly, and are a breeze to peel compared to large ones.
Check with your local farmers or farmers markets to see if anyone grows chestnuts. I had never thought to check, and then one year I came across tiny chestnuts at a farmer’s market in Toronto that were grown in the Niagara region. They were so small that I wasn’t sure they’d taste like anything, and they were a bit pricy, but ultimately it was a good purchase.
I’ve also bought fresh local chestnuts from my friend Lis at Jewels Under the Kilt (seriously, that’s her company’s name!). Her chestnuts are also quite small, but have a wonderful sweet nutty flavour. Lis usually sells her chestnuts at the Evergreen Brickworks Market in Toronto when they are in season, if she’s had a good crop.
How to Select and Store Chestnuts
If your grocery sells chestnuts loose, you can pick through them to find the best ones.
It’s important to look at the shells of the chestnuts that you’re buying. They should be shiny and hard, with a vibrant brown colour. Look for chestnuts that are heavy for their size, and don’t rattle when you shake them.
As chestnuts get older, they become dull, sad-looking and bland. You can see the difference in this photo below.
If the chestnuts are sold pre-packed (where you can’t select the individual ones you want), you may end up with chestnuts that are cracked (like the one below), or blemished. These should be discarded.
Lastly, avoid buying chestnuts that are in closed plastic bags. Chestnuts can go mouldy when they aren’t able to breathe, so it’s a good idea to look for ones sold in mesh or paper bags, or at least plastic bags that have ventilation holes in them.
Be sure to cook your chestnuts soon after purchasing, as they spoil quickly. If you can’t cook them right away, refrigerate raw chestnuts in perforated plastic bags for a few days, or freeze in an airtight container for up to one month.
Cooked chestnuts are best eaten immediately, however you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for the next day if needed. Just reheat them in a pot placed over medium-low heat, and add some butter to the pan to prevent them from becoming too dry.
You can also freeze cooked and peeled chestnuts in a ziptop freezer bag if you can’t eat all of them right away.
CAUTION: I have set chestnuts on fire while trying to reheat them in the microwave! Chestnuts loose their moisture during the roasting process, making them a hazard in the microwave. The stovetop method is definitely safer.
How to Prepare Chestnuts for Roasting:
First of all, you should wash your chestnuts. It doesn’t matter that you’re not eating the shell. You’re going to touch the shell to peel them when you eat them, so be sure to wash them properly before cooking!
Some people recommend soaking chestnuts before roasting them, which allows the meat inside to steam. I haven’t found that soaking makes a big difference, but feel free to try it out.
Once your chestnuts are clean, dry them off and place them on a cutting board. You need to cut a slit into the shell of each chestnut, as this allows steam to escape during the cooking process.
Just like a baked potato, if you don’t create a hole for the steam to escape, they will explode. And to be honest, some of them might still explode, but it’s better to deal with cleaning up just one or two rather than a whole batch of exploded chestnuts.
A sharp sturdy pairing knife or serrated knife are the best tools to get this job done, just be careful not to cut yourself.
You’re meant to cut the x into the FLAT side of the chestnut. But if your chestnut is rolling around and you can’t get it to sit still round-side down, just cut the round side. At least the steam will have somewhere to escape, and you can avoid cutting yourself.
Traditionally, an “x” is cut into the chestnut, but some people prefer to cut a slit across the point end of the chestnut, like in this video. No matter how you score them, be careful to not cut all the way through. You only want to cut the shell.
Creating a large enough cut makes the chestnuts easier to peel. The cut edges tend to curl back during cooking, giving you something to hold on to when you try to peel them.
When you’re scoring the shells, you may find that some are mouldy, or have a bad smell, or are dry and hard. Any chestnuts like these should be thrown away.
How to Roast Chestnuts
We’ve all heard about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. And while that’s a romantic way to prepare these little treats, not everyone has access to a campfire or wood burning fireplace.
Luckily, it’s pretty to cook chestnuts in other ways. Most of the time I roast my chestnuts in the oven, but there are other options too.
Just remember that you must cut a slit into each chestnut before roasting chestnuts, or they absolutely will explode.
Also, roasted chestnuts are MUCH easier to peel when they are still very warm. That bitter paper-like skin gets incredibly difficult to remove once the chestnuts have cooled down. I’ve got tips on how to peel them lower down in this article.
How to Roast Chestnuts in an Oven
(Scroll all the way down for a printable recipe!)
Roasting chestnuts in an oven is pretty simple. Simply place prepared chestnuts in a single layer on a sheet pan with the X facing up, then roast at 425°F until they smell nutty and the shells start to peel back where you scored them.
I’ve found that roasting chestnuts for about 15-20 minutes works for the large imported chestnuts that I find in most groceries. The smaller local chestnuts only take about 7-10 minutes though.
It can take a bit of trial and error to figure out how long you need to cook the chestnuts for in your specific oven. Try cooking just a few at first so you don’t ruin your whole batch.
The chestnuts are cooked when they smell nutty and are HOT to the touch. If your chestnuts are a bit underdone, just pop them back into the oven for a few more minutes.
Peel your chestnuts while they’re warm and enjoy.
Be careful not to overcook or burn your chestnuts. Overcooking them will make them so hard that you could confuse them with pieces on a checkers board.
If your chestnuts come out of the oven looking as black as the ones in my photo here, then you’ve probably overcooked them. Oops!
The shells should only be this dark if you’re roasting the chestnuts outside on a fire or over coals.
How to Roast Chestnuts on a Stovetop
Place a heavy skillet over medium heat and place the chestnuts x side up in a single layer in the pan. Roast the chestnuts until they smell nutty and the shells begin to peel back.
Some people recommend adding a bit of oil to the pan, but I’ve roasting mine dry and they turned out just fine.
This method works almost as well as roasting the chestnuts on a tray, except that I’ve found that it takes at least 10 minutes longer for the chestnuts to cook.
Again, peel your chestnuts while they’re quite warm. See below for tips on how to do this.
You can also use a special chestnut pan to cook the chestnuts on your stovetop. This kind of pan has holes on the bottom, which is supposed to allow steam to escape resulting in a better roasted chestnut. I’ve never used one of these before, but I kind of want one…
How to Roast Chestnuts Over Hot Coals
Roasting chestnuts over hot coals is my new favourite way to prepare them! They take on the same charred smokey flavour that you’d get if you roasted them over an actual fire, but you can easily do this on a charcoal barbecue or charcoal fire pit.
I used my mom’s DIY concrete fire pit. She just lays charcoal in there with wax fire starter pellets and it works really well.
I used a seasoned cast iron pan, so I was able to nestle the pan right into the coals. If you’re using a barbecue that has a grate over your coals, you can use cast iron or use that chestnut pan with the holes that I mentioned earlier.
To get started, light your charcoal. Lump charcoal is great, but you can use briquettes or the embers from a wood fire as well. Avoid using any chemical starter fluids that could alter the taste of your food. I like using wood and wax starters instead.
When we made this batch, we let the charcoals get white hot and ashy before we started cooking. You’re looking for a medium-high heat, but if it’s really cold and windy out, you may need to a hotter temperature for your chestnuts to roast properly.
Again, you want to place the chestnuts onto the pan in a single layer with the x side up. Then either nestle the pan into the coals (if using a seasoned cast iron pan), or place the pan on the barbecue grate.
Give the pan about 5-7 minutes to heat up (with the chestnuts in it) for your first batch. Once hot, the chestnuts will take about 4-10 minutes to cook, depending on their size.
Stir the chestnuts every couple of minutes of so to help them roast evenly. If it’s very windy out, you may want to use a lid to keep the heat in the pan.
CAUTION: The handle of your pot will get hot. Please wear heat proof gloves so you don’t accidentally burn yourself.
My first batch of tiny chestnuts took about 9 minutes to cook, but my second batch took only 4 minutes. These were extra small though – about the size of a hazelnut.
Once cooked, remove the chestnuts from the heat or they will burn. Peel and enjoy while they are still warm.
How to Peel Chestnuts:
If you want to get the shells and the bitter paper-like membrane off of the chestnuts, you must peel them when they’re still very warm. The hotter they are, the easier they will be to peel.
Unfortunately, as chestnuts cool the membrane begins to stick to the flesh of the nut. Once the chestnuts have cooled completely, you may find that the membrane is down right impossible to get off.
My trick for handling hot chestnuts is to use an old kitchen towel. I take one end of the towel and cover my left hand, and place the chestnut in that hand. Then, I use the other end of the towel in my right hand to peel off the shell.
Not only does the towel protect my hands from the heat, but I’m less likely to cut myself this way too.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cut my fingers on sharp bits of chestnut shells. It’s not fun, especially when the shell goes under your fingernails…
Well, on THAT happy note (sorry!), I hope you’ve found this article useful.
Despite everything I’ve told you here, the reality is that there is no “correct” method for roasting chestnuts. This is because not all chestnuts are the same. They come in different sizes, some have membranes that go through the flesh or the nut, and it can be difficult to figure out how old your chestnuts are.
Just start cooking one small batch at a time, and soon enough you’ll figure out what works best for the chestnuts in your area. If you have any tips or tricks on roasting chestnuts, leave them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you 🙂
Good luck, and happy cooking!
Oven Roasted Chestnuts
- Pairing Knife
- Sheet Pan
- 1 lb chestnuts
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp salted butter , melted (optional)
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Wash and dry your chestnuts.
- Place chestnuts on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut a slit or an x into the flat side of each chestnut.
- Place scored chestnuts in a single layer on a baking tray, with the x facing up.
- Roast chestnuts in the centre of the oven for about 15-25 minutes*. Chestnuts are done when they smell nutty, the shells begin to curl, and they are hot to the touch.
- Remove chestnuts from oven, and allow to cool enough to handle them. Peel warm chestnuts using fingers and a tea towel, working quickly.
- Serve shelled chestnuts with salt and melted butter, if desired.
- *Tiny chestnuts may only take 7-10 minutes to roast, while large ones may take up to 25 minutes.
- Be careful not to burn your chestnuts, as they will become too tough to eat.
- Try to peel the chestnuts while they are still hot, as the paper-like skin that covers each chestnuts becomes very difficult to remove once they have cooled down.
- Store roasted and peeled chestnuts in the fridge for up to 1 day, or in a ziptop freezer bag in the freezer.
- Do NOT reheat chestnuts in the microwave as they are a fire hazard. Reheat in a pan on the stovetop over medium-low heat with some butter.
Updated Nov. 18, 2020
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