Roasted chestnuts are a special treat that you can easily make at home!
Learn how to roast chestnuts in your oven or over hot coals. Get tips on how to buy, prepare and store them, too.
If you've never eaten a cooked 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 nuts along the way, but it's worth it.
It has taken me three years to complete this guide on how to roast chestnuts at home. I've prepped, cooked and shelled more chestnuts than I care to admit, and I've got the burnt fingers to prove it!
Hopefully, you'll find everything you need to know to successfully roast chestnuts at home.
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If you find this guide helpful, please share it or leave a comment below!
🌰 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 cooked chestnut has a somewhat soft texture, and a sweet nutty flavour.
🧈 How to Eat Chestnuts
My favourite way to eat cooked chestnuts is to dip them into melted butter and sprinkle a tiny bit of salt on top - then I eat them like popcorn.
Actually, they kind of taste like popcorn too just with a sweeter nutty flavour and a softer texture.
You can also use them in savoury recipes like Thanksgiving stuffing, or in sweet preparations like Marrons Glacé.
⛑️ Food Safety
It's important to know that raw sweet chestnuts should be cooked before you eat them due to their high levels of tannic acid, which may cause digestive issues (or possibly liver damage if for people with certain health conditions).
It's also important to note that while sweet chestnuts look similar to horse chestnuts (sometimes called conkers or buckeyes), they are not the same plant. Horse chestnuts are toxic to humans and should not be eaten.
🛒 Where to Buy
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 here in Southern Ontario from October to December.
Most of the chestnuts that I've purchased from the grocery have been imported 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 may be far from fresh.
This often means that they 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 nut has gone bad while it's still raw and in the shell.
I'll share some tips for selecting the best nuts below!
Update: The best imported chestnuts that I've had so far were imported Italian chestnuts sold at the Cheese Boutique in Toronto, Ontario.
Locally Grown is Best
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 (yes, that is really the name of her company). 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
If your grocery sells loose chestnuts in bins, 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 the nuts get older, they become dull, sad-looking and bland. You can see the difference in the photo above.
If the chestnuts are sold pre-packaged, you may end up with some chestnuts that are cracked (like the one below), or blemished. These should be discarded.
Lastly, avoid buying chestnuts that are in closed plastic bags that don't have any perforations.
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.
TIP: 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! These nuts loose their moisture during the roasting process, making them a hazard in the microwave. The stovetop method is definitely safer.
🔪 Roasting Preparation
First of all, you should wash your chestnuts.
Yes, I know we're going to be roasting them and then peeling them.
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.
Also, I don't bother to soak them before cooking them. I have tested multiple batches with and without soaking, and I didn't find that it was worth doing.
How to Score Chestnuts
Once your chestnuts are clean, dry them off and place them on a cutting board.
You are going to cut a slit into the shell of each nut, being careful not to pierce the flesh. This will allow 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.
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 supposed 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 shell, 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.
If you're looking for a quicker way to score your chestnuts, you can try using a special tool.
I've been testing out this inexpensive chestnut cutter, and I have to say it's actually pretty handy! It doesn't cut perfectly, but it is quick to use.
Creating a large enough cut makes the nuts 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 not in good condition. Any mouldy, rock hard or smelly chestnuts should be thrown away.
🔥 Three Ways 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 easy to cook them in other ways. Most of the time I roast chestnuts in the oven, but there are other options, too.
Just remember that you must cut a slit into each shell 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 nuts have cooled down. I've got tips on how to peel them lower down in this article.
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...)
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, which basically works like a charcoal grill.
I used a seasoned cast iron pan, so I was able to nestle the pan right into the ashed-over 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.
(If you need help learning how to light a charcoal grill, check out my charcoal grill guide for beginners.)
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 or 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 grill 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.
In an Oven
(Scroll 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.
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 the 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 Peel Off the Shells
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.
In my experience, 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 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, please leave them in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you!
🖨 Printable Recipe
Oven Roasted Chestnuts
- Pairing Knife
- Sheet Pan
- 1 pound chestnuts
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon 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 carefully 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 and they are hot to the touch. The shells may begin to curl up as well.
- Remove chestnuts from oven, and allow to cool enough to handle them. Peel warm chestnuts using fingers and a tea towel, working quickly. Discard any chestnuts that are mouldy on the inside.
- Serve shelled chestnuts with salt and melted butter, if desired.
Please read the blog post for detailed tips and explanations.
Nutrition Disclaimer: this nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed.
🙋🏽 Frequently Asked Questions
Some people recommend soaking chestnuts before roasting them, which allows the meat inside to steam. Personally, I haven't found that soaking makes a big difference, so I don't do it.
If you don't cut a slit into the shell before cooking, your chestnuts will definitely explode. If you did cut a slit, and they still exploded, your cuts may have been too small or too shallow. And sometimes you'll get the odd chestnut that decides to explode anyway!
This can sometimes happen if you undercook chestnuts, but in my experience it usually happens because the chestnuts were stale or starting to spoil.
There are many factors that affect the ease of peeling a cooked chestnut. In my experience, locally-grown chestnut are the easiest to peel because they're still very fresh when I cook them. Imported chestnuts can sometimes be very stale by the time they reach our groceries shelves. Also, chestnuts are easiest to peel while hot. The papery skin gets more difficult to remove as the chestnuts cool down.
I cut the nut on round side. I make a slit using chestnut knife. Roast at 425 and in about 20 minutes they are done. Ones I don’t finish I keep overnight at room temperature and they taste sweeter to me the next day.
Thanks for sharing your method, Frank! That's an interesting note about them tasting sweeter the next day - I'll have to try that!
Riding around in our new neighborhood I spotted an elderly neighbor with a Chinese Chestnut tree. I’m very excited for them to start falling from the tree, not so excited about hulling the prickly little fellers but can’t wait to try roasting them. Thank you so much for your suggestions and help.
No problem, good luck!
Load of... scroll, scroll, scroll... pages of adverts and fluff make this a painful experience. Try a recipe that gets to the point!
Hi Sbert, there is a Jump to Recipe button at the top of the page. Clicking that takes you straight to the recipe. Have a nice day.
great article! Chestnut stuffing has always been a staple at holiday dinners. After my mom passed away my dad made it. Sadly he passed in January and I was trying to make it for Christmas. 4 pounds of nuts from Sobeys and 98% are moldy. Thanks for the tip about local Niagara chestnuts, I am in Niagara and will source local from this point forward.
Thanks again for the info it was most helpful
Hi Shirley, I'm so sorry for your loss. Hopefully you will be able to find some good chestnuts in your area! You can also try reaching out Elisabeth at [email protected]. She sells chestnuts at GTA farmers markets when she has them, and might be able to point you in the right direction. I hope this helps! Merry Christmas 🙂
Thanks for your time.
I'm an African, and I want to try it out
I have fond memories of both walking through the woods with my Dad, finding and eating chestnuts raw. The other is buying chestnuts from stalls in London streets where they have just cooked chestnuts over hot coals. The skins often blackened but peel off easily as we rub the chestnuts with our hands, warming them in the process. A great winter snack in cold weather.
Thank you for the help.
How do you cook chestnuts once they've been peeled. I peeled them after soaking in hot water so some could be frozen ready for Christmas but I also have some peeled but don't know how to roast them. I have some great recipes in cinnamon butter and caramelised chestnuts but they all refer to cooking in shells. Please advise.
Hi Paul, that's a good question. Unfortunately, I've never cooked them peeled. I've bought chestnuts that are already peeled, but they're also already cooked. If I need to freeze my chestnuts, I freeze them with the shell on. The only thing I can recommend is to do a search on Google for "how to cook peeled chestnuts" and see what comes up. I would imagine that you might be able to boil them, but I can't make any recommendations on heat or timing as I've never tried it. Sorry I can't be more helpful!
Good article. Thank You.
I live in the mountains of North Carolina and have a chestnut tree in my yard that produces an abundance of quite large nuts. Luckily I don't have to worry about old, dried up, or mouldy nuts. But every year I gather a bag full of them because I am curious and want to try roasting them. But I always end up throwing them out because I don't know what to do with them. Thanks so much for the work you have put into this.
Hi Eric, I hope this guide can help you cook up a nice batch this year! Roasted chestnuts are so enjoyable - especially when they're fresh. What a gift to have a tree in your yard! Best of luck!