Unlock the delicious world of homemade roasted chestnuts with this comprehensive guide!
Learn how to roast chestnuts in your oven or over hot coals, and find out how to pick, prep, and store these tasty morsels.
If you've never had the opportunity to try freshly roasted chestnuts, you're in for a treat. They're delicious!
Sure, they might require some effort to prepare and cook, and you might encounter a few stubborn or spoiled nuts along the way, but trust me, it's all worth it.
I've done my best to provide you with all of the information that you need to successfully roast chestnuts at home.
If you're in a hurry, you can jump to a specific section using the menu below.
🌰 What Are Chestnuts?
Chestnuts are the edible seeds of the sweet chestnut tree that grow inside 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 sweet chestnut has a somewhat soft texture and a sweet, nutty flavour.
Food safety: 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 never be eaten.
🧈 How to Eat Chestnuts
When it comes to enjoying cooked chestnuts, my preferred method is to dip them in melted butter and give them a gentle sprinkle of salt- then I eat them like popcorn.
In fact, they do have a popcorn-like quality, with their mild nutty flavour and a slightly tender texture.
Important: Raw chestnuts should be cooked before you eat them due to their high levels of tannic acid, which may cause digestive and other issues.
🛒 Where to Buy
Fresh raw chestnuts typically grace the aisles of groceries and farmers' markets around Thanksgiving in Canada and the United States.
Here in Southern Ontario, they're generally available from October through December.
You'll find that most of the chestnuts on grocery store shelves are imported from China or Italy.
The flavour may vary slightly between the two, but personally, I honestly can't say I prefer one over the other.
While imported chestnuts are a convenient option, it's essential to remember that by the time they make their way to Canadian shelves, they might not be as fresh as you'd like.
This can lead to them becoming dry or mouldy, although you might not notice until you've gone through the cooking and peeling process – which is always a disappointing surprise.
For best results, buy your imported chestnuts from a reputable independent grocer like the Cheese Boutique in Toronto, Ontario.
Locally Grown is Great
If you have the option to buy locally grown chestnuts, don't hesitate!
Some of the best chestnuts that I've eaten have been small, locally grown chestnuts from the Niagara and Fergus regions.
The level of freshness seems to make a big difference. I get far less spoiled 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.
To locate fresh chestnuts, consider reaching out to your local farmers or exploring nearby farmers' markets like the Evergreen Brickworks Market in Toronto.
Unfortunately, finding fresh chestnuts can be a challenge here in Southern Ontario due to a tragic piece of history – in the 1900s, chestnut blight decimated 99% of our chestnut trees, and today, the American Chestnut tree is considered to be an endangered species.
🤔 How to Select and Store
If your grocery store sells loose chestnuts in bins, you can pick through them to find the best ones.
Here's what to keep in mind:
- Examine the shells of the chestnuts you're considering. They should have a glossy, tough exterior and a vibrant brown hue.
- When you pick them up, opt for the ones that feel weighty for their size, and don't rattle when you give them a little shake.
- Old chestnuts lose their shine, appearing dull and ugly. You can see the stark contrast in the photo above.
- Lastly, avoid buying chestnuts that are sold in closed plastic bags with no perforations. Chestnuts can go mouldy when they aren't able to breathe.
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.
Tip: One of the owner's at the Cheese Boutique in Toronto gave me a great tip for picking out good chestnuts. He said that you should always pick solid chestnuts with no give. If you press the shell with your finger and can feel an air pocket, this means that the chestnut has begun to dry out and may not be in good condition.
Remember, chestnuts have a relatively short shelf life, so once you've bought them, plan to roast them soon to ensure you enjoy them at their best.
TIP: If you can't cook them right away, refrigerate raw chestnuts in perforated plastic bags for a few days or freeze them in an airtight container for up to one month.
Storing Cooked Chestnuts
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 zip-top 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 lose their moisture during the roasting process, making them a hazard in the microwave. The stovetop method is definitely safer.
🔪 Roasting Preparation
Before you embark on your chestnut-roasting adventure, the first step is to give your chestnuts a good wash.
I know it might seem a bit peculiar since you won't be eating the shell, but remember, you'll be handling the shell as you peel them for consumption. So, make sure to wash them thoroughly before you start cooking.
Now, as for soaking, here's a handy tip: you can skip that step.
Through multiple experiments, I've found that soaking chestnuts before cooking them isn't really necessary. So, feel free to save yourself the effort and dive right into the roasting process!
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.
Much like a baked potato, if you don't create a hole for the steam to escape, they will explode.
Some of them might still explode... but it's better to deal with cleaning up one or two rather than a whole batch of exploded chestnuts.
A sharp, sturdy paring knife or serrated knife are the best tools to get this job done. Just be careful not to cut yourself.
- Use a sharp, sturdy paring knife or serrated knife for this task, taking care not to cut yourself.
- Ideally, cut the "x" into the flat side of the chestnut, but if it's rolling, you can cut the round side to allow steam to escape.
- While the traditional "x" cut is common, some prefer a slit across the pointed end, but don't cut all the way through, just the shell.
- You can also use a special tool for quicker scoring, like an inexpensive chestnut cutter, which may not cut perfectly but is convenient.
- A larger cut makes peeling easier, as the cut edges curl back during cooking, providing a grip for peeling.
- When scoring, discard any chestnuts that are in poor condition, like those that are mouldy, rock-hard, or have a strange odour.
☄️ Roasting 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 grill or charcoal fire pit.
(I used my mom's DIY concrete fire pit, but the method is the same.)
Use a seasoned cast iron pan so you can 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 a chestnut pan with the holes.
To get started, here's what you need to do:
- Light your charcoal. Lump charcoal is great, but you can use briquettes or the embers from a wood fire as well.
- Let the charcoals get white-hot and ashy before you start cooking.
- You're looking for medium-high heat, but if it's really cold and windy out, you may need a hotter temperature for your chestnuts to roast properly.
- 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.
- Cook the chestnuts on one side for about 5 minutes, then flip them over for even cooking.
- The second side should take 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the chestnuts.
- 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.
- Once cooked, remove the chestnuts from the heat, or they will burn.
- Peel and enjoy while they are still warm.
Tip: Avoid using any chemical starter fluids that could alter the taste of your food. I like using wood and wax starters instead.
An average-sized chestnut should take 12-14 minutes to cook.
Small chestnuts will take about 9 minutes to cook, but if they're extra-small (the size of hazelnuts), they will only take about 4 minutes.
CAUTION: The handle of your pot will get hot. Please wear grill gloves so you don't accidentally burn yourself.
(If you need help learning how to light a charcoal grill, check out my charcoal grill guide for beginners.)
👩🏽🍳 Roasting Chestnuts in the Oven
(Scroll down for a printable recipe!)
Roasting chestnuts in an oven is pretty simple.
- Place prepared chestnuts in a single layer on a sheet pan with the X facing up.
- Roast at 425°F until they smell nutty and the shells start to peel back where you scored them.
- Chestnuts are cooked when they smell nutty and are HOT to the touch.
- If your chestnuts are a bit underdone, pop them back into the oven for a few more minutes.
- Peel the chestnuts while they're warm and enjoy.
I've found that roasting chestnuts for about 15-20 minutes works for the large imported chestnuts that I find in most groceries.
Smaller 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 in your specific oven. Try cooking a few at first so you don't ruin your whole batch.
🤏🏼 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 downright impossible to get off.
My trick for handling hot chestnuts is to use an old kitchen towel.
I take one end of the towel, 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...
🙋🏽 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 are stale or starting to spoil.
There are many factors that affect the ease of peeling a cooked chestnut. In my experience, locally grown chestnuts 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 grocery shelves. Also, chestnuts are easiest to peel while hot. The papery skin gets more difficult to remove as the chestnuts cool down.
I hope that you've found this guide to roasted chestnuts helpful! If your first batch doesn't turn out, please don't be discouraged.
Chestnuts come in different sizes; some have membranes that go through the flesh, which makes them hard to peel, and everyone ends up buying a bad batch here and there.
Just start cooking one small batch at a time, and soon enough, you'll figure out what works best for the chestnuts that are available 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.
Food SafetyRaw, sweet chestnuts must be cooked before you eat them. Also, sweet chestnuts look similar to horse chestnuts (sometimes called conkers or buckeyes), but they are not the same plant. Horse chestnuts are toxic to humans and should never be eaten. WARNING: I don't recommend reheating chestnuts in the microwave as they can catch on fire. Reheat them in a pan on the stovetop over medium-low heat with some butter.
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.