How to Crack and Clean Pecans For Baking
The pecan may seem like a tough nut to crack, but it's really not. Pecans are easy enough to crack and clean — you just need the right tools and a few basic tips. Here's what you need to know:
How to Harvest Pecans
Pecan trees, which are in the hickory family, are abundant in the southeastern region of the United States. They're also found in the Midwest and central Southern states like Texas.
You can identify a pecan tree by its large size (they've been known to grow more than 150 feet tall) and its vibrant green leaves, which usually feature between nine and 13 leaflets. The leaves tend to be pale green on one side and dark green on the other.
Pecans are exceptionally easy to harvest. During the fall months, the nuts (which are contained in green hulls) typically fall to the ground on their own. Just pick them up and place them in your foraging bucket.
If they're stubborn, give the tree branch a shake — the nuts will easily dislodge from the branches if they're ready.
Let the freshly foraged pecans dry in their shells for about a week before you try doing anything with them. This way, they'll be easier to crack and clean.
Related: How to Make Candied Pecans
How to Crack and Clean Pecans
First thing's first: Do you need to do anything to prep your pecans? Well, that's up for debate. There are plenty of pecan aficionados out there who will tell you to boil your nuts in the shell before you even think about cracking them. For the purposes of this article, I tried shelling boiled and unboiled pecans. To be quite honest with you, I didn't find this extra step too necessary. Sure, the boiled shells were a bit easier to deal with — but it didn't make enough of a difference to justify the extra work.
HOWEVER, it's important to note I cracked my nuts with a legit nutcracker (not a holiday decoration, but a serious spring-loaded crusher). If you're working with other household tools, like a hammer or a knife, this easy step may be well worth the effort.
Related: "Nutcracker" Mixed Nut Brittle in the Microwave
Cracking Pecans With a Nutcracker
There are a few types of crackers you can use, from ones designed for seafood shelling (here's a set that will work just as well for your lobsters as it does your pecans) to heavy-duty — and we mean heavy-duty — tools that will look more at home in your workshop than your kitchen.
Both the aforementioned products are totally functional and worth your money. For what it's worth, though, I recommend this Hiware Heavy Duty Nut Cracker on Amazon set that features a cone-shaped crusher for large nuts and a small, groover crusher on the handle for small nuts. It's affordable, easy to use and store, and has an anti-slip design that protects your hands.
To buy: $17.98, amazon
To use this type of tool, simply:
- Place the pecan in the cone or in the grooved section of the handle (located at the top, near the cone). If you have exceptionally large nuts, go for the cone. I had more success using the handle to crack my average-sized pecans.
- Squeeze the handle hard enough to crack the shell, but not hard enough to crush the nut meat. It'll take a minute to get the hang of the pressure you need to apply, so don't be discouraged if you wind up with a few broken pieces.
- That first crack may have loosened the shell enough so that you can peel it away from the nut meat. I like to lightly crack the shell a few more times in different places, though — this way, the shell will be easier to remove without breaking the meat. If you're having a tough time removing the pecan from the shell, use one of the picks included with your nutcracker.
- Use one of the included picks or a toothpick to scrape away any leftover shell material. It's bitter tasting and you don't want to bake with it.
- At this point, you should have a whole (or mostly whole) shelled and cleaned pecan. Congratulations! Now repeat this process until all your nuts are cracked.
Cracking Pecans With a Hammer
Full disclosure: I do not recommend this method. Nutcrackers exist for a reason and using a tool meant for hardware is an easy way to damage the nut meat and your fingers. However, if you absolutely must crack your pecans this way, place the nut on a hard surface and grip the handle firmly in your dominant hand. Hit the shell with the face of the hammer. If the shell didn't crack all the way on the first time, turn it over and hit the other side. This should loosen the shell up enough to remove.
For the love of God, don't use your fingers to hold the pecan in place — keep them as far away as possible from the action.
How to Store Shelled Pecans
Don't bake with your shelled pecans right away. Place them in a colander and let them dry out for about 24 hours. This'll give them a better flavor and texture later on.
Keep your pecans in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for a few weeks. If you want to keep them longer, consider freezing them — frozen pecans will stay good for about a year.
Related: Our Best Pecan Pie Recipes