The Outdoor Apothecary

How to Roast Chestnuts: 5 Easy Methods

Learn how to roast chestnuts like a pro with these five easy methods. 

Chestnuts are an easy-to-prepare and delicious holiday treat. Not only are they a great snack, but they also make a terrific side dish or addition to stuffing and desserts.  In fact, here’s a recipe for chestnut truffles that was so delicious. When you have fresh chestnuts, there are plenty of ways to prepare them.  

how to roast chestnuts
How to roast chestnuts

What are Chestnuts?

Chestnut trees are native to many places around the world. They produce edible nuts, including the American chestnut (Castanea dentata), Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima), European chestnut (Castanea sativa), and Japanese chestnut (Castanea crenata). 

The American chestnut was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range and was considered the finest chestnut tree in the world due to its strong, rot-resistant wood and edible nuts. 

Sadly, the American chestnut was nearly wiped out by an invasive blight fungus. It is estimated that between 3 and 4 billion trees were destroyed in the first half of the 20th century. Very few mature specimens of the tree exist within its historical range today, although many small shoots of the former live trees remain. The species is listed as endangered in the United States and Canada.

Today, the most common variety in North America is the European chestnut, also known as Spanish or sweet chestnut. You can find them growing in clusters of up 3 nuts inside inedible spiny husks. The nut inside are smooth and shiny with a dark brown coloration; each nut has a flat side and a rounded side. 

Sweet chestnuts are the variety I found during one of my foraging adventures at a local old historic cemetery (one of my favorite places to forage), and let me tell you, I was super excited to find them.  Now I go back each year and make a whole event out of roasting them. 

how to roast chestnuts
The Sweet Chestnut tree I found in a historic cemetery

What Do Roasted Chestnuts Taste Like?

Chestnuts are usually cooked before they are eaten. When raw, chestnuts are a bit crunchy and bitter. When cooked, they’re not crisp like most nuts but chewy, and creamy, with a mild woodsy flavor and are very versatile in cooking. They can be boiled, roasted or steamed, after which they can be mashed and used as a side dish or in dessert recipes like this recipe for chocolate chestnut truffles. They can also be ground into flour for use in baked goods like cakes and pasta. 

This article focuses on how to roast chestnust using 5 different methods. 

I gather off the ground
how to roast chestnuts
One hull can have up to 3 nuts

Tips for Gathering Chestnuts

If you have access to chestnut trees, you can begin gathering their nuts once they begin falling from the tree, usually in late September thru November. It is best to save the ones still in their spiked hulls to avoid insect damage.

1) Choosing Chestnuts

Choose chestnuts that are shiny brown and firm, with no cracks or splits in their shells. The nuts should feel heavy, and if you squeeze them gently, they shouldn’t give much. Avoid chestnuts that are dull in color or soft when squeezed. These may be overripe, moldy, or shriveled up in the shell. 

2) Harvesting Chestnuts

  • Wait for the chestnuts to fall to the ground. Those on the tree still are not ripe. 
  • Gather up all of the nuts with open burrs. You’ll want gloves or some other tool for this job (I use kitchen tongs).
  • Remove the nuts from the burrs. Discard any with wormholes or other signs of damage.
  • Promptly store the chestnuts in air-tight containers and refrigerate or freeze them.

3) Storage

Chestnuts are best when they’re kept cold after harvest. Store your chestnuts in the fridge until you’re ready to roast them.

Curing Chestnuts

Chestnuts require a two- to three-week curing process to achieve maximum quality and sweetness. Cured chestnuts purchased from the store should be ready for immediate use; however, if you purchase chestnuts from a roadside market or U-pick operation, you’ll need to cure them yourself.

When you cure chestnuts, they go from bland starch to a sweet sugar. To do this quickly, store them at room temperature for a few days. However, if you do this, they will dry out quickly and won’t last long. A better way to cure chestnuts is to take the time to store them in your refrigerator just above freezing for at least two weeks. This longer curing process will increase their shelf life. The recommended temperature range is 32°F to 40°F with lower temperatures producing better results.

Do I Need to Boil Them?

If your chestnuts are older, which is likely if they are not local, you may want to boil them for a few minutes before roasting them. Boiling adds moisture to the meat, making it easier to peel.

Cut an X slit in the shell, and then boil them in a pot of water for about 5 minutes and drain. Proceed with your roasting method, but cut the time in half, and watch carefully so they don’t overcook.

Score the chestnuts before roasting
Wrap roasted chestnuts in a towel

How to Roast Chestnuts: Tips & Methods

Tips

The most recognizable and simple method of chestnut preparation is roasting. You can roast chestnuts in the oven, over an open fire, on the stovetop, in an air fryer, or even in the microwave. 

  • Soaking is optional but I have found that soaking them for an hour or so helps with peeling after they are roasted. However, if you are short on time you can skip soaking and directly start roasting. When ready, drain and set them aside. No need to dry.
  • In all the above-mentioned methods, it’s important to score through the shell with a knife to ensure steam can escape and to prevent a messy and loud explosion. 
  • Regardless of the method you choose, be sure to wrap the chestnuts in a towel after roasting to keep them warm and allow them to steam to make peeling easier. Start peeling as soon as they are cool enough to handle, and keep the remaining chestnuts warm as you work.
how to roast chestnuts
How to roast chestnuts: on an open fire

Methods

When people think about how to roast chestnuts, this is the method they most think of. 

1) Over an Open Fire

  1. Prepare an open fire pit. When the fire has burned down to hot coals, distribute them evenly to create a flat bed that a cast iron skillet can rest on. If you have a grill grate, place it on top. Carefully place the cast iron skillet on the hot coals (or grate) and let it warm for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Place the scored chestnuts flat side down in a single layer in the hot cast iron skillet. The chestnuts will start to open soon after they hit the pan, so be patient and wait for them to fully burst open. Make sure to watch closely, as chestnuts can burn easily.
  3. Cooking chestnuts on a fire may take anywhere from 10-12 minutes, depending on the age, size, and type of the chestnuts. It’s a good idea to move them around during the roasting process.
  4. Wrap the chestnuts in a towel to keep them warm and allow them to steam to make peeling easier. Start peeling as soon as they are cool enough to handle, and keep the remaining chestnuts warm as you work.

2) On the Stovetop

Here’s a super easy stovetop recipe for how to roast chestnuts in a cast iron skillet.

  • 1 lb chestnuts 
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp oil or butter
  1. Score each nut with a large “X” on the rounded side.
  2. Turn the temperature on the stove burner to medium heat. Place all ingredients in a cast iron pan with the lid on. 
  3. Cook covered for 10 minutes, shaking the pan every minute, so nuts cook evenly and don’t cook too much on one spot. The water also helps ensure even heating by steaming/boiling them and preventing them from drying out too much.  
  4. At the end of 10 minutes, the water will have boiled away and your pan will start to get smoky. The nut shells will char and create a slight smoke, replicating the smoky flavor of an open fire. Shake the pan to keep things from getting too smoky or setting off fire alarms.
  5. Uncover the pan. Stir the nuts and shake the pan constantly while it’s on the heating element for two minutes.
  6. Wrap the chestnuts in a towel to keep them warm and allow them to steam to make peeling easier. Start peeling as soon as they are cool enough to handle, and keep the remaining chestnuts warm as you work.

3) In the Oven

I have tried all kinds of methods in my “how to roast chestnuts” quest. I have come to the conclusion that no one method is 100% perfect. There will always be a few chestnuts that will get stuck to their shell. However, this method is one of the best that I’ve found.

  1. Heat the oven to 425 F. Make sure the oven rack is placed in the middle.
  2. Using a sharp paring knife, score each nut with an “X” on its rounded side.
  3. Place chestnuts in a pot of cold water. As soon as the water boils, remove the chestnuts with a slotted spoon and place on a shallow baking pan. The quick boil will create steam once they hit the hot oven.
  4. Roast them for about 15 to 20 minutes. The time will depend on how ripe the chestnuts are, but they should be soft when you take them out of the oven.
  5. Wrap the chestnuts in a towel to keep them warm and allow them to steam to make peeling easier. Start peeling as soon as they are cool enough to handle, and keep the remaining chestnuts warm as you work.

4) In an Air Fryer

If you don’t have a fireplace or don’t want to use your oven, air-fry some chestnuts for a tasty Autumn treat. Here’s how to roast chestnuts in an air fryer:

  1. Preheat Air fryer to 400 degrees F (204 degrees C)
  2. Wash and soak in warm water for about 15 minutes. (If any of them float, they may be rotten) Soaking helps them peel easier. Pat dry.
  3. Score each nut with a large “X” on the rounded side.
  4.  Place chestnuts in the air fryer basket with the “X” upright. Air fry for about 10 minutes or until the skin starts to peel back showing the yellow chestnut. Toss midway in air fryer so they cook evenly.
  5. The time in the air fryer may vary depending on how large your nuts are. Smaller ones may only need  4 or 5 minutes and large ones may need up to 15 minutes or more. Keep a close eye on them. Do not let them burn or burst.
  6. Wrap the chestnuts in a towel to keep them warm and allow them to steam to make peeling easier. Start peeling as soon as they are cool enough to handle, and keep the remaining chestnuts warm as you work.

5) In the Microwave

Of all of the methods for how to roast chestnuts, this is probably the easiest and can be done in the shortest amount of time. It’s great if your goal is to roast them and then use them immediately. Other methods may just take too long. 

  1. Score each nut with a large “X” on the rounded side.
  2. Place the nuts on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave at one-minute intervals, until the outer shell starts to peel back slightly where you made your score (This usually takes 3-4 minutes, depending on your microwave). Just be careful not to microwave them longer than you need to, or you’ll burn them.
  3. Wrap the chestnuts in a towel to keep them warm and allow them to steam to make peeling easier. Start peeling as soon as they are cool enough to handle, and keep the remaining chestnuts warm as you work.
how to roast chestnuts
A handful of sweet chestnuts

We hope you found this guide on how to roast chestnuts helpful in preparing chestnuts for your family and friends this holiday season. If you are interested in discovering some recipes that call for chestnuts or other foraged foods, feel free to check out our recipe page, which features dozens of tasty recipes. And if you enjoyed this guide, do not forget to share it with your friends on social media. It may very well come in handy when they prepare their own roasted chestnuts next year!

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