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How to Roast Chestnuts

posted in Appetizers and Snacks, Pantry by Kathy Maister

On a recent visit to New York City, the weather was cold and crisp. On such days, my husband (David) and I always share a small brown bag full of freshly roasted chestnuts from one of the street vendors who seem to be on every other NYC street corner. After letting the chestnuts cool down for a few minutes, David always peels these delightful treasures so I don’t have to take my mittens off! They are so rich, sweet and tender!

When I saw fresh chestnuts at the grocery store, I thought it would be great to roast some at home for startcooking. For comparison sake, I bought a jar of pre-packaged chestnuts as well.

Before I begin, I would like to point out that Water Chestnuts are from an aquatic plant and are a totally different food than the chestnuts (from a tree) that I am about to roast.

To Roast Chestnuts:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.

Wipe the chestnuts off with a damp towel and set them on a cutting board, flat side down.

With a small, sharp knife cut an X in each chestnut. (There are special chestnut-X-cutting knives that you can buy – see comments below. I would only recommend buying one of these knives if you roast a TON of chestnuts.) The X allows the steam to escape while they are cooking. (Do not omit this step, otherwise the chestnuts could explode in the oven!) This will also make peeling a lot easier.

For safety sake, you may feel more comfortable cushioning the chestnut on a (clean) dish towel to cut the X.

Put the chestnuts in a baking pan with the X facing up.

It will take 20-30 minutes to roast the chestnuts. When cooked, the shells will burst open, and the chestnut will be golden brown. The tricky part is actually knowing when they are done. If you over-cook OR under-cook them, they will get hard and the inner skin will be very difficult to remove.

Now comes the hard part: peeling them! You need to peel them while they are still warm. Let them cool just enough so that you can touch them, then start peeling. Be very careful not to burn your fingers!

Be sure to buy extra, because once they are open you may well discover that some have actually turned bad and are not edible.

This task is not as easy as David makes it look. My thumb is killing me!

So now comes the test: comparing the fresh chestnuts to the ones from the jar. There are four things to consider:

  1. Appearance
  2. Taste and Texture
  3. Price
  4. Convenience

Freshly Roasted (on the left) Vs. From a Jar

1. Appearance
First let me say that the chestnuts I bought from Whole Foods did not end up looking at all like the magnificent ones from the street vendor. (Of course the 7 or 8 chestnuts from the street vendor that actually end up in your brown bag don’t look like the ones they have on display either!)

The ones from the jar have a preserved look about them.

2. Taste and Texture
They both tasted delicious but the ones from the jar actually had a moister texture.

3. Price
The 17 fresh chestnuts from Whole foods cost $4.67

I ended up with 12 usable ones. (Yes there are only 11 in the above photo because I ate one!) Two I could not get peeled, two disintegrated when I tried to peel them and one was rotten.

The 7.4 ounce jar cost $8.99. 100% were usable.

4. Convenience
When I was a kid, whenever my mom would bake, we would always have to shell the walnuts. (Way back then!) It was significantly cheaper to buy unshelled walnuts. It is a very labor intensive activity. Today, having to shell your own nuts sounds like it is on par with having to go milk the cow to get fresh milk! Peeling your own chestnuts is not an easy task!


All in all, my first preference is to buy them off the street vendor in NYC. ONLY as a special treat, is it worth the effort to roast the chestnuts yourself. The look, the taste and the aroma is wonderful.

BUT, for use in a recipe, I would probably skip roasting them myself and just buy the jar!




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Char said:

My parents have chestnut trees and sell the chestnuts at the farmer’s market in the fall. We love hearing everyone’s stories of chestnuts from their childhood and how they have had them prepared.

My daughters actually prefer chestnuts uncooked – they have a very sweet taste that way. Me, I prefer them roasted, too.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Char, I’ll have to give the uncooked ones a try! They must be pretty tricky to peel???

Diana Moneymaker said:

That good ol’ tune with “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” brings back memories. Memories which never included roasting chestnuts on an open fire.

This year I’m going to do it. Thank you for showing me how.

-Diana Moneymaster

Kathy Maister said:

Diana, enjoy! Tis the season…

Jan Krygier said:

It’s Christmas Eve…I have the chestnuts and am gong to give it a shot! The photos and comments are very helpful! Thanks!

brian said:

so weve been wanting to do this for “gosh” sence i can remember and every year the reminder is the song, we all know it. So here i am waiting for the oven to preheat and im sure with your great detail in notes and pictures the’ll durn our just fine.

thanks so much brian

Daniel said:

i wish i had read this before! my chestnuts exploded!( i didn’t cut an ‘x’)

Marcy said:

I knew I could count on you! I just picked up 1/2 a bucket full from the neighbor’s chestnut tree. They are a light brown color – not as dark as the ones you got from whole foods. How do I know when they are ready to be roasted? Do I just leave them out on a cookie sheet to dry? I guess I need to do a little more research with my uber fresh chestnuts… :)

PS. How do you know when they are done just right?

Kathy Maister said:

WoW Marcy – right off the tree! Unfortunately, I have no clue if the light brown color means there are not ready for eating! It may just be a different species??? Have you asked your neighbor if they have ever eaten chestnuts from their tree?

According to the Gardening Gourmet:

“If you find yourself with a chestnut tree in your yard, don’t be tempted to pick one, crack it open and eat it. Chestnuts must be boiled or roasted before eating due to their high levels of tannic acid.”

Good luck and let us know what you discover!

tom said:

Thanks for sharing what you learned. My wife and I have a fireplace and for the first time we are going to attempt roasing chestnut. The harvest is in now and we ordered 10 pounds on the internet at $4.50 per pound. 10 pounds may seem like a lot, but we have 6 kids that have left the nest and will be here for Thanksgiving and Christmas with their families. It’s quite a herd when we all get together. ;^)

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Tom,
That sounds like great fun! What do you put the chestnuts in to roast them in the fireplace?

tom said:

To roast them over the fire you need a metal pan with holes in the bottom and a long enough handle to prevent your hand from burning. One can buy “chestnut roasters” on the internet for about $35 and $20 for short handled ones. I searched the storage shelves of the basement and found an old thick steel strainer/steamer that is just the thing. I was hoping to find an old frying pan I could drill holes in the bottom on, but found something I only needed to put an 2 foot extention on the handle. It’ll be fun.

Kathy Maister said:

Tom, you remind me of my dad – he was always inventing new uses for everyday objects!

For everyone else, it’s a good thing you can buy chestnut roasters!

Frank Grove said:

To test if the nuts are fine for cooking, drop them into a bowl of cold water. If they FLOAT they are rotten, do not bother to cook them

Kathy Maister said:


Thanks Frank for the great tip!

It makes perfect sense. With all the research I did before writing this post, I never once came across this tip!

Geoffrey Addison said:

I’m so glad I found your post. For the past few years I have tried roasting my own chestnuts, but I only yielded about 40% usable nutmeat after shelling. I thought it was my method, but I guess (after reading your method) that it’s just the nature of the beast. Funny thing is my grandfather used to roast huge batches for the holidays and give them to us kids to shell, and I don’t remember it being as difficult as it is now. Selective memory, I guess.

Side note for the reader with the light-brown, freshly harvested chestnuts: It’s my understanding that you don’t actually pick chestnuts. They fall off the tree when they are ready and are harvested from the ground. If they are still on the tree, they’re not ready for harvest.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Geoffrey,
Roasting and peeling chestnuts is really a lot of work. If I were adding them to a recipe (stuffing?) I would just buy a jar of ready-to-go chestnuts.
Good to hear from you!

Michelle said:

Hi Kathy,

I wanted to compare the price of fresh versus jar. How many were in the jar?



Kathy Maister said:

Sorry, I did not think to count how many were in the jar!

“The 17 fresh chestnuts from Whole foods cost $4.67

I ended up with 12 usable ones.

The 7.4 ounce jar cost $8.99. 100% were useable.”

erica said:

An easy way to cut the chestnuts it to position a strong knife over the chestnut on a towel and lightly tap a hammer on the knife. It worked great and no cut fingers!

Kathy Maister said:


The hammer sounds a bit aggressive!
I actually had little difficulty making the cut in the chestnut.

What was really rough on the finger was actually peeling the chestnuts after they were roasted!


Patti said:

My family have been eating them for years. We usualy slit them, I’ll have to try the X. One thing we do that you don’t is we soak them in water first.

I’m looking for a way to roast regular nuts (walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts…) in the shell. I forget and my cookbook doesn’t have it.

Kathy Maister said:

Sorry I can’t help you Patti but I have never roasted anything but chestnuts.

(You would need Erica’s hammer to pierce the shell! Walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts all have REALLY hard shells to crack!)

Does anyone have any experience roasting other nuts?

Tom said:

I will be roasting fresh chestnuts in the fireplace tomorrow on thanksgiving. What I learned about the fresh ones is you need to store them properly in the fridge or they will grow mold. I stored my nuts in a plastic bad with holes in it and they got mold. I should have put the in the fridge in a paper bag and when they are fridge temp, then put them in the fridge in gallon plastic bags with holes for moisture to excape.

I was able to get rid of the mold by washing it off the nuts, drying them good and putting them in the fridge in a paper bag until they reached fridge temperature. Then back in the gallon baggies with holes in the fridge.

When you want to roast nuts take them out of the fridge and put them in a bowl to cure for about 6 days before you roast them. The 6 days is to let them ripen. The starch turns into sugar. They will tase too starchy otherwise.

Tom said:

I forgot to mention that I found a decent way to aid it the peeling. When I am done tosting the nuts in the fireplace they are quite hot, but the hoter they are the easier it is to peel them.

What I have found is dump the nuts on a towel and twist, squeeze and crush with your hands. You will find when you open the towel that much of the shell is already removed and the rest of the shells are easier to remove.

Patti said:

I just made the nuts. I kept them in the oven a little too long. You roast them in the same type of pan as the chestnuts on 325 dgs for about 15 mins. you have to watch them or they will burn. You can tell when they just start to burn by the smell.

I love this season. Fall and Winter are my favorite seasons.

Madison said:

That was great but what do you put on the chestnuts? Salt,suger sweet n low.

Kathy Maister said:

I like them just plain without salt, etc.
They are VERY rich and creamy tasting!

Paula said:

I found a chestnut knife on a website that sells American -grown chestnuts. Has a 5-6 inch handle with a curved metal poInt and comes in it’s own plastic tube/container for storage.. (Lamson Sharp Pro, Stainless. USA #32425) it’s wonderful! Sorry, I don’t remember the site…perhaps DelMarva? Found them through a Food Network segment..

My primary reason for using chestnuts is to celebrate All Soul’s Day on Nov. 2nd. I am carrying on my grandmother’s annual tradition. Set out a plate of roasted chestnuts with shells on on the night of Nov. 1st.. Use as many or as little as you wish since it’s just symbolic,

I have a lot of prayer cards from the funerals of dearly departed loved ones and friends.. I place them on a table with the plate of chestnuts and some photo’s and/or a list of names and say a prayer over them. I remove everything on Nov. 3rd. Feel free to eat the chestnuts then or whenever you choose,

My grandmother wrapped the roasted chestnuts with a clean dishtowel till cooled a little and removed the shells with the towel. Worked every time. Also, my personal taste preference is the Italian chestnuts over the American ones. Enjoy!

Ime said:

I bought a box that suggested 400 deg. and 15 minutes. I was skeptical, but they did open well.

I did the wrapping them in a dishtowel afterwards thing. Something else I figured out while peeling them, is if you squeeze the unscored side and the corners where it’s scored kind of like squeezing open a baked potato for topping, they peel MUCH easier, and the papery part has less tendency to stick.

Thanks for the information, my son and I had a great time peeling them. :)

Genett Holmes said:

Does anyone still have chestnuts for sale? I would love to order some for Christmas.

Kathy Maister said:

Have you checked your local grocery store? They are still available at mine!

Genett Holmes said:

Yes, I have checked and actually purchased some. However, where I live they do not know that chestnuts have to be refrigerated or kept in fresh food section in cooler. So after about a couple of weeks sitting in a hot store, they have hardened.

Mary said:

We are getting ready to roast chestnuts soon. My husband and I went to something called Christmas Traditions in St Charles MO. We took three of the Grandkids. That is where I tried my first roasted chestnut. DELICIOUS! Even the kids(5,7,8years old) liked them. It took them a few minutes before they would try one. We are going to try and find some Chestnuts at the stores around here. I have looked at several websites for how to’s and one said that if you soak them for a half hour before roasting, they will be easier to peel. Will let you know.

Kathy Maister said:

Mary I’ve read about soaking chestnuts before roasting them but have never tried it. Please do let us know how it works!

Tessa Beam said:

We tried cooking chestnuts on a wood burning stove BIG MISTAKE!!! it was way to hot and before we knew it they were on fire it only took 4 minutes for it to start on fire! and it smelled terrible! But it was our first time trying to roast chestnuts on an open fire so I guess theres still hope!

Kathy Maister said:

I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like to cook all food over an open fire!
Sorry to hear about your chestnuts roasting on an open fire disaster! They never did mention in the song how difficult it is to actually roast anything on an open fire! ;-)

Madeleine said:

I tired the floating method but was disappointed when a full 2/3 of mine floated. So I went ahead and roasted them anyway, first roasting the non-floaters and then the floaters so I could see the difference. Out of 20 sinkers I had 3 bad ones, out of 40 floaters I had 10 bad ones. Yes, there were more bad ones BUT there were plenty of good ones!

David said:

I have a tree and when the chestnuts are ripe ( they generally come in spiked hulls in threes) the hulls open up and the nuts are exposed…The ones at ground level can be plucked from the hulls before they hit the ground,,,much preferred method , because every critter in the woods knows to come around..The problem being the same as with fallen apples ( deer, rabbit, squirrel, groundhog droppings can contaminate them..No worries though, Most of the nuts do fall from high up and most are still in the spiked hulls when they hit the ground..they split open in a few days just from drying out….they won’t fall unless they are ripe…any other loose nuts should be rinsed in a water with a LITTLE bit of clorox in it just to be safe, and then undergo another rinse and dry process before going into storage.

Kathy Maister said:

Madeleine, thanks for sharing your floating method!
David, where, how and for how long do you store your chestnuts ?

Kim said:

There is no date on this posting so I am hoping that it is current. I use to live on the east coast so really remember the chestnut vendors and I do remember the soaking for the 30 mins. But have actually only roasted chestnuts in an open fire.

I live in

Los Angeles

so have a varieties of stores to buy chestnuts and frankly Whole foods is twice the price of anywhere else, I can buy chestnuts.

This year I’m going to give the oven version a try only because often I’m just not in the mood for building up a fire in the fireplace. As for the chestnuts in the open fire you need to use the same cage that you would use for popcorn and it only take about 2-3 mins a side.

startcooking said:

Hi Kim,
I don’t know if you live near a Trader Joe’s, but last week they had some gorgeous looking chestnuts at an amazingly low price!
It must be so much fun roasting them on an open fire!

Kim said:

I live about 2 miles from the original Trader Joes. I did buy the larger chestnuts and that turned out to be a disaster, so will try again. I am trying to develop a recipe and kinda need the chestnuts to work.

Wish me luck


startcooking said:

Given you need the chestnuts for a recipe have you thought about using them from a jar?

Kim said:

Hi Kathy,

Well after the drama I am thinking that a jar may not be such a bad idea but I still have time for one more test run, but will also buy the jar just in case.

startcooking said:

Good Luck Kim!

Caroline said:

You can purchase the chestnut knife at:

pam said:

hi everyone! just a tip might i add.. water in the bottom of the pan when roasting helped in the peeling process

Lou said:

I was born in the Bronx and grew up in northern NJ. I am of Italian heritage. My dad roasted chestnuts every Thnksgiving and X-mass. I started doing it my self in the oven. Being of catholic decent my folks used to say you put a “cross” in the chestnut, not an X. One thing o found works well is I took some of those aluminum pie plates and cut holes in the bottom. Make sure the nuts are in a single layer. Come on folks, the peeling is all part of the fun. If you didn’t have to work for it wouldn’t be worth it!

Mel said:

While I LOVE roasting chestnuts, I found a simple way to “cook” them without the roasting and energy loss of the oven. Put the cross on them as before but put 6 to 8 in a large glass filled just above the chestnuts with water and put them in the microwave. Wait till the water is boiling strong and you can see the steam escaping the nuts before turning off the microwave.. Time, power level and degree of mass from the chestnuts all enter into the time it takes. Now here is the trick. Drain the water out and put the glass in the freezer for about 10 minutes. This cools them to work on and I found the temperature shock loosens the skin off the nut. With a little practice, you will get cooked chestnuts, still very warm and dry. Enjoy.


steven said:

You’re all nutz!!

Kim said:

Ahh! but fresh roasted chestnuts are so good to be nuts about

Angelo said:

My family has been roasting chestnuts since before I was born. We always have them for thanksgiving. After you score them, it is best to soak them for 30-60min, if not longer. We always let them soak while we were eating. Doing so will make it much more easier to peal and I think makes them more moist.

Dawn D said:

My family roasted chestnuts for as long as I can remember. We put chopped up chestnuts in our stuffing. To eat them alone put a pat of butter on them but pop in your mouth before the butter melts. YUM!

howieg said:

We had two chestnut trees in my backyard and II grew up picking chestnuts every year. It was a challenge to get to them before the squirrels, so we had to use a long pole or an apple picker to get to them in a very prickly outer shell with the nuts still inside. I would either force this shell open while wearing heavy leather work gloves or leave them under the outdoor barbeque covered for a day or two for them to open slightly. It was very tedious and you had to be so careful because the shell had very sharp needles all around them, but the job was worth the effort. We ate and shared our American chestnuts with friends and family and they were great.

Fast forward 28 years, the house was sold and the trees were cut down for a driveway when the new owners took over, but I still buy chestnuts every year. This is the first year that I had ever bought Italian chestnuts from BJ’s Club. They were ENORMOUS!! Each one was twice the size of the typical chestnut and was able to buy 2 lbs for $4.99.

My usual cooking method is 400 degree preheated oven and 10-12 minutes on each side. However, these nuts needed about 5-6 extra minutes to soften to my liking.

I love chestnuts…and so does my entire family. Glad to see there are alot of us out there. Good luck and happy eating to all this holiday season!!

startcooking said:

I am so enjoying everyone’s chestnut stories – thanks for sharing!


Steve said:

Google chestnut roasting pan. You will come up with several listings including Amazon – $19, Target, But essentially they are all selling the same piece of equipment: an 11″ Paderno Black Carbon Steel pan. Amazon has the marking knife and the chestnuts themselves, along with whole kits.
It seems the trick to “roasting over an open fire” is to keep them moving in the pan, over coals not flames, and watching closely.

startcooking said:

Roasting chestnuts over an open fire can be tricky without the proper equipment. Thanks for sharing!

Jim said:

My wife is Italian from NYC, I’m from NJ. My father-in-law always soaked the chestnuts in salted water before roasting for at least an hour. He also used to cut the X in the top pointed end of the chestnut. The shell tends to curl back and they were much easier to peel. We live in Tucson, AZ now and was able to get beautiful, huge chestnuts at the Farmer’s Market for 49 cents a pound.

startcooking said:

Jim did your roasted chestnuts end up looking like the ones in the photo at the top of this post?

Jim said:

Yes, but they didn’t open as much since we usually don’t make that big of a cut. I am going to experiment on Christmas and use a bigger cut.

Jim said:

Yes, but they didn’t open as much since we usually didn’t make that big of a cut. I am going to try to use a bigger cut when I roast them on Christmas Eve.

Helena Alexandra said:

Thanks fro all the great tips! I remember roasting chestnuts over the fire as a girl and this year I wanted to share this tradition with my friends. But since they don’t have a fire place, I needed a oven or microwave method. Y’all gave me all the info I needed, thanks!
If my memory serves, when we roasted the chestnuts over a fire, we let the fire burn down to embers, then put the chestnuts into a cast iron skillet, and roasted them till they popped. We cut the “X” (or cross) on the flat part and layed them on a very damp towel in the skillet. We took turns holding the skillet over the coals with a fire mitt to protect our hands. I imagine that anything that kept the pan off the coals would suffice to substitute for the gloved hand method.

Mike Kmiotek said:

My father pointed out a chectnut tree once and said it was a Horse Chestnut. They call it that because people can’t eat them. Does that sound right? There is also an asian chestnut, is that the one we eat?


startcooking said:

Hi Mike,
Your Dad was right! I just Googled Horse Chestnut tree and they are quite lovely but the nuts are not edible, even though they look like the ones that are edible.
This link talks about all the different varieties of trees which you may find helpful.

Juliet said:

I know nothing about blogging. Like, will this message even post? However, I was thinking about adding chopped chestnuts to our turkey stuffing recipe this holiday and came across your entry. It was so incredibly helpful. I must say, you were brave to do the home-roasting. However, I will take your expert and thoughtful advice and just buy them at Whole Foods for this recipe.

Robert said:

Interesting, but puzzling, how you de-emphasize many words by switching to red lettering on the white BG, thereby causing the wording to be considerably harder to read! You’re not alone, though. Red or yellow print is all too often chosen in ads when italics or BOLD would be a better choice. I just skip over it and turn the page. Thanks for your advice, tho – I go now to prepare chestnuts!

Heather said:

I am pleased to say I have another tip to share, re: peeling–my dad came up with this one years ago. We hold the nuts in a towel and grab the cut edge of the shell with clean pliers and just rip it off. My parents always just used a single straight slit across the shell and then tore that with the pliers and I don’t recall it ever taking that long to shell them. Hope this is helpful to someone!

startcooking said:

Thanks Heather!

I have some pliers that are just for kitchen use. They work beautifully pulling the bones out of fish. I will have to give your suggestion a try!


jeremy blank said:

I added the baked chestnuts from this to an old mushroom pate recipe I have, and the result is fantatsic. The recipe comes from ‘Natural Pates’
by Jo Marcangelo, 1984 ISBN- 0-7225-0937-5 published by Thorsons Publishers (don’t know if it is still around).
anyway for those interested here goes.
2oz (50g)butter or polyunsaturated marg
1 medium onion (finely chopped)
1lb (450g) of button mushrooms (I used Portobellos sliced)
1/2lb (225g) fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
4oz (100g) mixed nuts, ground (I used the chestnuts)
1 egg, well beaten
1 teaspoon of yeast extract
1 teaspoon of yeast extract (marmite, promite, vegemite or oxo cube).
1 teaspoon of mixed herbs (of choice)
seasoning to taste.

To garnish;
1 bunch of watercress, washed & trimmed
Wedges of tomato

Preheat oven to 350 F or 180 C and roast the chestnuts as above. Crossing them so they don’t explode in the oven.

1. Melt the butter or marg in frying pan. Add onion & fry till soft but not browned- about 5 mins

2. Add mushrooms & cook over gentle heat until moist & most liquid evaporates. Stir mixture frequently to make sure it does not stick to pan.

3. Cool slightly, then reduce onion & mushrooms to smooth puree in food processor or blender. transfer to mixing bowl.

4. Add all remaining ingredients& mix well (including chopped chestnuts). Taste & adjust seasoning, then spoon the pate into a 1lb (450g) buttered loaf tin. Cover with foil & bake in the oven for about an hour.

5. Chill well & turn onto a serving dish. Garnish with watercress & wedges of tomato & serve with wholemeal toast or bread.

(Really lovely as winter breakfast or lunch, great for those feral veggie friends who always complain there is never anything interesting to eat)

Enjoy & hope it goes well

startcooking said:

Thanks Jeremy – this recipe looks fantastic!

We have a few vegetarians in my family who will be thrilled to try this pate.


Janice said:

If you are not adverse to using a microwave it is very easy and fast to nuke the nuts. Time depends on power of the microwave you are using, quantity and size of nuts, etc.. You do need to cut the X and then just try a variety of times. We just spread them out on paper towel, no soaking or water bath required. Cooking time is in the seconds per nut. Let them cool down as they will be very hot. They do open easy and are very tasty. ……

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