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How to Crack and Shell Walnuts: 7 Ways to Open Raw Nuts

Scientist and author, Beth is also a keen home cook. She enjoys trying new recipes.

Walnuts are traditionally eaten at Christmas. This variety "English Walnut" is grown in the US.

Walnuts are traditionally eaten at Christmas. This variety "English Walnut" is grown in the US.

Best Ways of Shelling and Cracking Walnuts

Most edible nuts are pretty easy to separate from their shells. However a walnut kernel and its crinkly outer shell often seem impossible to prise apart. My success rate in getting the kernel out in one piece is only around 50%.

In order to help others who may have a similar problem, here are a few good (and not so good) ways to crack open and shell walnuts. Some of them are serious and some are (just a little) tongue in cheek. You can make up your own mind which is the most effective.

7 Ways to Crack Open Raw Walnuts

  1. The hammer blow.
  2. Crushing machine.
  3. Hinged nutcracker.
  4. Screw press nutcracker.
  5. Sharp knife blade.
  6. Freezing (ice crystals expand).
  7. Door hinge desperado.
Striking a hammer blow to crack a nut.

Striking a hammer blow to crack a nut.

1. Cracking Walnuts With a Hammer Blow

Have you ever heard the expression "taking a sledge-hammer to crack a nut"? It literally means using disproportionate force to achieve a simple aim.

  • Take a hammer.
  • Lift.
  • Strike the walnut.

Unfortunately, the result is that the nut is smashed along with the shell. Unless you have the patience of Job and pick out the fragments of edible kernel from amongst the broken shell pieces, this is not a good method. However, if you are of a gentle and patient disposition, it is possible to gently tap the walnut with a small hammer and by tapping (not hitting) the shell, can achieve good results.

How to Crack a Walnut Gently

2. Separating Walnuts from their Shells in Quantity

The farmer in the video below smashes his walnuts in quantity. He has devised his own walnut crushing machine by using an old out of date hay crimping machine. Having reduced the nuts to a complex mess of shell and kernel, he then proceeds to sieve the two components apart again. His sells the walnut kernels and uses the broken shells as fuel in his wood burning stove to provide winter heat. This method of shelling walnuts is unusual and not for everyone!

3. Use a Hinged or Spring-Loaded Nutcracker

A simple nutcracker is made from two pieces of metal or wood joined by a hinge. You put the nut near the hinge and grip hard. Your success at cracking a nut depends upon your personal strength. For some people this simple nutcracker is enough, but I'm not strong enough for it to work for me.

An update on this classic design has a spring-loaded hinge. I like the Anwenk Heavy Duty nutcracker as it's perfect for my weak hand-grip strength. It makes shelling walnuts easy-peasy and means everyone in the family (including me) can take their turn at cracking nuts at Christmas.

This spring-loaded nutcracker is designed to shell walnuts, peanuts, almonds and pecan nuts.

This spring-loaded nutcracker is designed to shell walnuts, peanuts, almonds and pecan nuts.

4. Screw Motion or Screw Press Nutcracker

Many people need a little help with applying the pressure needed to crack walnut shells easily. This is where the screw motion or screw press nutcracker comes to the rescue. This ingenious device dates back hundreds if not thousands of years. By using a screw motion, pressure is applied onto the shell of the nut without the user having a strong hand grip themselves. The amount of pressure used can be carefully regulated. This means that as soon as the walnut’s shell cracks, pressure can be stopped. The walnut kernel can then be removed in one piece rather than in fragments.

Screw type nutcrackers are usually made of either wood (known as treen), or of metal (often stainless steel). There are also many examples of these type of nutcrackers made in the shape of a person as tourist souvenirs.

Treen or wooden screw type nutcracker.

Treen or wooden screw type nutcracker.

5. Use a Sharp Knife to Open Walnuts

If you have a steady hand (and there are no small children nearby) you could use a sharp knife to open the walnut and get the kernel out in one piece. The video below demonstrates this method.

The tip of the knife is placed into the seam or hinge of the walnut. Once inserted, the knife is twisted to force open the seam. If done correctly, the shell of the walnut will split open. Please take care if you use this method, as it's easy for a knife to slip and cause injury.

How to Shell a Walnut With a Pointed Knife

6. Freezing Method Works for Quantity

Using a freezer to crack open walnuts relies on the chemistry of water changing from a liquid into a solid. Put the walnuts into a freezer bag and seal. Place the sealed bag into the freezer for several hours. The water present in the nuts and their shells freezes. Water expands as it freezes and so the shells will split open.

This method works well for walnuts intend using for baking or cooking. This is because the expansion and contraction of the water within the nuts causes the kernels to become slightly soft and flabby tasting. If you use this method and intend eating the walnuts as a snack, you will need to roast or cook them before eating.

7. Rough and Ready Method Using a Door Hinge

If all else fails you can use a door hinge. With this rough and ready method the walnut kernel is undamaged (although I cannot guarantee that the doorjamb will remain unmarked!)

  • Find a suitable door with a hinge in good condition.
  • With the door open, place the walnut in the hinge between the door jamb and the door.
  • Close the door so that the hinge presses tight onto the nut. You will hear a cracking sound as the shell splinters.
  • Carefully pick out the kernel from among the debris (and eat).

Best Way to Separate Hull From Walnut

If you grow and pick your own walnuts, you may need a quick and easy way to de-hull a lot of nuts. The video below shows how this can be done using water and a pressure hose. When the weather is hot, this is a fun way to complete your harvest.

Dean's Easy Way to Husk Walnuts

Is it OK to Roast Walnuts in Their Shell?

I like to eat walnuts raw even though their shells are awkward to remove. Some people prefer to eat them roasted as this makes de-husking less of an issue.

You can roast walnuts in the oven at 1700 Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes. Spread them out on baking sheets. If they are too close together they will take longer to cook. Allow the nuts to cool before attempting to remove the shells. The roasted husk is brittle and should be easier to crack than that of an unroasted nut.

Use a food pick to help you prise every last piece of the kernel away from the shell.

Can You Crack a Walnut Using Just Your Bare Hands?

Yes, some people can, but I've never been able to. N.B. This method is not recommended. Cracking walnuts with your bare hands can hurt like hell. To succeed you'll need strong hands, a grip like steel, and a tough-as-leather thick skin.

Put two nuts in the palm of one hand. Close your fingers around the walnuts. Squeeze hard. Use your other hand around the first to increase the pressure. With a great deal of effort and force, the nuts will crack open.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.