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How to Crack and Shell Walnuts: 8 Ways to Open Raw Nuts

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

Walnuts; whole and open with halved kernel.

Walnuts; whole and open with halved kernel.

Best Ways of Shelling and Cracking Walnuts

Most nuts are pretty easy to separate from their shells. However a walnut kernel and its crinkly outer shell often seem impossible to prise apart. Here are some good ways to crack open and shell walnuts, and get the kernel out in one piece. Some are serious and some are (just a little) tongue in cheek. You can make up your own mind which method is the most effective.

8 Ways to Crack Open Raw Walnuts

  1. Hinged nutcracker
  2. Screw press nutcracker
  3. Sharp knife blade
  4. Your bare hands
  5. Freezer method
  6. Door hinge
  7. Hammer
  8. Wire cage, water, and pressure hose
This spring-loaded nutcracker keeps broken shells from flying out. Its internal ridges grip tight.

This spring-loaded nutcracker keeps broken shells from flying out. Its internal ridges grip tight.

1. Hinged or Spring-Loaded Nutcracker

A simple nutcracker is made from two pieces of metal or wood joined by a hinge like a house door. You put the nut near the hinge and grip hard. Your success at cracking a nut depends upon your personal strength and the robustness of the door hinge.

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.

2. 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. My favorite is this wooden spiral screw nutcracker that's shaped like a mushroom. The end of the spiral is capped with metal meaning that the amount of pressure applied to the hull can be carefully regulated. So as soon as the walnut’s shell cracks, pressure on it can be stopped. The 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.

3. Sharp Knife

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.

4. Your Bare Hands

Yes, some people can crack walnuts with their bare hands, 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. You can see it demonstrated in the second half of the video below.

Put a nut 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 nut will crack open.

A variation of this technique is to put two walnuts into your palm. Interlock them together with the ridge of one pressed into the indented seam of the other. Apply pressure, and with luck, you've cracked it!

How to Open a Walnut Without a Nutcracker

5. Freezer Method

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.

6. 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).

7. Hammer Blow

Have you 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.

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.

8. Wire Cage, Water, and Pressure Hose

If you grow and pick your own walnuts, you may want to de-hull a lot of nuts quickly and cheaply. One way to do this is by placing the crop in a wire cage, and then smashing the walnuts together using water and a pressure hose. When the weather is hot, this is a fun way to complete your harvest. However, this often results in the nuts being reduced to a mess of shell and kernel that need to be sieved apart again. The valuable part is the walnut kernel, the broken shells can be used as fuel in a wood-burning stove.

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 170 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes. Spread them out on baking sheets. If they're 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.

Why Do Some People Soak Walnut Kernels Before Eating?

I prefer to eat my walnuts straight after removing the outer shell. However, fresh nuts can be tough to chew if you wear dentures or have other dental problems. Soaking them in water for a few hours can help to soften them without losing their nutritious value.

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.