How to Shell Pecans at Home – A Friendly Pecan Guide for Everyone

Love pecan treats? How about making your own after shelling them at home? You can!

In this article, we’ll cover how to shell pecans at home and some other helpful info you’ll need to get the best results (and to just have more fun doing it, too).

What do pecans look like in the shell?

what do pecans look like in the shell

Pecans grow on a tree, which is a species of hickory.  It’s native to the Southern United States near the Mississippi River and to northern Mexico.

Pecans are popular to eat all over the world.  Mexico produces close to half of the pecans consumed in the world and Texas and Georgia are the largest producers in the United States.

The pecan can be grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 5-9.

It is easy to recognize a pecan in the shell because it looks like a speed boat.  When looking down from the top, imagining the pecan was cut in half, the wide end looks like the stern and the pointed end looks like the hull.

A fresh pecan should be brown, not dark, and getting close to black.  A good pecan should have a smooth shell and be uniform in color.

How do you know when pecans are ready to harvest?

how do you know when pecans are ready to harvest

Nature does a great job at telling you when pecans are ready to harvest.  Simply wait for them to drop to the ground. This will happen in the fall before the trees drop their leaves.

While the pecan is on the tree, it looks very different from the final product we are used to seeing.  The pecan forms inside of a green husk.

This husk slowly dries and as the pecan matures, it turns brown and cracks open.  Inside of the husk is the pecan in the shell. Once the pecan is fully mature, it drops out of the husk onto the ground.

It’s possible to pick pecans from the tree, but you need to wait until the husks crack open to pick the pecans.  It is usually easy enough to wait until they drop on the ground themselves.

Just don’t wait too long to harvest them if the ground is wet because they may begin to rot.  Wildlife may also carry off pecans if left for too long.

How long can you keep pecans in the shell?

If the ground is dry, the pecans can remain on the ground and cure.  This will improve their quality and increase the flavor, aroma, and texture.

Even though letting them sit helps the flavor, it’s usually better to harvest pecans as soon as they fall to protect them from ants, birds, and mold. Just be sure that the shell is fully brown.

After harvesting the pecan, it’s important to dry or cure them and then store them properly to make them remain fresh. It will usually take between 2 and 10 days to dry pecans.  Spread them out in an area with low light and circulating air.

Stir the nuts regularly and you can also use a fan to speed up the process.

The best method for storage is in a container that is airtight in the freezer.  Shelled and in-shelled pecans will remain fresh when frozen at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below for 2 years or more.

Those that are frozen in the shell can be eaten for up to 4 years. When stored in the refrigerator, in-shell pecans will remain fresh for 9 to 12 months.

Can you eat raw pecans?

can you eat raw pecans

Yes, you can certainly eat raw pecans.  Eating them raw will ensure that you get the best nutrients from the pecan.

When you do eat them raw, just be sure to wash them really well.  This is especially important if you’re not sure where the nut came from.

There could be some remaining chemicals left on the nut from the growing process.

Many people prefer to eat pecans raw, but others like them toasted or roasted.

How to shell pecans at home

how to shell pecans at home

It can be rewarding and fun to shell pecans at home.  It gives you complete control over the process and the way the nuts are prepared.

Before doing anything, it is important to sort through the nuts and remove any of them that have cracks or holes, those that feel much lighter than the other nuts, or that rattle when shaken.  These are all signs that the nuts have gone bad.

How to clean pecans before shelling

Home shellers have different preferred methods for preparing the nuts.  Many prefer to boil pecans in the shell for around 10 minutes.

This process will clean the nuts and also makes it easier to crack open the nuts.

Adding moisture will help to keep the shells from smashing into many pieces when cracking.  It’s always best to try to keep the kernel as whole as possible.

How to crack open pecans

how to crack open pecans

There are many different methods for cracking open pecans.  Each pecan enthusiast has their favorite method.  Here are a few to consider:

  • Nutcracker: You can use any general squeeze style nutcracker by placing the nut in between your arms and gently squeezing it until you hear a crack.  You may need to rotate the nut a few times to get the shell loose enough to remove.
  • Specialized pecan cracker: If you have many pecans to crack, a specialized pecan cracker is a tabletop device that you can use. Motorized versions are available as well.
  • Side cutter and pliers: Snip off the two ends of the pecan with the side cutters. Then use the pliers to gently apply pressure to the middle of the shell, rotating the nut as you squeeze.
  • Hammer: This is one of the simplest methods, but often breaks the pecan into small pieces.  Simply use the hammer to strike the nut while it sits on a hard, solid surface.
  • Your hands: If you’re in a bind and don’t have any tools at all, simply place two pecans next to each other in your hand, close your fist around the pecans and squeeze them together until one of the shells cracks and it can be peeled off.

After cracking open the pecans, remove any remaining shell material with a toothpick or similar item.  If any shell is left on the nut, it will taste bitter.

Leave the pecans to sit for 24 hours. It is better in a container like a colander that allows for air flow.  This will season the nuts and allow them to dry out.  After this point, they can be stored for later enjoyment.

How to store shelled pecans

example of pecans stored in a container

The best way

Freeze them in lined plastic bags. This has the advantage of also keeping them from absorbing odors from other foods. Shelled and in-shelled pecans can keep for two years or longer if properly sealed and kept at freezing temperatures (0 degrees Celsius; 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below). Frozen in-shell pecans can be eaten for another two years.

Next to best pecan storage

To prevent absorbing odors from other items, keep them refrigerated in sealed plastic bags. Shelled pecans kept refrigerated at 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) last about six months if stored properly. Pecans in the shell will keep for 9-12 months.

James Marshall
About the author

James is a business management professional and consultant with a former background in maintenance, repair, and hands-on projects. He enjoys DIY tasks and maintenance around the home as well as part-time writing. Read more »