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How to Crack Hickory Nuts (Plus Good Uses for Them)

How to Crack Hickory Nuts (Plus Good Uses for Them)

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Have you ever encountered hickory nuts and wondered how to crack them open to reveal their hidden gems? I know I have.

Unfortunately, this one is, quite literally, a tough nut to crack! While the meat of the nut is rich in healthy oils and tastes like pecans, regular nutcrackers simply fail to expose them.

That’s where this guide comes in for the rescue, as I’ll show you the right technique to crack a hickory nut open along with several good ideas to utilize those delicious treats!

Quick Overview of Hickory Nuts

Shagbark Hickory Tree Carya Ovata Autumn Fruit Hickory Nut

Since hickory nuts aren’t as popular as other nuts, not much is known about them. This section will help you find out more about hickory and whether you can eat them.

Hickory nuts are the fruit made by trees from the “Carya” genus, which is a species that belongs to the walnuts and pecan family. They have hard shells and are encased in greenish-brown husks that dry after they fall off the tree.

Are Hickory Nuts Edible?

It’s generally accepted that most (if not all) hickory nuts are edible, but they are not all delicious. The delicious ones can be used in baking just as you’d do with pecans and walnuts.

Hickory nuts are either sweet or bitter depending on which type of tree they come from. It is important to know the type of tree before you collect the nuts for food.

Delicious edible hickory trees include Carya Ovata, which is the shagbark hickory tree, and it grows in the eastern part of the United States. 

It’s named for its bark that peels off in large strips, giving it a shaggy look. It also has green husks that fall off in the fall.

Other hickory trees with delicious nuts include pecan trees, shellbark hickory, sand hickory, mockernut, and red hickory. They all have nuts that are relatively sweet and taste similar to pecans.

Several types of hickory are a great source of food for wildlife, but they are quite bitter in taste. These include the bitternut hickory tree, the pignut hickory, and the water hickory.

Is Growing and Harvesting Hickory Trees Worth it?

Hickory provides large trees with a nice aesthetic appeal. However, they don’t offer much value if you’re mainly focusing on utilizing their nuts.

Additionally, they take a very long time to grow, so you might have to wait years if you want to grow them on your property. The best way to harvest them is to find them in the wild.

While deer, squirrels, and birds are happy to eat these hickory nuts, people are better off sticking with the sweeter variety.

How to Shell a Hickory Nut

Cracking Open A Hickory Nut With A Hammer

The shells of hickory nuts are smooth and slippery, so it is challenging to crack them open with standard nutcrackers. 

You need to use a hammer and a flat surface (such as a stone). You should also have a bowl ready as well as a nut pick to pull out the meat inside.

However, if you grab a hammer and start randomly banging on the nut, it won’t necessarily split open. Instead, you have to hit it in exactly the right spot, and then it will split right open to reveal the meat inside.

The shell has a partition membrane, called the septum. It divides the kernel so that if you strike the shell by the stem, the impact will go up the shell and make the casing fall apart. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Place the hickory nut on a flat stone or a brick, and hit it near the stem with a hammer. 
  2. In most cases, the nut meat will be stuck inside. A good trick to free the meat is splitting the nut into four quarters, and using a nut pick to pry out the pieces.

Once you finish cracking the nuts and filling the bowl with meat, you can keep them fresh by refrigerating or freezing them.

How to Use Hickory Nuts

Baked Cookies With Hickory Nuts

You can use hickory nuts for the same things you might use pecans, walnuts, or other kinds of nuts for in baking or cooking. You should shell them and keep them in a bowl, but keep in mind that it’s a time-consuming process.

The meat in each nut is very small, so you will need to have a lot of it and measure it in a measuring cup. 

Since you need to split them into smaller pieces to get them out of the shell, you can mash the nuts to get a uniform size. You can also add hickory nuts to different kinds of cookies, including chocolate chips, which helps in increasing their volume while still enjoying their taste.

You can also substitute hickory nuts in recipes that call for pecans or walnuts. For instance, you can bake banana bread and mix it in for added flavor and nutritious value. Moreover, they’re an excellent addition to salad and rice. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, cracking hickory nuts open can be quite a hassle, but it’s not impossible. These nuts are so versatile that once you have them out of the shell, there is no limit to what you can do with them!

Many variants of this nut are surprisingly sweet, but they’re typically quite expensive and very hard to spot commercially due to their hard shells.

The best way to gather hickory nuts is to collect them from a wild tree, and luckily, they grow well in the deciduous regions of the eastern US.

Cracking the hickory will require some patience, especially at the beginning, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to power through large batches.


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Roger Bindl

Tuesday 28th of December 2021

I just wanted to say thanks for getting it right on how to crack a hickory nut cleanly in half. None of the video's I had found worked beyond making a cracked up mess with small broken pieces of nut. I did have to split the shells in half one more time to get the nuts out so I made a video demonstrating both parts. Otherwise I had been about to give up on it. Hickory nuts are a tough crack. I also added credit to you in my post.

Phillip J Brown

Thursday 16th of September 2021

I live in northern Ohio a quarter-mile from Lake Erie. My wife, our 5 yr old son, 4 yr old daughter, dog Ellie and I moved into our home in Jan of 2021 and I realized I have two shag bark hickories on my property. Me, not knowing how more than the obvious signs that the squirrels and chipmunks love love love these things, decided to research it a little more. Needless to say,, I had the kids beating the nut out of its most outer shell and having the time of there life while doing so. This evening I decided to recover the meat from the 3-4 dozen nuts retrieved. I grabbed one of my bigger pair of channel locks and put them on the 4th setting and set the nut in, squeezed the toil while cupping the "crunch" and that worked phenomenally. I quickly separated the meat from shell and set the stubborn ones aside. Once I had them all cracked and separated I bagged the meat and am now boiling the "stubborn" ones, hoping to make some bomb oil/butter. These nuts taste like maple syrup and are my new favorite thing! If there's any advise I could give it's that most of the black/brown ones are rotted, get them while they're green, have fun beating the crap out of the green outer most shell and use channel locks to slightly crack inner shell. THESE ARE THE MOST UNDERRATED NUT OUT THERE!

Geromie J Isom

Monday 15th of February 2021

Very neat. Looking to move to the Apalachian mountains, and I wasn't aware Hickory even had edible nuts! Thanks. Please add some pictures for the craking and picking and final meat. Sounds like a lot of work for small benefit.