Pecans are available in many forms; you'll find them vacuum- packed in jars, sealed in plastic bags, or packed in cans. For the freshest and most flavorful pecans, choose whole ones in the shell. Whether you plan to eat them plain or roasted, or are going to use them in your favorite pie recipe, before pecans are eaten, they must be shelled and cleaned. Before 1920, pecans were “hand-shelled” by consumers—in other words, they removed the shell themselves. If you are required to extract these pecans from their tough, woody shells, follow these simple steps to make the process easier:
- Harvest or buy some in-shell pecans. First, you must choose a variety of pecans that is uniform in size and shape, feels heavy in your hands and don't rattle when shaken. There shouldn't be any cracks or holes in the shells. Those are the best for shelling.
- Choose your method for cracking. Honestly, smashing the shells with a hammer on a solid surface will do the trick, but if you want a cleaner, more efficient job then choose a specially designed pecan cracker.
- Regular slip joint pliers are good for cracking pecan shells.
- A nutcracker can also be used to shell pecans.
- A specialized inertial type pecan cracker can also be used if you want to spend the extra money.
- Shell the pecans, but be careful with the nutmeat. Ideally, you will want to remove the pecans from their shells in halves and any of the nutmeat retained during the process is usable.
- With your fingers or small set of pliers, you can begin to pull the shell away. Try to work your way from the rounded part of the pecan to the pointed part. Since the two halves of the pecan are joined on the pointed end, it will more likely break the nut if you try to start there.
- If you don't have any cracking tools, simply take two pecans and crush them together until one cracks enough to peel the shell off.
- In order to scrape the shell material away from the pecan, use a pick, a toothpick, or even a narrow piece of pecan shell. If you leave even a small amount of the outer shell on the pecan, it may produce a slightly bitter taste.
- The pecans will need to dry out in a perforated container or a colander. This is important if you want the pecans to yield the best, seasoned flavor.
- Store the pecans in a sealed container. If they are not exposed to moisture, they will stay fresh for several days on your counter top, for weeks in a refrigerator, and up to a year in a freezer.
- Because pecans can vary greatly in oil content, yield, ease of shelling and flavor, it's important to choose suitable nuts for your intended usage.
- If it's practical, crack your pecans outside. The shells have a tendency to splinter and scatter around the area where you are working- it can get messy.
- Be careful where you store your unshelled pecans. Animals, especially squirrels, may raid your supply if they have even the slightest access to them.