Black Walnuts Are Tough Nuts to Crack

The nutmeat from black walnuts is probably the best tasting you'll every find — and the hardest to recover!

black walnuts - walnuts closeup, walnuts on high branch

LEFT: Immature walnuts. The thick green husk is a good source of natural dye, as you'll discover when you're shucking it off. RIGHT: With the leaves of the tree ready to drop, these nuts are just about ripe and will soon be littering the ground — to the delight of foragers and squirrels.


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It's mighty hard to find a better-tasting nutmeat... or one that's more difficult to get at!

It's expensive to buy shelled black walnuts in a grocery store ...but if you've ever tackled the difficult task of cracking these nuts, you can at least understand why they cost so much. Lately, though, thanks to a tip from my good friend and neighbor Dean Balcomb, I've become very proficient at producing large, "fancysize," pieces of that wonderful gourmet treat in a minimum amount of time and without a whole lot of effort.


Many folks who become downright ecstatic upon discovering these lovely green fruits freshly fallen from a limb find that—upon setting about the task of husking all of those spheres of hidden de lights—their enthusiasm quickly fades. Husking is best accomplished promptly after gathering and should always be done with gloves on. Otherwise, uncovering just a few black walnuts bare-handed will leave brown stains that nothing except time can erase.

To do the job efficiently, use a hammer to smack the husk sharply, and then peel the nut out. (An oily black appearance beneath the husk usually means that the nut has been lying on the ground too long and has become a nursery for maggots.) Next, discard the husks and toss the nuts into a bucket of water, throwing away any that float. Then drain your treasures and spread them in a single layer on newspapers in a warm, dry, and airy environment. (I allow the nuts to cure for at least a month, checking periodically for dryness and making sure that any moldy ones are tossed away.)


Cracking the nuts is, of course, the most time-consuming step. However, by using a mounted vise I've managed to cut the chore to a minimum without sacrificing even a frag ment of the delicious nutmeats (which can, by the way, bring from $7.00 to $12.00 per pound!).

Just place a nut in the vise with its "seams" parallel to the vise jaws. Then tighten the vise until the shell splits open. If you need extra leverage, you can simply slip a length of pipe over the vise handle. Using a rubber mallet to tap the handle until it's tight may also be helpful.

Once the nut has cracked, you can dislodge the meat by shaking or prying it loose. With this method, the nutmeats will usually come out in four neat quarters ...nothing like the black walnut "dust" offered in supermarkets. Store the nuts in the refrigerator or freezer until you need them.

A word of caution: It's very important that you wear safety glasses when breaking black walnuts open; the shells can crack with an explosive force that sends sharp fragments flying.

Now, don't you think it's about time to get cracking?

EDITOR'S NOTE: For more on foraging nuts, turn the page!

12/4/2015 7:34:43 PM

I pile the walnuts up in the drive way, let the hulls turn squishy black and then back over them with my tractor. I usually do 40 0r 50 gallons at a time with a yield of 1 bucket hulled for 3 buckets picked with the hull on. Then I call in my hired workers to get the walnuts out of the smashed hulls. They work for chicken feed, really cheap. It seems chickens love the larva that hatches out of the hulls and will scratch the walnuts out of he mess and turn them till they are dry.Once all the larva is eaten sprinkle a little chicken feed over the mess and they will continue drying your walnuts for you. Then pick up.No need to wash. To crack, I use my arbor press in the shop. Hold the walnut vertically between two finger and bounce the ram on the walnut, do not turn loose of the walnut, an toss the whole cracked walnut in a bucket. Usually half the kernel is out of the shell without any additional hammer work. Use a pick from harbor freight to help extract stubborn pieces . I am trying to train one of my chickens to operate the arbor press but not any luck so far. Also the chickens are really good at picking out the loose kernels, you just don't get them back.

12/4/2015 4:44:40 PM

The best walnuts ever. The increased attention to these has caused the grocery industry to do a 'comparison' of energy available from new england (easy to crack) and Black and they basically say they are the same. I would argue that but the taste is night and day. Black walnuts are sweet and most N.englands are slightly bitter and bland. Sad that many old growths are long gone by tree poachers from before I was born . But many were planted probably over 60 years ago so there is an abundance of trees showing fruit. There is a park in my town right in the middle there is miraculously some old growths still standing, with the nicest fruit ever which NO ONE touches so I have constant bounty . I have tried many methods of cracking - there is one device I wouldn't mind buying some time but out of everything I have tried, the easiest method and most consistent is the method found in this article. The Bench vice. I simply put a cotton cloth below it and when I crack the walnut I wrap it around and slowly turn the handle and after 3 cracks without rushing it - I usually end up with intact 'fancy' nut meats and easy to get out since the structure collapses. The trick is not to rush it since the structure breaks and the meat is somewhat flexible so you can put a 'certain' type of pressure before they break up. The cloth draped below an then over top allows you to crack without having explosions and nothing flies into your face and you end up catching possible little bits of meat that would end up flying around. Thanks for your truth on this article. No hype.

2/25/2015 8:47:35 PM

There is a new amazing Black Walnut Nut cracker that was specifically designed to crack Black Walnuts. It has been years in the making. It is The World's Black Walnut Cracker and the ONLY HAND CRANK Black Walnut Nutcracker in the USA! The WORLD'S BEST BLACK WALNUT NUTCRACKER makes easy work of cracking the Hard Shelled Black Walnuts - cracks up to 30 lbs of nuts an hour! See the video of the nutcracker in action at -

12/15/2014 10:35:09 PM

There is a new technology for getting large kernels of black walnuts without crushing the nut shell. Check out the WALNUT SAW:

10/24/2014 6:27:42 AM

I have three black walnut trees in my yard but they always have maggots in them should I pick them off the tree or wait for them to fall

10/22/2014 9:47:43 PM

We use a 1903 corn sheller to remove the hulls. Works like a dream. No problem with the maggots. We remove the hulls and then wash the nuts in a bucket with an electric drill and homemade mixer paddle made of 3/8 threaded rod. Nuts are completely clean and ready to dry.

jennifer stevens
10/22/2011 11:18:21 PM

So, if they've already got maggots, they're bad? How would anything permeate those shells?

9/22/2009 1:20:57 PM

I'm lucky to live on a farm with many black walnut trees. Every year, we gather enough black walnuts to make pies and cakes out of. Nothing compares to the flavor! My only wish is that there is something to be done with the hull (husk), other than to make ink or dye. The smell of the hulls is divine!