How to Crack Hickory Nuts in 9 Quick Steps

If you’re looking to add a little more earthy taste to your grills, you should know how to crack hickory nuts and use them in your cooking.

Hickory nuts can be eaten raw or roasted, and some have been used as an ingredient in cooking recipes.

This article provides detailed information about the different kinds of hickory nuts and how to crack them open, along with 9 valuable tips to follow when doing so.

How many different kinds of hickory nuts have

There are four primary species of hickories in North America, all belonging to the genus Carya.

Source: hounddiggity (Flickr)

The most common types of hickory nuts include:

Shagbark hickory

The shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is a common type found in the Eastern US and Southeast Canada. It falls under the category of sweet-nut-bearing trees.

It naturally grows over large areas extending from southeastern Canada to Florida and west to Texas.

They can be found growing along riverbanks up until altitudes 4200 feet above sea level.

This particular type produces shells with an inclined indentation, which is a distinguishing mark.

Pignut hickory

They (Carya laciniosa) are sometimes referred to as bitter-nut-bearing trees, and they mainly grow at latitudes between 38° and 44° North, along with East Texas.

They also grow in midwestern areas of the United States, extending from the states of Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania all the way down to Georgia.

Pecan hickory tree

Like the shagbark, it belongs to the category of sweet-nut-bearing trees. This type of hickory nut (Carya illinoinensis) can be found growing naturally in all parts of Oklahoma up until Canada’s Northwest Territory.

They usually form forests rich in hardwoods that are generally tall with straight trunks without any branches for about 50 feet.

The only exception is when they grow with plenty of sunlight, thus creating a more open tree with branches that are drooping almost to the ground.

White hickory

The white hickory nut (Carya tomentosa) is a significant source of fat and protein for those who reside in rural areas.

It can be found naturally growing in all parts of Oklahoma up until Canada’s Northwest Territory.

In the United States, it has been recorded that this type accounts for approximately 75% of the Hickories being found today.

This variety is also used as a substitute ingredient for dairy products, such as milk or butter.

In addition to that, it can be ground into flour and made into desserts like cakes, cookies, brownies, etc.

It can also be mixed with other ingredients like egg whites to create meringue toppings on pies. It is possible to make a type of candy from this ingredient, called “hickory nut cake.”

In addition to that, it can also be used as an additive to frosting recipes, thus providing the final product with a unique flavor and taste.

How to crack hickory nuts

To crack open a hickory nut, first, you should hold it firmly between their dominant hand’s thumb and index finger.

Then raise the nut slightly above eye level, which will give you a better view of where to strike it with a hammer or a wrench.

Learn how to crack hickory nuts
Source: Asif A. Ali (Flickr)

There are nine valuable tips that can be utilized when trying to attain an opened hickory nut:    

1. Use the smallest possible hammer

Find one that’s still capable of delivering enough force for the job you want to be done. Using too big of a hammer could result in broken teeth if not more severe injuries.

2. Land the nut on its side

This helps by reducing cracks that might develop into larger fissures than necessary.

3. Strike the nut squarely and consistently on any one side

This will help you crack it without having to do so repeatedly, thus preventing excess pressure from being placed on a single point that could break the nut into pieces.

4. Use thick gloves

This is in order to prevent possible injuries while handling tools for this job but pliable enough not to hinder your ability to grip the tool properly.

5. Place the hammer’s head on top of the hickory nut

Do this while centering them both precisely between your dominant thumb and index finger.

6. Strike it with the head of the hammer

You’ll need to strike it while holding the nut firmly between your thumb and index finger. If done correctly, the nut should swivel slightly on top of its flat side after impact, which indicates that it is cracking.

7. Try changing its position

If cracking a nut becomes difficult for any reason. This might change the force that was initially applied to it and bring about a desirable outcome.

8. When there are no more cracks in the kernel

Try doing one last strike onto the side of the shell containing one or two small cracks already formed there

It helps break open even harder shells faster if done correctly, thus preventing further unnecessary pressure from being placed on their time and again after having been struck enough times before.   

9. You can start this job by using the correct size wrench

It’ll help to loosen nuts that are already somewhat cracked open. This can make it easier for you to continue without having to use a hammer.

This prevents more damage from being inflicted on the kernel of it once they’ve been loosened up properly with your primary tool of choice.

Tools needed to crack hickory nuts

There are many different types of tools that can be used to crack open a hickory nut without using a hammer.

Some of them are:

1. Wrench

A wrench can be used to reach inside the hickory nut’s shell and turn it until either the internal tissue breaks off or until the entire outer layer of its shell cracks open.

2. Adjustable crescent wrench

An adjustable crescent wrench will work well on hickory nuts with larger shells that a normal-sized wrench cannot reach.

How to store hickory nuts

When storing hickory nuts in an indoor environment, keep them cold and away from humidity because if they thaw out, then any moisture present will cause them to mold quickly.

Source: Katja Schulz (Flickr)

Mold spores could also attach themselves to the shells, which makes removing their outer layer difficult since these spores stick tightly onto them, so there is no way to peel or scrape it off effortlessly.


It is essential to use the right tools for the job and avoid putting too much pressure on it because there could be injuries otherwise.

Finally, it is best to store them in an environment with low humidity and keep them cold even if they aren’t at risk of becoming frozen or go bad.