If you have the classic Christmas song of Nat King Cole in your mind as you read these words, you are not alone. For us, it is a family tradition and a favorite pastime to roast chestnuts on an open fire during the holidays. I think between the delicious smell of roasting chestnuts, the sound of the crackling fire, and the time of year, there is something so magical about it.
During the colder months, as soon as chestnuts hit the stores, I buy some. If I am short on time, I roast them in the oven or if I am planning to use them in recipes, I boil them in water. But, if I want to have fun with my family and friends, we roast them on an open fire, grill, or fireplace, especially during the holiday season.
Tools You Will Need
You can roast chestnuts on a grill, a hot bed of coal, or in the fireplace. I find that the easiest way to roast chestnuts is to use a charcoal grill (secured with a grill grate) or a gas grill using a chestnut roasting pan (affiliate link) or a cast-iron skillet.
If you are roasting them in the fireplace, you might want to invest in a chestnut roaster (affiliate link) to make it safer and easier to roast.
I use a cast iron skillet as I already have one but if you are serious about it, it is a good idea to invest in these tools.
While a paring knife or a sharp serrated knife works, you can also invest in a chestnut knife to make the scoring easier and safer.
In terms of ingredients, you will need chestnuts and water. Water is pretty straightforward but there are a few things to pay attention to when buying chestnuts for roasting bbq style.
You can find fresh chestnuts in grocery stores and farmers’ markets during the late fall and winter months.
- What type of chestnuts should I buy? If you can get your hands on them, buy American chestnuts or Italian chestnuts. I find peeling these to be easier than Chinese chestnuts.
- What should I pay attention to when buying chestnuts? If you can, pick chestnuts one by one, making sure that they are free of blemishes and roughly the same size (to ensure even roasting). They should be moist but not wet. Examine them to make sure there is no mold.
How To Prepare Them For Roasting?
- Score an X: This is a crucial step and should not be skipped. To do so, place the flat side of the chestnut down on a cutting board. Secure it in between your index finger and thumb. Score the round side of the chestnut horizontally creating a ½ to 1-inch cut (depending on its size), making sure to cut through the skin and the fuzzy inner skin without going too deep into the chestnut meat. Turn it 90 degrees and cut another slit creating an X.
- Soak: Similar to my oven roasted chestnuts method, I think soaking them for an hour or so helps with peeling after they are roasted. However, if you are short on time you can skip soaking and directly start roasting. When ready, drain and set them aside. No need to dry.
Step By Step Instructions:
Now that they are scored and soaked, it is time to light the fire and get roasting. To do so:
- Light the fire: Prepare a charcoal grill or an open fire pit. When the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly to create a flat bed that the cast iron skillet can rest on. If you have a grill grate, place it on top. Carefully place the cast iron skillet on the hot coals (or grate) and let it warm for 5-10 minutes.
- Place chestnuts flat side down in the now-hot cast iron skillet in a single layer: Depending on the type of chestnuts, they should start opening up as soon as they hit the pan. Be patient as the chestnuts roast and wait for them to fully burst open. Make sure to watch closely, as chestnuts can burn easily.
- It takes about 10-12 minutes for them to roast BUT: This is a big but because the time for cooking chestnuts on a fire depends on their age, size, and type. Some may take shorter while others may take longer. It is a good idea to (carefully) move them around during the roasting process.
- Additionally, if you are using a chestnut roasting pan, the roasting time might be shorter. Follow the tips below to check on doneness to prevent burning.
How To Tell If My Chestnuts Are Fully Cooked?
To check doneness, you can do two things:
- Make sure they burst open, ideally showing the yellow flesh.
- Test one (being careful to not burn your fingers) by peeling the outer shell. If it is soft and buttery with a nice chewy bite, you are good to go. If it is still hard, put it back in the skillet and continue to roast for a few extra minutes.
How To Peel?
This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Ideally, each chestnut will nicely open up and be super easy to peel. If that is the case, simply pull back on the scored X and peel away the papery outer skin and the inner fuzzy skin and enjoy right away.
However, if they are not fully opened and peeling is hard, let them steam for a few minutes. To do so:
- Steam: When they are fully roasted, carefully remove the cast iron skillet from the grill and transfer the roasted chestnuts onto a tea towel. Collect the edges of the towel in the middle and turn it into a small pouch. Let them steam in the “pouch” for 5-10 minutes. Brown paper bags can also be used instead of a kitchen towel.
- Cool & Peel: Transfer the roasted chestnuts onto a platter (or onto a baking sheet) and remove the outer shell of the chestnuts while they are still hot by gently peeling on the scored “X”, removing the papery skin and exposing the yellow flesh inside.
If you are unable to remove the inner skin by hand, use a small sharp knife to peel it, being careful not to pierce the yellow nut inside.
- Discard the bad chestnuts that are spoiled inside.
Finally, be patient when peeling chestnuts. It is normal that some will break and some will be hard to peel. It is all a part of having a good time by the fire and enjoying the process.
How To Serve Fire Roasted Chestnuts? Seasoning Ideas:
- Serve them on their own: This is probably the most popular way of enjoying chestnuts.
- Butter, Cinnamon and Sugar Drizzle: Heat 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in the cast iron skillet until melted. Off the heat, mix in ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon and a tablespoon coconut sugar (or brown sugar or maple syrup) into the melted butter. Either dip or drizzle roasted chestnuts with the mixture.
- Rosemary & Butter: If you’d rather go the savory route, you can heat some butter in the cast iron skillet, add in a teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary and season it well with sea salt and black pepper. Cook just until butter is melted and everything is mixed. Serve it on the side or place roasted peeled chestnuts on a plate and drizzle them all over with the mixture.
After they are fully cooled, store chestnuts in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
A chestnut pan is usually made of stainless steel. It has a number of holes in the bottom (similar to a grill basket) to allow for greater direct exposure over the fire. It also helps with even cooking.
The time of roasting depends on the size, age, and type of chestnuts. However, it usually takes about 10-12 minutes when roasted in an open fire in a cast-iron skillet.
You Might Also Like:
- Oven Roasted Chestnuts
- Boiled Chestnuts
- Spicy Candied Nuts
- Roasted Delicata Squash
- Roasted Kale Chips
- Fire Roasted Eggplants
Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire Recipe
- 1 lbs chestnuts*
- Start by scoring chestnuts: Place the flat side of the chestnut down on a cutting board. The rounded side, (aka the belly side) should be facing up. Hold the chestnut firmly and cut horizontally across the rounded side using a sharp paring knife or a chestnut knife, if you have. Then turn the chestnut 90 degrees and make a second cut forming an X. As you are cutting, do your best not to score the inner skin. Continue with the rest of the chestnuts.
- Place scored chestnuts in a bowl, cover them with cold tap water and let them soak for an hour.
- Prepare the charcoal grill or open fire pit. When the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly to create a flat bed that the cast iron skillet can rest on. If you have a grill grate, place it on top. Carefully place the cast iron skillet on the hot coals (or grate) and let it warm for 5-10 minutes.
- Add scored chestnuts to the cast iron skillet in a single later. If they don’t fit in one layer, you may have to do this in two batches.
- Depending on the type of chestnuts you are using, they should open up as soon as they hit the pan.
- Let them cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10-12 minutes*. There might be some smoke coming out and that is normal. You will know that they are cooked once the outer skin is fully opened up exposing the inner yellow nut. However, the best way to check doneness is to peel one and give it a taste. If it is soft and creamy it should be done.
- If it is not fully roasted at the end 10-12 minutes, you can put a lid on it for a few minutes to trap the air inside. However, I highly recommend keeping a close eye on it and checking every few minutes.
- When they are fully roasted and opened up nicely, let them cool for a few minutes and peel them right away.
- If they are difficult to peel then let them steam for a few minutes. To do so, carefully remove the cast iron skillet from the grill and transfer the roasted chestnuts onto a tea towel. Collect the edges of the towel in the middle and turn it into a small pouch. Let them steam in the “pouch” for 5-10 minutes. Alternatively, you can use a paper bag. Simply place the hot roasted chestnuts in it, roll the bag trapping the steam inside and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.
- Transfer the roasted chestnuts onto a platter and remove the outer shell of the chestnuts when they are still hot by gently pulling back on the scored “X”, peeling away the papery skin and exposing the yellow flesh inside. If you are unable to remove the fuzzy inner skin by hand, use a small sharp knife to peel it, being careful not to pierce the yellow nut inside. Discard the bad chestnuts that are spoiled inside.
- Enjoy roasted chestnuts on their own or use it with your favorite herbs or seasoning.
- I find that American and Italian chestnuts are better for roasting on an open fire. They are also easier compared to Chinese chestnuts. When shopping for chestnuts, do your best to pick ones that are similar in size for even roasting.
- The cooking time might change based on the age, size, and type of chestnuts. During my recipe testing with various different type of chestnuts, I learned that 10-12 minutes of roasting delivered perfectly roasted chestnuts, but for foolproof results follow my tips on how to check doneness.
- How to roast chestnuts on a gas grill? If you are using a gas grill, preheat the grill at 450 degrees F. Follow the recipe as written by scoring and soaking chestnuts. Preheat the cast iron skillet as instructed as well. When cooking, you can put the lid on the gas grill but do not leave it unattended. Keep a very close eye on it and check it every 1-2 minutes.
- As I mentioned in the recipe, I used a cast iron skillet. If you are using a chestnut roasting pan, the roasting time might be shorter. Follow my tips to check on doneness to prevent burning.
- An important note on safety: It goes without saying, be careful around fire, especially if there are kids around. Cooking chestnuts on an open fire requires close supervision, so do not leave the site as they are roasting.
- Do not skip on scoring: While it is a pain to have to score every single chestnut if you skip doing so, you may end up with a scary explosion in your backyard. Unscored raw chestnuts might explode as they are roasting, so take the time to properly score each chestnut.
- Single layer is the way to go: Do not crowd the pan. Each chesnut should touch the surface of the pan as it roasts. If need be, use tongs to turn them to ensure even roasting.
- Can I do this on a fireplace? Yes, you can. However, I recommend investing in a chestnut roaster for fireplace roasting for safety and ease. Most roasters that are sold in the market can also be used for making popcorn so you can get a dual-use out of your investment.
- Storage: Leftover fire-roasted chestnuts can be stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days in the fridge.