Grill-Roasted Chestnuts with Holy Garlic

The conga line of holidays has begun. Whether you’re planning an elaborate multi-course dinner or casual backyard hang, why not greet guests with a crackling fire and the distinctive aroma of fresh chestnuts roasting over an open fire? If it sounds song-worthy, it is. If the sweet, nutty fragrance of the nuts whisk guests to an alfresco meal in Italy–then good for you.

There’s something unabashedly romantic and picturesque (read: Instagram-worthy) about the entire process. Chestnuts are a soft nut (think marzipan-like texture) surrounded by a hard shell. Scoring the hard shell before cooking is essential, because the moisture in the nut expands when cooking and the resulting steam needs to escape. (When my husband was a young baker, he thought he could skip this step, and dozens of chestnuts exploded like popcorn in his bread oven.)

Prepping the chestnuts is a fun activity to do with family or friends. All you need is a sharp knife (I used my favorite bread knife) and a flat, stable work space. You definitely want to cook the nuts over glowing embers–not flames–because a low heat and periodic stirring will allow them to cook through without burning (they’ll likely need 11-13 minutes total).

After they’re cooked and peeled, toss the warm chestnuts with butter, Holy Garlic seasoning and a pinch of butter to give them a savory edge that compliments their mild sweetness–and makes a delicious, Instagram-worthy cocktail snack. The fact that everyone will have Nat King Cole in their heads is just a bonus.

Grill-Roasted Chestnuts with Holy Garlic

Serves 4 to 6, as a snack

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

After the skillet of chestnuts is placed in the embers, the hard shell will begin to open after 5 minutes or so. They’ll need another 5-7 minutes (with gently stirring) to achieve the ideal buttery, creamy texture.

  • 1 pound fresh chestnuts in their shell
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Holy Garlic seasoning
  • Flaky salt

Remove the top cooking grate, set up your grill for two-zone cooking, and build a medium fire. While the coals heat, prep the chestnuts.

Place the chestnuts on a cutting board and use a paring knife or serrated knife (I used my favorite bread knife) to score the flat side of the chestnut (cut just deep enough to expose the inside of the nut). Place the chestnuts score-side up in a cast iron skillet (it’s best to roast a pound of chestnuts in two batches, so they’re easier to wrangle over the heat).

When the coals are glowing red and covered with a fine gray ash, nestle the skillet in the coals, keeping the handle extended away from the fire so it’s easier to handle. Roast the chestnuts with the grill lid open for about 5 minutes, until the shells begin to open. Then continue to roast, stirring gently every few minutes, for an additional 5-7 minutes. Rotate the skillet as needed for even cooking. The goal is cooking the nuts through till they have a tender, slightly creamy consistency without burning any one side.

Using tongs or gloves, remove the skillet to a heat-safe surface. Repeat with remaining chestnuts. When the chestnuts are cool enough to handle, use a paring knife or your fingers to peel the shell. Place the warm, peeled chestnuts in a serving dish with the butter, a sprinkle of Holy Garlic seasoning and a pinch of flake salt; gently toss to combine and serve immediately.

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Grill-side banter provided by food writer, cookbook author and grilling enthusiast, Paula Disbrowe.

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