"If you are what you eat, no wonder people think I'm nuts."Meathead
Let's get the party started right with these flavorful grill roasted nuts.
No need to spend big bucks for party snacks or handmade gifts. Smoke roasted nuts are easy to make and always a hit. Oh yeah, if you don't have a smoker or grill you can make most of these recipes just fine in your indoor oven without the smoke.
Serve them straight or mix them with dried fruits, pretzels, or Chex mix. Serve them as garnishes and toppings on salads, in rice dishes, in grits or oatmeal, in granola, or on top of ice cream. I've even had sweet pecans served in a dish of sweetbreads. Or just munch down on them as a snack with beer, cream sherry, whiskey on the rocks, and liqueurs.
They can be sweet, savory, or a little of both. Below are some tricks and tips.
Also be sure to check out the links on the left side of this page for numerous homemade nut recipes. And all these recipes can be done indoors. Just skip the wetting of the nuts and substitute your oven for the smoker.
The secret to smoking nuts
Smoke adheres better to wet surfaces so many recipes here call for wetting the nuts first or soaking the nuts for 10 minutes. This is a great trick I learned from Chris Capell and the folks at The Dizzy Pig Barbecue Company in Manassas, VA. They are a competition team and they sell a line of barbecue rubs and spices.
They discovered that a 10 minute soak in water, no more no less, was the ideal time for making almonds ready for smoking. Let Capell explain "You will find that your seasonings fall off after a short time. Salt just doesn't want to stay on the almonds. Through some trial and error, attempts at soaking in a brine solution, etc., I have settled on a short soak in water to help with this. The salt now melts onto the almonds. If the almonds are soaked too long they will swell in size, the water will change how dense they are after roasted. 10 minutes won't swell the almonds much at all."
About the ingredients
Nuts. Unless otherwise stated in the recipe, the nuts must be raw, unroasted, unsalted, and fresh. Most of these recipes involve roasting the nuts so you don't want to use nuts that have already been roasted. That will just dry them out or burn them. Finding raw cashews, almonds, and pecans is easy, but it is hard to find raw peanuts. When you do, taste them. I love peanuts raw.
Nuts have oils in them and they can go rancid so get your supply from a place that has high turnover such as health food stores. Nuts are usually freshest in late summer and fall. If you buy them on sale but don't plan to use them right away, store them in your freezer or fridge.
In the recipes below I have specified a type of nut, but you can often substitute or mix other nuts. Take your choice of raw pecan halves (not bits), walnut halves, whole almonds with or without skins (skins help hold on seasoning, but they are slightly bitter and tannic), cashews, skinless peanuts, macadamias, filberts, green pistachios (reds have a food dye added), or a mix. If you are mixing them, select nuts of similar size so they finish smoke roasting at the same time or rest them separately.
Pecans and walnuts have a hint of bitterness so they especially well with sweet coatings. Peanuts go best with sweetness. Raw almonds and cashews are the most versatile nuts and will work with practically any recipe on this page. Cashews are buttery and work especially well with savory. Almonds go both ways.
Weights and volumes of nuts. The info below is estimated and can vary depending on the size of the nuts and their freshness. Fresh nuts have a higher water content.
Almonds. 1 pound unshelled = 1.5 cups nut meats
Almonds. 1 cup = 5.5 ounces
Pecans. 1 pound unshelled = 2.25 cups nut meats
Pecans. 1 cup = 3.8 ounces
Walnuts. 1 pound unshelled = 2 cups nut meats
Walnuts. 1 cup = 3.6 ounces
Cashews. 1 cup = 5.0 ounces
Peanuts. 1 cup = 6.0 ounces
Wetting agent. Smoke adheres better to wet surfaces so many recipes call for you to wet the nuts before they go on the smoker. Water will do, but you can use other wetting agents like soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, vinegar, wine, soft drinks, or juice. When I call for vegetable oil, you can use canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, or "salad" oil.
Lube. For some recipes you will need to oil the grill topper so the nuts won't stick. Spray oil works great, or you can brush on a tablespoon or two of cooking oil, or smear on some butter. The type of oil for this is not critical.
Salt. In all the recipes below I have specified table salt because table salt is small grain, it dissolves more easily, and it sticks better than larger grain salts. Click here to read more about different salt types.
Sugars. This is a bit like candy making so when I specify "sugar" I mean regular old fashioned white granulated sugar. Do not substitute brown sugar for white, molasses for honey, and if the recipe calls for maple syrup, use Grade B maple syrup. It has better flavor than grade A, which is more expensive. Do not substitute an artificial syrup like pancake syrup. It has different heating and flavor characteristics. And when cooking sugar, temperatures are critical.
Flavorings. As usual, I recommend you follow my recipe the first time and then riff on it as you wish. But some of these recipes are pretty flexible when it comes to flavorings. Other fun spices are garlic, ginger, curry powder, garam masala, and Chinese five spice powder. Asian flavors seem to work especially well. Try them on your second batch.
Cinnamon. Most of the grocery store cinnamon is really made from its close cousin, cassia, and it's not even close to the real thing. One of the secrets to these recipes is to get real cinnamon from a spice specialist such as Penzey's. Once you taste Penzey's cinnamons (they offer several), you will never go back.
Chipotle. If the recipe calls for chipotle powder (hot), you can amp it up or dial it back. Feel free to substitute cayenne (about the same heat just less flavor), ancho powder (milder but great taste), or chili powder (varies), etc.
Smoke. Go easy on the smoke. As always, start with less than you think you'll need. You can always add more on the next cook, but you can easily waste money by oversmoking.
Smoker or grill. You do not need a dedicated smoker, but it helps. It is not hard to smoke nuts on a charcoal or gas grill if you set it up properly for 2-zone cooking, and I have written several articles on the subject.
Thermometers. Nuts can burn easily. You also need good temperature control. These recipes, like many of the others on this site, require you to be able to hit 225°F or 325°F in the indirect heat zone (read my article on calibrating your cooker). Please please don't trust the thermometer that came with your grill or smoker! It can be off by as much as 50°F. Use a digital thermometer with a probe that is placed on the cooking surface, not in the dome. Read my Buyer's Guide to Thermometers.
An example: A few recipes call for you to mix sugar and water and heat the mix to "Soft Ball Stage" which is precisely 234°F to 240°F. At that temp, a small amount of the sugar syrup forms a ball that is soft enough to flatten with your fingers when it is dropped into cold water. If your thermometer is off, the recipe won't work properly. For more on the different stages of hot sugar used in candy making, read this article on the website The Science of Cooking.
Grill toppers. In order to smoke nuts, you need a grill topper to keep them from falling through. Grill toppers are also essential for grilling and smoking small objects such as slices of onion and peppers, and I prefer them for small chunks of meat rather than skewers. On skewers it is hard to keep the meat from spinning around, and getting the meats and veggies on the same skewer together is almost impossible. There are many other grill toppers available on Amazon. Click the link to see the whole range of them.
My favorite are Frogmats (below). They are perfect for this job and many other jobs such as veggies and cracklins. They are non-stick so you don't need to oil them, they are dishwasher safe, and you can roll them up and use then for making sausages. Frogmats come in a variety of sizes, even large enough for a whole hog, and you can cut them to fit. They cannot handle extreme heat or direct flame, however.
With a grill basket you can toss the nuts. They are also great for cubed meats and veggies. I prefer the mesh type because they let in more smoke and flavor. My fave is the Mr. Bar-B-Q Stainless Steel Mesh Roasting Pan.
Another favorite is the Weber Grill Topper, and I was pleased to see the folks at Cooks Illustrated agree. It has plenty of slots for smoke to travel through, and plenty of surface to brown things like salmon cakes.
In a pinch you can use the top of a broiling pan (below).
A disposable alum pan with holes poked in it will work, too. The amount of airflow will impact the smokiness, so this arrangement will not make nuts as smoky as a Frogmat.
Cookie sheet or sheet pans. You will need a cookie pan or sheet pan to go under the grill topper when you oil it and when you pour in the nuts or else your counter top will be a mess, and so will the floor as you carry things to and from the cooker. You may also need a cookie pan or sheet pan or two to dry the nuts for some recipes. Have enough of them so the nuts don't stack up on top of themselves if you can avoid it. Keep them in one layer.
Nonstick surface. Some recipes need a nonstick surface on which the nuts will cool. A silpat, a silicone mat, is the best choice and it can also be used for all manner of baking tasks, like rolling pizza dough or pie dough. A nonstick cookie pan will work, or parchment paper, which is infused with silicone and not made from parchment. You can use aluminum foil lightly coated with oil or butter. I don't recommend wax paper. Some of the recipes with molten sugar in them can burn wax paper.
Storage. Because nuts have oils, once they are cooked they should be stored in a tight container like a bottle, zipper bag, or tight plastic tub. They can be stored at room temp for a week for a week or two, but they can keep for weeks in the fridge, and months in the freezer.
Beware of liquid sugar. Molten sugar is an an amazingly efficient conductor of heat. A splatter of liquefied sugar can raise a nasty welt on your arm or face, or it can blind you. When sugar and water boil, and the bubbles pop, the spatters can really sting, so you should have on a long sleeved shirt, an apron, and safety glasses. Keep children and pets away. If you get hot sugar on your skin. Immediately get cold water on it.
Cleanup. The pan may look like hell, but soak it with a little hot water and soap for 20 minutes and it cleans right up.
Cooling. The texture and flavor changes significantly between the time you take nuts off the heat and when they cool thoroughly. So be patient and wait for the nuts to cool thoroughly before you pass judgement on them.