More than 80 percent of all pecans sold in the U.S. are already shelled, because many consider this to be the most convenient way of buying and using the nut. Those who buy pecans still in the shell may need a pecan sheller, which is a device that cracks the pecan’s shell enough for one to gain access to the meat inside. In commercial operations, a pecan sheller is a machine that uses vibration to separate the nutmeat from the shell after it has passed through a cracking machine.
Pecan shellers sold to consumers are advanced nutcrackers. One particularly efficient type of consumer pecan sheller resembles a pair of pliers fitted with two rows of teeth. Placing a pecan in this device and applying pressure creates several vertical splits in the pecan’s hard shell. One also may use the sheller’s teeth to break each end of the pecan’s shell to remove the entire shell. Once one completes both procedures, the majority of the shell falls off the pecan, though a removable shield may help to keep the broken pieces of pecan shell in a contained area to aid in cleaning up after a shelling session.
In a commercial shelling facility, the pecan shelling process requires two machines. The pecan cracker splits the nut by hitting each end simultaneously. A cracked pecan then moves from the cracker to the pecan sheller. This machine is normally a mechanical or electrical device that vibrates cracked pecans vigorously to separate the nuts from the shells.
Intact pecan halves command higher retail prices, so a commercial pecan sheller ideally removes the two pecan halves from the shell without breaking them. Once the outer shell is off, a commercial sheller also extracts the bitter woody divider between the two halves of the pecan.
To reduce the potential for damage to the nutmeat inside pecans, processors condition them prior to cracking and shelling. To accomplish this, processors often soak the whole pecan in a solution of water and chlorine. This is the preferred conditioning method, because it lets processors harvest more whole nuts. Steam conditioning of whole pecans is an option that decreases the time required for conditioning. Fewer processors use this method, though, because it gives the nutmeats an unattractive color.
While pecan processors and home pecan enthusiasts can benefit from having a pecan sheller device to help in the shelling process, some pecan enthusiasts prefer a simpler method. Squeezing an in-shell pecan in one's hand can crack the shell, allowing one to pick out the nutmeat without help from any device, mechanical or otherwise. At the same, the process requires care, because too much pressure can crush the nutmeat along with the outer shell and render the effort frustrating and somewhat useless.