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How to toast nuts on the stove, in the oven or in the microwave

Toasted almonds, pecans and walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Marie Ostrosky for The Washington Post)

As a lover of efficiency, I choose to ignore some recipe instructions — such as peeling carrots or passing blended soups through a strainer — because I find them inconsequential to the outcome of the dish. But there are other steps that always are adhered to in my kitchen, and toasting nuts is one of them.

The few extra minutes required for toasting are worth the results of enhanced flavor and texture, bringing out a deeper nuttiness and providing more crunch. Toss the freshly toasted nuts in salads, churn them into nut butter or use them in baked goods, as they turn whatever dish they’re in up a notch.

Let’s look at three different methods for how to toast nuts, and then you can determine which one is right for you and your recipe.

How to toast nuts in a skillet on the stovetop

When toasting a small amount of nuts, 1/2 cup or less, the stovetop has been my primary tool. How it works: Place the nuts in cold, dry skillet over medium heat and toast them, tossing frequently, until browned in spots and fragrant. Then immediately transfer the nuts to a plate or bowl. How long it takes will vary based on the type of nut, usually 3 to 7 minutes, but your nose is your best tool for telling when they are done. The downsides of this method is that you aren’t allowed to walk away from the stove and the nuts don’t get evenly toasted — they’ll mostly get brown in spots around the edges — but it’s quick and a great option for small quantities, especially when you don’t want to turn the oven on.

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How to toast nuts in the microwave

Though others have written about this method, I never tried toasting nuts in the microwave until researching this article. And despite my skepticism, it worked better than I expected. How it works: Place the nuts in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high in 1-minute increments, stirring in between, until toasted throughout. (In my trials, the nuts were fragrant after just 1 minute in the microwave, so the best way to check for doneness is to cut a couple open and look at the color.) Depending on the amount and type of nut, it could take anywhere from 3 to 8 minutes. They don’t get as brown as with other methods, but you can boost the color a bit by tossing 1/2 cup nuts with 1/4 teaspoon vegetable oil (or another neutral oil) before microwaving. However, you shouldn’t use any oil if you plan to use them for baking as it has the potential to throw off a recipe. I also noticed that a few nuts were cracked open once I took them out, so this isn’t the method if that’s a concern for you. However, “The results are more even and better-flavored than anything you can get out of a skillet or toaster oven,” J. Kenji López-Alt wrote in Serious Eats, and after trying it for myself, this might be my new go-to method for small quantities and when the oven isn’t already on.

How to toast nuts in the oven

Hands down, the best method for toasting nuts is in the oven. In my experience, it produces the best flavor and yields the most even results, especially for large batches. How it works: Arrange the nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a moderate oven (about 325 degrees with convection or 350 degrees without), stirring halfway through, until fragrant and toasted inside and out. Then immediately transfer the nuts to a plate or bowl. Smaller nuts, such as pine nuts or pistachios, will take about 5 minutes, and larger, whole nuts usually take at least 10 minutes. Given this, set timers for 5 and 10 minutes, and then an additional 2 minutes or so thereafter until toasted to your liking. The window between beautifully browned and burned is small, so always set a timer to save yourself from forgetting about them and check more frequently as they get closer to being done.

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How to test for doneness

Your nose is a great tool — a warm nuttiness will fill the air once they’re almost ready — but it’s also a good idea to cut open a couple to check the color of the nut interior. I like a nice, even light brown throughout (as shown in the photo above for oven-toasted nuts), but “a thin layer of golden around the edges and radiating from the outside — which will lend the slightest bit of toastiness — is enough to properly enhance a nut’s flavor and texture,” the editors of Saveur stated. “If you want to go further than that, continue cooking cautiously and remember that the more toasted a nut will be, the more its flavor will dominate a dish, and the more brittle it will become.”

Also, nuts can be expensive, so I recommend erring on the side of slightly less toasted nuts as they are better than having to throw out burned nuts. (An experience I wish on no one.)

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One last thing to keep in mind is that if a recipe calls for chopped nuts, it’s best to toast them whole so they are the same size and will cook more evenly. Then you can chop them as desired. (Warm nuts are easier to chop by hand while they are still soft because they harden as they cool. But if you plan to grind them, always let them cool completely because otherwise you may end up making nut butter.) Once cooled, toasted nuts can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks for all of your snacking and cooking needs.

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