Pecans add a new dimension to brownies and other baked goods, or you can use them in candy-making, as a salad topping or as a snack. Their thin shells crack easily but it's also easy to break the nut's meat inside. If you want whole pecan halves, which store better than pieces, working slowly and carefully with the right tools provides the best chance for success. Shelled pecans store for up to a year when frozen in a 32-degree Fahrenheit freezer so you can shell them as soon as you get the pecans home.
Sort through the pecans and throw out any with small holes, that rattle or that feel light compared to the other pecans.
Place one nut between the arms of a squeeze-style nutcracker. Squeeze the handles gently but firmly until the pecan begins to crack. Rotate the nut and squeeze again. Continue to rotate and squeeze until the shell cracks enough to remove it.
Remove the shell from one half of the nut, taking care not to break the pecan meat inside. Pecans usually crack so you can see the tip of each nutmeat half.
Separate the halves with the tip of a nut pick at the joined ends, if they are accessible, and slide each half out of the shell. If the joint section is still within the shell, gently peel the shell off while working the halves free until you reveal enough nutmeat to separate them.
Check the crevices on each pecan half for remains of the shell or brown inner shell coating. Pick out the shell debris with tip of the nut pick. Those shell pieces give the pecans a bitter taste.
A specialized pecan cracker resembles a tabletop vice, and it's built especially to crack pecans without damaging the nutmeat inside. You can crack pecans faster with less damage to the nutmeat if you have this style of cracker. If you don't have a nutcracker or pecan cracker, use a clean pair of slipjoint pliers instead. A hammer can also crack open pecans, but it's more likely to break the nutmeat.