How To Open A Coconut

| February 4, 2013 | 13 Comments

coconut, serving
Step-by-step, photo illustrated instructions on how to open a coconut and grate it.  It’s much easier than you might think to open up a fresh coconut and grate the meat inside for your next recipe.  From Coconut Cakes to Coconut Cream Pies and so many other dishes, you’ll love the distinctly different taste of using fresh coconut.  We’ll show you how.


coconut, slider
How To Open A Coconut:


It’s so easy these days to pick up a bag or even a can of flake coconut so, you might wonder why in the world you’d want to go to the trouble of opening and grating a fresh coconut.  The answer is easy…TASTE.  It’s all about the taste.  Now, I’ll admit, it does take a little work and effort but, the results will be well worth the effort.

Growing up here in North Carolina, I watched my mom take daddy’s hammer and whack open more than a few coconuts in her time.  It was a time to get closer in the kitchen because once the coconut was opened, I knew I had to get a bite of it.  I’d watch closely as she poked a nail or screwdriver into one of the coconut “eyes” as they are called.  Then, she’d flip it over on a mason jar or a glass and let the water inside drain out.  Maybe, just maybe, she’d even let me take a sip after she would open it up.

With hammer in one hand and, a towel and coconut in the other, she’d give that coconut a good whacking around the middle.  She’d hit it once, turn it slightly and hit it again…until it would finally break open.  That’s when you could see all that lovely white interior of goodness.  Of course, the hard part was yet to come.  Getting that white part out…was sometimes a little tricky.  She’d persist though, wiggling a butter knife around the edges and, I’d always end up the happy recipient of one of the smaller pieces that would break off.  It was like candy as I’d chew away on it.

Mama always did most of the actual grating of the coconut.  She’d let me give it a try if I asked but, it wasn’t as easy as she made it appear to be.  As I grated this one in the pictures, I couldn’t help but think back to how she took the time and effort to make those delicious fresh coconut cakes we all loved.  When I mentioned to my older brother the other day that I was working on one, he quickly declared that fresh coconut cake was his all time favorite.  You think that might have been a hint?  Older brothers….gotta love them.

The first time you open up a coconut of your own, you may wonder exactly what possessed you to do so.  But, do like mama and push on through and, you’ll have a bowl full of freshly grated coconut in no time at all.   Then, use it for our Fresh Coconut Cake Recipe or in a Coconut Cream Pie and enjoy the difference that fresh coconut can bring to the table.   Don’t be shy…you can do it.  Ready to give it a try?  Let’s Get Cooking!  Er…I mean…cracking!


coconut, ingredients and tools
How To Open A Coconut:  You’ll need a coconut or, maybe two and, a few simple household tools.


coconut, remove the netting.
Now days, at least around here, coconuts come wrapped in some type of netting.  They are a bit messy with all that “hair” and I guess the netting helps keep that from making such a big mess in the produce counter.  You’ll need to cut the netting away of course.  Aren’t they cute…with those big brown EYES….I feel like I should name them.


coconut, the eyes of coconut.
The three brown spots are called “eyes.”  It looks more like two eyes and a mouth though.  When you purchase your coconut, be sure the eyes don’t have any area where it looks like the liquid might have leaked out.  Like yours…they should be clear.  You’ll also want to shake your coconut while you’re in the store.  You should be able to hear a good amount of liquid sloshing around inside and the coconut should feel “heavy” to you for it’s size.  Look it over and make sure it doesn’t have any cracks in it already.


coconut, screwdriver in hand.
At least one, maybe two, of the eyes will be somewhat softer than the others.  You can find this one by taking a nail, clean screwdriver or, a punch of some sort and just pressing it into that eye area.  Then, carefully place the punching device into the center of the brown spot and hold it securely.


coconut, screwdriver
Take a hammer and give the top of the screwdriver a slight tap.  It shouldn’t take a lot to puncture the coconut.  You may even hear air under pressure being released when you do it.  Wiggle the punch around a bit and open the eye up as much as you can.


coconut, drain the water out.
Now, grab a glass or jar and, flip the coconut upside down on top of it so the water inside can drain into the jar.  RESIST the urge to stick a straw into the coconut and sip it like you’ve seen on TV.  You really don’t want to do that just yet.  Let all the juice drain into your container.  Set the water aside for the moment.  It can be refrigerated for a day or two or, freeze it in an airtight container for use later.  If you grate or shred your coconut, you can add the liquid back into the grated coconut and freeze it all together.  It’s best to strain out any particles that might be in the water before freezing or use.


coconut, it's a groovy thing.
This particular brand of coconut was called a “Groovy Coconut.”  Once you remove the netting, you’ll see one or two grooves that have been cut into the coconut.  No, they don’t grow that way.  These are cut into the coconut to help you open it easier.  Some have just one groove and then some have a type of intersecting groove.  Just depends on what is available at your grocer.  If your’s doesn’t happen to have a groove, it’s no problem.


coconut, please use a towel.
You’ll find various methods on the Internet on how to actually open a coconut.  This is just the way we’ve always done it around our house.  Some people put them in bags and smash them on the sidewalk or driveway.  If you don’t have a hammer, I suppose that’s the next best way.  This works pretty good and you don’t even have to go outside.  Please, please, please though….grab a towel to hold it.  You can thank me later.  Place the towel in your hand and lay the coconut on top of the towel.


coconut, hammer whack it.
Take your hammer and start tapping around the middle of the coconut.  In my case, I tapped around the groove that was cut into my coconut.  You have to tap it firmly but not real hard.  Just tap it, turn it, tap again and keep rolling it in your hand until it cracks open.  By the way, that’s the hammer that belonged to my dad.  One of my small treasures.

Warning:  The next photo isn’t what a coconut is suppose to look like inside.  I’m just telling you in advance because you need to know these things.


coconut, ooops...a bad coconut.
THIS is why you DON’T want to be sticking a straw into a coconut like this.  I know it’s not pretty but…it happens.  It’s not suppose to look like this once you get it open.  Apparently the grocery store I bought my coconuts from doesn’t sell a lot of them.  The meat has spots that are clearly visible and if you are brave enough to taste it…it’s yucky.  Take my word for it.  Either throw it away or return to the store you bought it from for an exchange or refund.  You DON’T want to use this.  Of course, the water inside was also bad and I threw that away.  Imagine if you’d stuck a straw inside and took a big sip.  Yuck!  Enough said….let’s move on now… something prettier.


coconut, a good one.
THIS is more like it.  All white meat inside and it smells like fresh coconut when you sniff it.  That spot on the right side is where I punched it to drain the water out.  Now we’re getting somewhere.


coconut, cut a v-cut.
BE CAREFUL:  The following steps really require you to be careful.  Sharp objects are involved and the meat of the coconut is pretty firm.  Getting it out of the shell can be a bit of a task and I really can’t emphasize enough how careful you need to be.

Having said that, take a good pairing knife and carefully make two cuts in the meat of the coconut.  I started down at the middle..or bottom…of the meat and cut a V shape out of it.  I think you’ll find this step makes it a bit easier to remove the meat.


coconut, slip knife under edge.
Now, carefully slip the knife between the meat of the coconut…the white part….and the outer shell…the brown part.  You could use a butter knife for this or, even the clean screwdriver you punched the eyes with.  Just BE CAREFUL.  I suggest you place the coconut down on your cutting board or counter top and NOT hold it in your hand while you do this.


coconut, lucky move.
OK….I got a bit lucky with this one.  The V-shape cutout helps and, after running the edge of the knife all around the meat, I was able to pop the meat out of this half pretty much in one piece.  I suspect this is more of a sign of the aging of my coconut other than my own skills.

EXTRA TIP:  Some folks will place the unopened coconut inside a heated oven once they drain the water out.  Mama never did this and I’ve never tried it myself.  Although, I think I will when I get my next coconut.  It’s suppose to make it easier to remove the meat from the shell.  All you have to do to try it is pre-heat your oven to about 325º.  Drain the water from the coconut and place the whole empty coconut on a baking sheet.  Slide it into the warm oven for about 15-20 minutes and then remove it.  Once it’s cooled enough to touch, use the above steps to crack it open.  The meat is suppose to be easier to remove this way.  Does it dry out the meat any?  I really can’t say since I’ve not tried it.  Maybe I can update this post later and let you know.  Sometimes, the coconut will even crack open inside the oven once it starts to warm up.


coconut, typical move.
This is more likely what you’ll get as you try to pry the meat out…..smaller pieces.  It’s OK though because you’ll end up working with smaller pieces in the long run once you start to grate it.


coconut, what again if needed.
If you need to, you can always place the coconut down on the cutting board and whack it again to break the shell more.  The whole process is pretty much a “do what you have too” type of thing.


coconut, all the meat is removed.
Finally, your hard work will pay off and you’ll have all the meat safely removed from the shell.  You’ve done good.  Your reward is yet to come.


coconut, remove the skin.
OK…we’re making progress.  All the meat is out.  Now, we just have to cut away the brown layer of skin that’s on the backside that was next to the shell.  Use a good pairing knife and carefully cut the skin away as best you can.  You’ll certainly want to remove it all but, it’s not quite as easy as peeling a potato.  Yes, a vegetable peeler works good as well.


coconut, bits and pieces.
You’ll probably end up with some small bits and pieces along the way.  But hey….they’re really good to nibble on while you work.  I think coconut oil may be good for the skin also.


coconut, all peeled.
Before you know it….you’ll have it all peeled.  What next?  You can freeze these pieces just like they are and save them for later…or…you can go ahead and grate them.  If you decide to freeze them now, it’s recommended that you place them in a freezer type plastic bag and remove as much of the air as possible before sealing the bag.  Pop the bag in your freezer and you’ll be steps ahead when you’re ready for that cake or pie.


coconut, ready to grate.
Or….you can go ahead and grate it….by hand of course.  Well, if you’re really feeling old fashioned, it’s the only way mama ever knew how to do it.

If you have a good food processor, you might want to try using that.  I’ve not tried it and can’t speak of it’s success.  Then too, there are numerous tools available online or, at your local kitchen store, that are made just for this purpose.  Some look interesting and if you plan on doing this often, it might be worth looking into.  Most appear to be a type of scraper that you scrape the coconut out of the shell with.  You might want to check those out if interested.  I’m going for the old fashioned tradition with my Fresh Coconut Cake…so….I guess I’ll do it the hard way.


This box type grater is capable of doing several different styles of cuts.  Each side offers something different.  Here’s an example of one side that produces a larger type of flake.  This would be good for a garnish or finish on top of a cake or pie but….it’s not what I’m really looking for.


coconut, smaller flakes.
THIS is more like what I remember.  Much smaller flakes although it will take a little more work.  It’ll be worth the effort though.


coconut, grating by hand.
No doubt about it…this COULD be a bit of a knuckle buster.  You really want to be careful while grating the meat.  I found that the curve of the piece of coconut seemed to work best when placing my thumb inside the curve.  From there….you just keep the piece in motion until you can’t hold onto what’s left.  Again, it’s one of those “do what you have to” processes that you just continue to push forward with until you’re finished.  What else can I say about it?  I can’t even begin to imagine how many times mama must have done this very thing….just because she loved us.


coconut, finished.
If you hang in there….you’ll find find that last piece.  You’ll have pushed through and succeeded with the project.  Those little bits on the right hand side are down to as close as I could get.  I wanted every flake.


coconut, measured out.
And for the record, I measured it out.  This ONE coconut provided 3 full cups of grated coconut.  I measured out 2 cups and that’s what you see in the bowl on the left.  I had just over one cup left in the measuring cup on the right.  I wanted to weigh it but the battery was dead in my kitchen scales.  So much for that.

At this point, I felt quite proud of myself and decided to take the rest of the day off.

Now, let me tell you a little more about my coconut cracking adventures.  I stated already that I bought two coconuts and one was bad.  It’s not typical and I think I just ran into some that have been around for awhile.   I guess there’s not really a lot of calls for whole coconuts anymore.  A week before, I purchased two coconuts and BOTH of those were bad.  I don’t think they were from the same company though.

When I cracked open the first one, things went pretty good despite the fact that it had some bad spots inside and couldn’t be used.  On the second one, I wasn’t using a towel and after about the second whack with the hammer, the shell jumped open and “bit my finger.”  “Ouch Charlie…that hurts!”  It really did.  The shell opened up and pinched my thumb.  At first I thought it was bleeding but then realized it didn’t break the skin.  A big blood blister popped up instead and a week later….I still have signs of it.  I’m in hopes it will eventually go away but it’s taking a long time.  I think I’ll be alright though.  Thank you for your concern and tremendous outpouring of support.  You’re so kind to me.  (Smile)

Anyway….that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Want to see?

I don’t have a “Recipe” for this.  I hope the pictures have been helpful and that you’ll venture into the realm of Fresh Coconut one day soon.  I really do taste a difference in it and I think you will too.  It freezes well so, I suggest you might just open the coconut and freeze the meat after you removed it….for another day.



Your Comments:   Have you ever opened up a coconut?  Think you’ll give it a try?  I look forward to hearing from you about your experiences and memories.  Your comments are the only way we have of knowing that you have tried any of our recipes and we always appreciate you taking the time to share your results, comments or suggestions with us.  Please know that all comments are moderated.  That just means that I read each and every one of them before it appears on our site.  I also try my best to respond to as many as possible so, please come back again and take a look at my reply.  It’ll be great getting to meet you.  If you like our recipes and our work, please help us spread the word about Taste of Southern by sharing our information with your family and friends.

I also invite you to Subscribe to our Newsletter.  We’ll keep you up to date with our latest recipes as we publish them and any other happenings here at Taste of Southern.  You can enter your Email address in the box below or click the link at the top of this page.  Your Email and information will not be shared with anyone.  Go ahead and do it while you’re here.   Thanks again for visiting us.

Be Blessed!!!


Tags: , , , , , ,

Category: Desserts, Tips & Techniques

About the Author ()

Award Winning Food Preservationist, Fisherman, Author of three cookbooks. "From Mama's Big Oval Table, From Mama's Big Oval Table - BOOK TWO and Carolina Christmas Sweets and Appetizers." Online Contributor to Our State Magazine Newsletter.

Comments (13)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. How To Open A Coconut : Taste of Southern | Vintage Veggie Sisters | April 21, 2015
  1. Laura Schindler says:

    Your description of how your Mama opened a coconut brought back memories of how my Mother did also – the very same way. I used to do it that way while I lived at home, but as an adult in my own home I decided to research a better way (Coconut shell splinters, anyone?). This is how I do it now:
    Brown coconuts (mature coconuts) are the only ones I have ever opened, so this applies only to them. Green coconuts I have never tried.
    Watch out for cracked coconuts at the grocery store. Check carefully. Look for any damage around the three “eyes”, or any sign of mold anywhere. Seems like I find damaged coconuts more often that I used to back in the 60s and 70s. Shake the coconut to check for plenty of liquid sloshing around inside. The older they get, the less liquid they have. Coconut should feel “heavy” for its size. (I know “heavy” is relative, but shake enough coconuts and you will understand.)
    Now look at the end with the “eyes”. Actually, two spots will be alike, and the third spot will be a little larger and possibly more oval than round. Call this the “mouth”. The “mouth” is softer than the eyes and more easily pierced.
    There are many ways to open a coconut, but I remove the coconut water first. You can make one opening in the “mouth” and shake the coconut over a clean bowl or large glass to remove the water is sporadic “glugs”, sort of like the way ketchup comes out of the bottle in a splat, then air has to enter the bottle so that you can get another splat on your fries. I prefer to open TWO holes, one eye and the mouth, so that air can enter the coconut through one hole and water can come out the other, coming faster in a stream and making less mess than the start-and-stop of only one hole.
    Some people use a screwdriver or knife to open the hole, but I prefer a corkscrew. Open an “eye” first, (harder to do, but you don’t have to worry about water dripping out on the first hole.) Then put your finger over that open eye to avoid losing any water, and open the “mouth” with the corkscrew. Position mouth over your clean bowl or glass and remove finger from the “eye” hole. Coconut water will stream out. At this point you can smell the water to see if it smells fresh. If it does, your coconut is probably good. If it smells sour, alcoholic, musty, or any other “off” scent, your coconut is bad. Throw it away and don’t waste any more effort on it. Or open it to show the grocer when you return it to the store. Just don’t use it for food.
    When you examine the coconut “face”, you will notice a thickened line or seam running between each eye and the mouth, all the way back to the slightly pointed other end of the coconut, dividing the coconut into three sections. It is tempting to think these seams are the easiest place to try to open the coconut, but actually the opposite is true. The weakest place in the coconut is ACROSS these seams, in the middle. If you think of the “face” as the head and the pointed end as the feet, then the weak part runs around the fat part of the coconut halfway between the head and feet, forming a “belt” This is where you want to hit the coconut.
    Yes, we are going to hit the coconut, but not with a hammer. Place a kitchen towel on a cutting board to keep the coconut from escaping when opened, and hit it sharply with the BACK of a meat cleaver or chef’s knife, aiming for the space between two of the seams on the “belt” It should crack there with 1 or 2 blows. Turn coconut one-third of the way to place the center of the next space and hit it on the “belt” between the seams again. Repeat and crack the final section. It may split on the second section.
    To remove the coconut meat, I prefer to use an oven to loosen the meat from the shell. Preheat oven to 350, place cracked coconut meat side up in a shallow baking pan, and heat for about 15 minutes. Let it cool before trying to remove the meat. This does not really cook the coconut, but dries it out enough that the meat should separate from the shell easily. You still have to deal with the brown husk, but that is the only tedious part (well, other than grating), and can be done with either a paring knife or potato peeler. Sometimes I use one, sometimes I use another. Both take a bit of work, but the result is worth it.
    I hope this alternate way to getting into the coconut is interesting to you. I haven’t had to pick out hammer-smushed coconut from usable since I learned it. I really enjoy your blog. Recently found it, and it takes me back to when I was helping my Grandmother cook, and learning at her elbow.

  2. Betty says:

    I can’t wait to try this. My husband keeps telling me about how his grandma would make a fresh coconut cake and use the milk and grate the coconut. I’m going to surprise him!

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Betty, What a lucky husband. I do hope you get to make a coconut cake for him with fresh coconut. I look forward to hearing how it turns out for you. Thank you for your visit today. I do hope you’ll visit with us often. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

  3. Charlotte says:

    Hello lovely

    I stumbled across your post because I was struggling to open my whole coconut. My dad always used a power drill and I’ve only bought halfs up until this point and I was sure there’d be some certain way to do it. I’m glad I did as I never knew about the eyes. I thought a whole one would be fresher and my mister has developed a real taste for coconut water recently, my dog also loves coconut so we’re all happy. Anyway thank you I really enjoyed reading your post you are a lovely writer and I will be looking at some recipes to make coconut pie and cake we only ever ate the meat as a tasty treat.

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Charlotte, I’m really happy we could help you with that coconut. Please turn one into a fresh coconut cake one day. You’ll love it too. I appreciate you taking the time to write and I appreciate your visit. I do hope you’ll stop by again… real soon. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

  4. Dorothy Berry says:

    I remember my dad used to punch two holes with a bradawl and bring the coconut back to the kitchen for the milk to be drained. We never had a grooved coconut, in fact in England in the postwar years we were indeed lucky to be able to get a coconut at all because of rationing still being in force. So dad then used to saw the coconut in half. My mum then removed most of the meat but also left some around the holes, threaded string through the holes and hung it up outdoors for the blue-tits and great tits (I think you call them chickadees). Dad would make two holes for string near the edge of the other half and that would be filled with suet or stale bread and also hung at the bird feeding station. One way my mum used the meat was to mix with the breadcrumbs for a special apple sharlotte – that’s like an apple crumble except as I said the topping is breadcrumbs.

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Dorothy, Thank you for sharing your memories of how your dad opened the coconuts. The groove is made in the coconut to make it easier to crack open for “modern day” folks. Smile. It was great that your mom took care of the birds as well. I also like the sound of the apple sharlotte. I bet it was delicious. I do appreciate your visits and enjoyed reading about your memories of your parents. I hope you’ll continue to visit with us often. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

  5. Cynthia says:

    This is the only way my Mother would make a coconut cake. The memories I have of growing up watching her crack the coconut and then make her cake from scratch are sweetly embedded in my mind! She was a cook who did so very much from scratch. It was her passion!

  6. Lynette Pittman says:

    OMG! This is Grandmother Pittman’s coconut cake! She died when I was 7, so I really don’t remember her making it, but “the girls” (my aunts) had the recipe and if we gathered for Christmas at one of their houses, this was the Christmas cake. I especially remember one year in Winston Salem when I was in high school (early 1960s). Everyone had to take a turn at grating, and the whole thing was so much work (and very eell worth it) that you had to respond with proper enthusiasm if offered a piece or else you didn’t get it. I have tried off and on for years to make it from the very sketchy notes I have but was never successful. I will definitely try it again.

  7. Robin says:

    Hawaiian friends tell me that when coconuts are fresh from the tree, they peel away from the shell much easier. I was there when I was very young and noticed how easily my friend peeled one for me. Thank you for teaching us how to open and peel them!

  8. Cynthia says:

    When I was in college, my sweet Mom (knowing I loved the nutty taste of fresh coconut) mailed one to me. Not having any available tools, my dorm mates and I headed to the parking lot and just kept throwing it on the pavement until we had it open. It was winter time in SD, but we ate it up right there. Delish! We had a fun time, but I guess I would recommend your method instead.

    • Steve Gordon says:

      Hi Cynthia, Thank you for sharing your story with us. Coconuts can be hard to get into some times, but sounds like you got creative with that one… or desperate. (Smile) I appreciate your visit to Taste of Southern and do hope you’ll stop by again… real soon. Be Blessed!!! -Steve

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *