Butternut Squash

How to Peel & Cut Butternut Squash Without Losing a Finger

This quick and easy kitchen hack will save your digits.

August 17, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland

Even if it's not the dead of winter, I'm still cooking with tons of butternut squash year-round.

From butternut squash soup to cheesy Instant Pot butternut squash Alfredo to caramelized butternut squash wedges, I'll keep this bright orange, cold-weather staple in rotation for weeks on end—and probably until below-freezing temperatures and the Polar Vortex feel like a dark and distant dream.

But even the most reliably delicious of ingredients has its flaws, and butternut squash in particular has a big one: peeling winter squash is beyond difficult—not to mention, frustrating. After one too many close encounters between my thumb and a knife, I decided to do a bit of YouTube detective work (I've acquired most of my life skills this way) in hopes of finding a better, safer way to peel and cut butternut squash.

In the process, I stumbled upon a video tutorial showcasing a butternut squash-peeling method that claimed to be the fastest and the easiest, thanks to an ultra-simple trick: using the microwave.

Now, if you're more experienced and adept in the kitchen than I am, there's a solid chance you already consider this "hack" old news. But if, like me, you find this method to be a revelation, here's a step-by-step tutorial. For cutting a butternut as well as peeling it, be sure to use a sharp, sturdy chef’s knife or a cleaver. While a sharp knife may seem more likely to injure the home cook as opposed to a dull knife, it’s actually the opposite. Its sharp blade will cut through the flesh of the squash—or any hearty root vegetable—much easier than a dull knife. Using dull knives means you have to use more force, increasing the danger of a slip that could lead to bloody fingers. Pay close attention to the following steps to learn how to cut a butternut squash safely:

  1. Behold your beautiful butternut squash, in all its winter glory.
  2. Furiously poke holes all over the squash with a fork.
  3. Using the same sharp knife that almost cost you a finger, carefully cut off the top and bottom of the squash on a cutting board.
  4. Microwave the squash for at least 3 minutes and 30 seconds (you might need to go a little longer, depending on the size, but that should do the trick).
  5. Let the squash cool to the point where it doesn't hurt to hold it, then peel away the skin and scoop out the seeds with ease! (In the video, she uses a paring knife or a sharp vegetable peeler, but I've found you can also use your hands). Once you’ve peeled the skin, you can prepare roasted butternut squash, purée it for soup, or smash it for mashed squash.

And with just a few minutes in the microwave, butternut squash—which I both loved and feared all at once—becomes just like any other easily roast-able, toast-able, puree-able, Instant Pot-able ingredient. Plus, this trick actually cuts down on time in the oven slightly. This little bit of magic leaves you with nothing to worry about except what you're going to do with it. (Hint: There are many, many options.) Jump to a handful of our favorite butternut squash recipes below.


Roasted Butternut Squash Recipes

Dan Kluger's Roasted Butternut Squash with Spicy Onions

Once you have pre-steamed, peeled, anad cut the squash into thick slices, toss it with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast it with hazelnuts. Once it has roasted and becomes caramelized, mix it with an assortment of herbs (fresh parsley, mint, and marjoram) and spicy onions for a colorful side dish.

Orecchiette with Roasted Butternut Squash, Kale, and Caramelized Red Onion

Dress up this pasta, which has a name that translates to “little ears,” with roasted butternut squash, sautéed kale, and caramelized onions. Frankly, it’s all we want to eat from September through November.

Squash With Chile Yogurt & Cilantro Sauce From Yotam Ottolenghi

Microwaving butternut squash will soften the flesh, making it easier to cut and peel. But in this recipe, there’s no need to peel the squash. Our editorial team agrees that “the contrast between crispy skin and the soft squash interior cements this technique as a keeper.”

Caramelized Butternut Squash Wedges with a Sage Hazelnut Pesto

Pesto isn’t just reserved for pasta dishes and sandwich spreads. This earthy, autumnal version is also a fragrant accompaniment to roasted butternut squash, the side dish recipe for Thanksgiving and other fall harvest spreads.

Winter Noodle Soup With Coffee-Roasted Squash

“Roasting the squash in a bed of spent coffee grounds doesn’t make the squash taste like coffee, rather it heightens the squash’s own flavor,” writes recipe developer Lindsay Jean-Hard. You’ll have to taste it to believe it.

Roasted Butternut Squash & Toasted Farro Salad with Curried Brown Butter

Salads don’t have to be boring, and neither do sides of roasted root vegetables. They go so beyond salt, pepper, and olive oil, or a classic vinaigrette dressing. This two-in-one recipe is hearty enough to be the main course, or a crowd-ready side dish that’s ready for a big ole holiday feast.

What's your favorite butternut squash recipe? Tell us in the comments below!
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Erin Alexander is the Brand Partnerships Editor at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.

40 Comments

Carol September 2, 2021
Hi, I discovered that using a flexible head peeler works for peeling butternut squash. Sometimes the squash is large so I'll just peel and cut off the portion of the squash that I need and place the remaining part in a zip lock bag with the cut end down on a plate. Squash stays fresh for several days. Roast the seeds for crunchy garnish.
 
BR95510 September 2, 2021
I agree with the others, waste of good food. Also, not everyone has, or uses, a microwave. I was expecting something far more "hackish" when I clicked through. Disappointed :(
 
Franca August 18, 2021
I have to agree with JP. A waste of squash, and time.
 
AJH October 10, 2020
Just take the whole butternut squash, rinse it off, and put it in the oven at 350 for ~90-100 minutes for a good-sized one (along with anything else you'd like baked just then.) I did that a few days ago with a homegrown Waltham and it was the best tasting butternut squash I ever ate.
 
rbrock1225 September 2, 2021
I agree w/AJH. If I want to cook _any_ kind of winter squash, I'll pierce the center w/a sharp paring knife to get to the seed cavity a couple of times, place it on a sheet pan and roast until tender. I've done this w/spagetti, pumpkin, butternut, acorn, ... Some of the squashes 'leak', so the sheet pan is recommended. Remove and let cool, then peel the outer skin off w/your fingers. If you care about the seeds, they're still salvageable even after roasting.
 
JP October 8, 2020
Seriously? She wastes a good 15% of the squash and makes a big mess. By the time she is done piercing all over and microwaving, you can have a raw squash peeled and seeded, and the mess cleaned up. And if you are reasonably proficient, cubed as well.
 
Felice C. January 14, 2020
Thanks! I recently had a thumb and veg peeler incident (which is healing nicely) after the peeler slipped and attacked my thumb while peeling a butternut squash. Will be using this technique next time.
 
annc3333 March 15, 2019
I get the biggest butternut I can, wash it thoroughly, whack a couple slits in it with large knife so it doesn't explode in the micro. Then put it in for 5 to 6 min. I dont cut off the top or bottm. I use a large knife to slide off the skin. Yea, no other way to do it!!
 
Deedledum March 8, 2019
For years I have been using an OXO vegetable peeler (https://www.amazon.ca/OXO-Good-Grips-Swivel-Peeler/dp/B00004OCIP/ref=asc_df_B00004OCIP/?tag=googleshopc0c-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=292955320285&hvpos=1o4&hvnetw=g&hvrand=1182794747823167638&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=1002295&hvtargid=pla-381650137627&psc=1), and have no problem peeling squash, rutabaga and all sorts of things. Give it a go, you'll be pleasantly surprised!
 
Rebecca K. March 9, 2019
Me too. Best peeler I've ever used
 
TXExpatInBKK March 7, 2019
This is a handy tip! But I don't usually peel mine. If you are roasting it in the oven, you can actually eat the peel, no problem. I used to peel them and then a friend asked why and I didn't have a good answer. If you want a puree, then yes. Otherwise, just leave it on!
 
Elise J. March 7, 2019
Anyone try this with spaghetti squash?
 
bjm October 8, 2020
Yes. It works equally well for all types of winter squash. I do not cut the ends off, do poke a few holes in the rind, place it in a shallow dish and microwave for about 3-5 minutes depending on how large the squash is.
 
Mary K. March 5, 2019
Careful you don’t lose a digit, there, with the wobbly knife and the index finger extended. There’s a shot in the middle with the proper grip on the knife, which is essential with a hard vegetable like squash. Let’s be careful out there.
 
Janet March 5, 2019
Try the sculpted cutting board with 2 trays (scrap and diced squash) from theneatkithen.com, slick!
 
Carol V. March 5, 2019
Butternut Squash with Indian Flavors: Carrots, onions, baby limas, fresh ginger, curry powder, cumin, tomatoes, garlic, squash, coconut, half and half, cashews. Served with rice. Yum!
 
Author Comment
Erin A. March 6, 2019
This sounds delicious!
 
dove March 4, 2019
So sad that this is promoted. I love this website but this is not the direction we should be going in as a society. We need more awareness and consciousness, not less. Microwaves should not be encouraged but people need to be educated on why not to use them, not promoted as a time saver/ease in peeling. Time to do the necessary research to learn why microwaves should not only not be used, but actually thrown away. There is nothing they do that doesn't risk our health. Be well everyone.
 
Bonnie J. March 4, 2019
Why oh why do people believe uneducated opinion?
Harvard University:
https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/By_the_way_doctor_Microwave_cooking_and_nutrition
 
Lisa S. March 4, 2019
Throwing them out is the last thing our environment needs!!! Bad advice!!
 
karen March 4, 2019
Seriously?
 
Hinda G. March 4, 2019
I have several conditions that cause weakness in NY muscles, especially my hands and feet. I love to cook and love to eat hard squash. It has been almost totally impossible to peel them. I'm no longer married and have no one living with me. The microwave is the only way I can get an go, unless you'd like to come to my house several times a week to peel and cut hard vegetables! Please use your brain before you open your mouth!
 
Author Comment
Erin A. March 5, 2019
Thank you for sharing this, Hinda. I'm using the microwave right there with you!
 
judy March 6, 2019
I'm with you on that . I too have a chronic condition, and find more anymore that I rely on my micro not only for reheating, but for actual cooking of food. I have developed to die for micro cakes, as well as micro baked potatoes and amazing fish and pork chops and and and..... At this point in my life I would give up my stove before my micro.. almost. but I think the knife is somewhat unsafe for me. I just peel it back, works pretty well,
 
Hinda G. March 6, 2019
Thank you Erin Alexander!
 
Deedledum March 10, 2019
Check out the OXO peeler I mentioned upthread Hinda-you'll love it. All their stuff has large ergonomic (soft) handles. They're great if you have problems with your grips. They're perfect for people with arthritis etc.
 
Cheryl September 3, 2021
Microwaves ruin food so I only use mine for heating water or thawing frozen food if I forgot to take it out.
 
Lucy March 4, 2019
Or why not try that nifty carrot peeler thats how i peel my pumpkin before making pumpkin pie ... Works like a charm and your not killing vitamins and nutrients by nuking it
 
Bonnie J. March 4, 2019
Microwaving doesn’t kill vitamins any more than any other cooking method.
https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/microwaves-and-nutrition/
 
Bonnie J. March 4, 2019
I’m not sure that everyone is getting the picture.
If you’ve run into those super hard squash’s that laugh at your knife when you try to cut them in half, the steam-in-microwave method solves the problem.
I don’t have hand strength any longer. I live alone.
Peeling isn’t my only problem, it’s the dang hard to cut squash!!!
Don’t be so quick to judge those of us who need help and find this method fabulous!
 
Hinda G. March 4, 2019
Thank you Bonnie J.!!!
 
Cheryl September 3, 2021
I have a Japanese cleaver...works awesome after removing the peel.
 
Kelly J. March 4, 2019
Seems like a lot of extra work and you had to nuke it. I've found that a vegetable peeler works just fine.
 
Susan N. March 4, 2019
I feel like by cutting the top and bottom ends off, you’re already half way there with doing the “dangerous” bits. I follow those steps with cutting the bulbous end off then just peeling the two parts separately with a sharp, Y shaped peeler! Then I cut the bulbous end in half and scoop out the seeds. What’s so hard about that? And I didn’t even dirty up a Pyrex pan.... 🤪
 
Anne Y. March 7, 2019
A Y peeler makes it pretty easy and is safe to use. No need to microwave. But also don't bother to peel if I am roasting them
 
Srr March 4, 2019
Microwave?? Really? What a way to ruin Fresh Veggies!
Try a sharp knife for the ends and a good peeler for the skin.
I Never microwave any veggies or the like. Have you seen what the micro does to water particles? It deforms them into grotesque things.
 
foofaraw March 4, 2019
But do you use butternut squash raw though? It would still has to be cooked anyway, so microwaving it a bit shouldn't matter.
 
Srr March 4, 2019
I, myself, try not to microwave anything, especially fresh food because of the research I have done before on molecules. The microwave distorts the water molecules from something pretty to not. I’m sure if you google it you can see the image of a water molecule before and after microwaving.
I bake the squash, which is different kind of heat and the damage would’ve already been done to the molecules of the squash if it were nuked. Cheers
 
Bonnie J. March 4, 2019
Water is the issue not the microwave.
If you boiled broccoli, vitamins would be lost in the water. Any cooking method has a vitamin loss, even baking.
https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/microwaves-and-nutrition/
 
Pamela B. March 8, 2019
You've obviously never had a basic chemistry class if you believe that microwaves change the basic structure of a water molecule.

Water molecules stretch and bend and vibrate when they are heated--whether they are heated by a flame or by microwaves. When the energy dissipates, you have the same exact water molecule as before--H2O.

Sorry. That's just science.