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How to Carve a Pumpkin Like a Pro

It's not rocket science, say the experts.

October  1, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

Everyone loves a good jack-o-lantern, but not everyone feels confident about carving a pumpkin. We get it—sharp objects, tough gourds, the whole thing is a little risky. And even if you manage not to lose a finger, there's the questions of the artistry itself.

Enter our friends Marc and Chris, also known as the Maniac Pumpkin Carvers, who were happy to show us how the pros do it. They were full of useful facts about fall's favorite squash, and had a bunch of tips for making your jack-o-lanterns last longer.

Here are some we found particularly handy, from how to pick the healthiest pumpkin, to how to carve it using the tools you have—and preserving it so it lasts much, much longer.

  • When buying a pumpkin, always pick the healthiest. Which means firm, no-bruise skin. Also, look at the stem for clues: the greener, the fresher
  • While most people will carve a hole around the stem before starting to carve, these guys suggest cutting a small hole around the back. When you cut off the stem, you cut off the nutrients to the pumpkin, aka, a terrible plan for longevity.
  • The thicker the skin of the pumpkin, the easier to carve. There are at least two ways to tell how thick the skin is, at the time of shopping for one. A pumpkin that feels disproprotionately heavy for its size probably has a thick skin. A thick stem is another indication of the skin.
  • Always draw out your design with a washable marker. Industrial markers are a big no-no!
  • While these guys use a special fruit carving knife from Thailand, a sharp paring knife or a craft knife will get the job done. And you'll be surprised with what a melon baller can do! (Watch the video to find out.)
  • When you're done carving, spray the pumpkin with diluted lemon juice, which helps to slow down some of the oxidation. Another piece of good advice? Wrap your pumpkin and refrigerate it, until you need to put it on display.
  • Another trick for preserving your pumpkin is to coat the exposed areas with petroleum jelly, which prevents mold from growing, and keeps it fresh longer.

As it turns out, pumpkin carving isn't rocket science, but it is useful to have a game plan. Watch the video, and get carving with confidence.

Pumpkin Matters

This older post has been updated by the Food52 editors in September 2019 because pumpkin carving is timeless.

Have a special trick for carving your pumpkin? Tell us in the comments below!
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I'm a freelance food and prop stylist, writer/editor, and video producer.