Learn how to choose the pumpkin most suited for your design, plus our easiest tricks for removing the pumpkin's insides. Pumpkin carving expert Scott Johnson weighs in with his tips for carving your best pumpkin.
Scott's first tip: Pick your pumpkin with purpose. Know how you want to design your jack-o'-lantern before picking your pumpkin so you know what size and shape to look for. "If you're going to do more detailed carving, it's often easier to carve if you pick a pumpkin with a flatter surface," Scott says. Keep it simple—you don't have to hit the pumpkin patch to find a great gourd. Swing by a grocery or department store for a wide variety of pumpkins waiting to be carved. Avoid pumpkins with surface rotting or soft spots. But don't be scared if they're dirty, as long as the pumpkins are firm and have solidly attached stems you're good to go.
Don't make the cut—yet. Wait to carve your pumpkin until two or three days before Halloween. Pumpkins soften quickly, so once you carve it, you'll only have a few days to enjoy your creation. If you can, display your pumpkins whole and carve them a day or two before your Halloween party or trick-or-treating night.
When you're ready to carve, rinse off the pumpkin and use a sturdy knife to cut an opening in the top or bottom. Scott recommends cutting a round opening with a triangular notch if you go for the top. "Without a notch, it can be hard to fit the lid back in when you're done," Scott says. Then, start scraping. Use a large cooking spoon to remove your pumpkin's pulp and seeds. Scott also recommends that this step take place in the kitchen sink for quick and easy cleanup—no more soggy newspapers! Just remember, don't put the pulp in your garbage disposal.
To freehand a a design on your pumpkin, use washable markers to draw the design directly onto the pumpkin. When you're done carving, you'll be able to easily wash off the remaining marks with a damp cloth. Or, use a sharp utensil to poke holes in the paper to outline the shapes. If you don't have a poking tool from a pumpkin carving set, you can use a nail or a thumbtack.
For a classic Halloween jack-o'-lantern, a store-bought kit isn't necessary. Instead of the carving kit knife, you can actually use a long, thin kitchen knife to carefully carve your pumpkin. If you're cutting simple shapes, Scott suggests pushing the pieces out from the inside; pushing them into the pumpkin causes breaks and tears. To make perfectly round shapes, use an apple corer to punch through the pumpkin's rind. Or, add some depth! Even simple designs can be dazzling with some extra dimension; scrape the surface skin off for a different level of light.
Now that you've mastered carving a pumpkin, try one of our free pumpkin stencils! We have all the pumpkin decorating ideas you need to create a spooky pumpkin, silly pumpkin, and even a pumpkin that looks just like your dog!