Carving a pumpkin isn’t rocket science, but it’s still wise to have a game plan. Before you lop off the top of that pumpkin and grab a handful of gooey squash guts, take a look through our basic guide to carving the best Halloween pumpkin.
You’ll end up with a cute, basic Jack O’Lantern with easy, no-fuss clean-up afterwards — a win-win in my book!
Get Your Workspace Ready
First rule of pumpkin carving: do it somewhere you don’t mind getting messy, ideally outdoors. Line your work surface (a sturdy table or the ground) with something you’ll throw away later — like butcher paper, newsprint, or my go-to, flattened brown paper grocery bags. Simply cut down one side of the grocery bag, then cut off the base of the bag so you have a big rectangle of brown paper. Layer a few of these on the table and you’re good to go.
Use the Right Tools for the Job
Once you’ve got your work surface ready, it’s time to assemble the proper tools. You may be tempted to just use regular kitchen knives, but do yourself a favor and spend a few bucks at your local drugstore, party store, or Halloween pop-up shop and snag a pumpkin carving kit. They come with dull but effective tools that even a child can use safely, and the little blades really are easier to maneuver when you’re cutting a pumpkin.
Draw Before You Carve
In addition to a set of carving tools, you’ll need a pen for drawing your design onto the pumpkin, and couple big bowls — one for the seeds (the best part of pumpkin carving, in my humble opinion) and one for the rest of the pumpkin goo and throwaway bits leftover from carving. And that’s about it, really! Time to get carving, folks.
Don't Throw Away the Seeds!
Whatever you do, save those pumpkin seeds! They're so, so good roasted simply with oil and salt. Check out our tutorial on how to roast squash seeds if you need a primer. Of all the variations I've made over the years, my favorite combination includes just olive oil, kosher salt, and Cajun spice mix for an addictive snacking experience.
How To Carve A Pumpkin
What You Need
1 medium-sized pumpkin (or as many as you want to carve)
Brown paper grocery bags, newsprint, or butcher paper
Sharpie or other permanent marker
Pumpkin carving kit (including a scraper, carving knife, and a wire modeling tool)
Two medium bowls (one for seeds, one for pumpkin guts)
Tea light candle and long match or lighter with extended nozzle
- Set up your workspace: Line a sturdy table with flattened grocery bags, newsprint, or butcher paper. Have your permanent marker, carving tools, and bowls nearby.
- Draw your design: After you've determined the best side of your pumpkin for a face, use the permanent marker to sketch out eyes, a nose, and a toothy grin.
- Draw your lid: Outline a circular lid around the pumpkin stem, about 5 to 6 inches in diameter. Add a notch in the back if you like — this makes it easier to line up.
- Cut out the pumpkin lid: With a slim pumpkin carving knife (the carving tool with a toothed blade like a mini-saw), cut along the outline of your pumpkin lid. Make sure you slice through the pumpkin at a 45-degree inward angle, so you'll be able to replace the lid without it falling in.
- Remove the pumpkin seeds: The seeds are all attached to the pumpkin and each other by thin strings. Grab the big bunches of seeds with your hands and place them in one of the bowls, to be cleaned later.
- Scoop out the insides of the pumpkin: Using the scraper that came with your kit (or a metal spoon if you don't have this tool), clean out the inside of the pumpkin until no stringy bits remain. Discard the pumpkin guts in the second bowl.
- Wipe off the pumpkin: Use the kitchen towel to wipe off the outside of the pumpkin so that it will be easier and safer to carve.
- Cut out the design: Make straight cuts into your pumpkin along the lines of your design, removing the pieces and discarding them in the refuse bowl.
- Clean up with the wire carving tool: Go back in and scrape out any stringy pieces or jagged lines with the wire tool from your carving kit. You can also scrape off the marker lines while you're at it, though they won't be visible in the darkness of night.
- Light your pumpkin: Insert a tea light candle in the bottom of your pumpkin and place the lid on top. Use a long match or lighter, inserted through the Jack O'Lantern mouth, to light the candle.
- Bonus Step: Make roasted pumpkin seeds! Clean and dry the pumpkin seeds, then toss with oil, salt, and any desired seasonings, and roast in a low oven 'til golden brown. For more specific instructions see our tutorial: How To Roast Pumpkin and Squash Seeds.
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