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How to Easily Carve a Pumpkin Like a Pro

The arrival of autumn brings with it cooler weather, colorful foliage, apple picking and, of course, Halloween, which includes everyone’s favorite fall pastime: carving pumpkins. If you forego this spooky season tradition because it’s too messy or takes too long, we’ve created the perfect remedy: a step-by-step guide on pumpkin carving that’ll make the whole process safe, easy, and fun.

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1) Choose the right pumpkin.

The very first step is to find the right pumpkin for carving. There are lots of different types of pumpkins out there, but they’re often divided into just two categories: pie pumpkins and carving pumpkins. Pie pumpkins, which are often called sugar pumpkins, are small and round and ideal for baking. Carving pumpkins are larger in size, but have thinner walls and fewer guts, making them easier to cut into and clean out.

Before purchasing the pumpkin, rap on it with you knuckle in several spots to ensure there aren’t any soft spots, which indicate rot. And remember, the very freshest pumpkins last the longest, so consider buying your carving pumpkin at a “pick-your-own” farm.

2) Use the proper carving tools.

You can carve pumpkins with various kitchen knives, but to step up your game, consider using clay-sculpting tools, such as wire-end ribbon tools, stainless steel scalpels, or wood-carving gouges. Execute cuts with a serrated knife, keyhole saw or compass saw. And to create round holes in the pumpkin, try using a cordless drill and spade bit.

🎃Tip: A 1-inch-diameter bit makes perfect eyeholes.

Rudimentary pumpkin carving sets are sold everywhere this time of year, but most are a pretty flimsy—though they’re great for kids. And if you want to add speed and power to the project, get a pumpkin-carving rotary tool, which comes with lots of different attachments for cutting, engraving, and carving jack-o’-lanterns.

3) Draw a design and start carving.

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Sally AnscombeGetty Images

Use a pen or marker to draw a circle around the top of the pumpkin. Use a serrated knife or saw to cut along the line to create a removable lid. Lift off the lid and use a large metal spoon, or similar tool, to scrape out the interior guts. And if you’d like, save the pumpkin seeds for roasting in an oven (they make a yummy treat—especially in a salad.)

how to carve a pumpkin, pumpkin carving guide, how to carve a pumpkin like a pro

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Next, mark the remaining cutouts onto the pumpkin, including eyes, nose, mouth and teeth. Make the cutouts with a small paring knife or narrow saw, such as a keyhole saw. If you’re having difficulty holding the pumpkin steady as you cut into it, get a large bowl, line it with a double-thick terrycloth towel, then set in the pumpkin. The bowl will secure the pumpkin and the towel will keep it from sliding around as much.

🎃Tip: If the pumpkin dries out and gets tough, mist the flesh with a 50/50 mix of lemon juice and water.

The technique described above is the traditional way to carve a pumpkin, but there’s another popular method of making relief cuts into the pumpkin. Instead of cutting holes, this technique uses various ribbon sculpting tools to carve facial features—cheekbones, eye sockets, nose, wrinkles, and mouth—into the skin of the pumpkin. Then, when a candle is placed inside the pumpkin, the light will radiate through the flesh, lending an eerie glow to the pumpkin.

4) Light it up.

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Kristina Kohanova / EyeEmGetty Images

To illuminate your jack-o’-lantern, place a tea-light candle in a glass votive holder and set it in the bottom of the pumpkin. Use a long match or lighter to light the pumpkin and replace the lid. And drill a small hole, about ½ inch in diameter, in the lid to act as a chimney to allow heat to escape.

🎃Tip: If you’re having trouble lighting the candle, try going through the mouth of the jack-o’-lantern instead of down from the top.

If using candles, place the pumpkin outdoors and away from anything flammable. To illuminate indoor jack-o’-lanterns, use either battery-powered flameless candles or remote-controlled LED pumpkin lights.

5) Enjoy the final result…until rot sets in.

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Brian Newcimb / EyeEmGetty Images

Dip your finished product in an ice bath with a cup of bleach. Then, rub petroleum jelly on the edges of the cutouts to seal in moisture; this will help your masterpiece stay intact and keep rot at bay a little longer. Eventually, though, your pumpkins will begin to rot or get eaten by hungry critters and like all good things, they will come to their end. Until next Halloween, that is!

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