Carve a Pumpkin Like a Pro

by Mike Morris, editor

There’s a science to carving a great Jack-o-lantern. Follow these steps for a gorgeous gourd you’ll be proud to show off.

Selection: Skip any with bruises, cuts, gashes, discoloration or soft spots, which can lead to early rotting. If the inside sloshes, it might be rotten. Pick up the pumpkin by the stem; if it’s flimsy or scrawny, keep looking. When you find a good one, don’t carry it by the stem (kids love to do this!) if you want it to last.

Bigger pumpkins are easier to carve. You can always enlarge your pattern, if you use one, but shrinking it to fit a small pumpkin makes detailed carving nearly impossible. Finally, pick a pumpkin that’s flat on the bottom and won’t rock and roll when put on display.

Carving: The days of carving pumpkins with a sharp kitchen knife and scooping the guts with a metal serving spoon are long gone. Invest in a pumpkin carving kit with varying saw sizes, a scraper and a poker. Closer teeth and smaller length are for detailed cuts; wider teeth and longer saws are used for larger cutouts.

Here’s how to do it quickly and easily:

  1. Cut the lid of the pumpkin on an angle toward the stem to keep the lid from falling in when it dries and shrinks.
  2. Scrape the walls to about one-inch thickness. Anything more makes carving difficult and anything less makes the pumpkin dry and shrivel more quickly. Store the guts and seeds in a sealed container in the refrigerator if you plan to make treats with them later.
  3. If you use a pattern, tape it snugly to the pumpkin, slitting the paper as needed for a tight fit. To transfer the pattern, poke holes along the pattern lines (toothpicks work if you don’t have a poker in your tool kit) about 1/8 inch apart on detailed areas and 1/4 inch for large areas. Don’t poke all the way through the pumpkin. Remove the pattern and save it for reference while carving.
  4. Start sawing the design at the center of the design and work outward; each piece you remove weakens the pumpkin and makes sawing more difficult. Saw slowly and gently, following the pattern lines carefully. Rotate the pumpkin as you go, so you’re always carving straight into the center of the pumpkin.
  5. Illuminate your finished pumpkin with a battery-operated tea light to avoid scorching the insides.

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