Pumpkin selection

There are no rules for what size or shape makes for a great jack-o’-lantern. Any pumpkin can rise to ghoulish greatness. Do look for a pumpkin that isn’t bruised and has no mold around the stem. Who wants to cut into a rotted pumpkin? Also, look for a pumpkin with a flat bottom that will sit firmly without rocking.

Prepping Your Pumpkin

Figure out where you’ll be doing your carving and prep the area. If it’s still warm where you are, you might consider going outside to minimize the mess, but this can also be done in the comfort of your kitchen or dining room. Wherever you are, you’ll want a sturdy surface. To make the process a little less nightmarish and to keep your workspace as neat as possible (dried pumpkin pulp can be a fright to clean), line your sturdy surface with newspaper or something similar. If you’re worried about the liner moving during the carving process, tape it down so it can’t slide around.

Get your tools ready. You can buy pumpkin carving kits at most grocery stores this time of year that come with all the basic tools you’ll need, plus a book of pre-drawn templates you can use to trace onto your pumpkin. You could probably round up some makeshift tools by using items you already have in your home, but the tools that come in kits tend to be a little safer to use than a regular kitchen knife.

Removing a pumpkin’s guts (spooky!) can be one of the most time-consuming parts of the pumpkin-carving process. However, it doesn’t have to take forever. Here’s our favorite trick: Cut the pumpkin open from the bottom rather than the top. When you cut the hole in the bottom, the majority of the pulp comes out with it, as a lot of it is attached to the bottom. Plus, it’s way easier to light a candle and place the pumpkin on top of it than reach into the pumpkin with a lighter and risk a burn.

For Halloween traditionalists who prefer a top cut or those with small children who enjoy the process of removing the “goop,” be sure to make your cut around the stem at a 45-degree angle so the lid doesn’t fall into the pumpkin.

To make the process go faster, swap the flimsy pumpkin scraper that came with your carving kit for a big spoon or ice cream scoop. Clean out as much of the pulp as you can. You want a clean, dry interior to make your pumpkin last as long as possible. If the walls of your pumpkin are particularly thick, scrape away a little bit to make it easier to carve.



  • Look for pumpkins that are white or green if you want to make it look more unique.

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If you are using a candle, cut a hole in the top of the pumpkin toward the back to act as a chimney for smoke and heat. A candle will be more secure if you drill a hole for it. You can also use battery-operated LEDs, Christmas lights or even a nightlight to illuminate your pumpkin. If you carve a design in the back of your jack-o’-lantern, you’ll produce a shadowy effect on the wall behind it, making it extra spooky!

However you choose to carve your jack o’ lantern, use your creativity and have fun.

Pick a Perfect Pumpkin to Carve

Before we talk about how to carve a pumpkin, let’s talk about how to select one.

  • Look for a firm, solid pumpkin with no soft spots, cuts or other damaged areas (dry callused areas are OK).
  • Check all surfaces and especially around the base of the stem and on the bottom. Oh, and while the stem may look like a carrying handle, avoid toting the pumpkin around by it as it may break off, leaving a nasty, rot-prone gash. Instead, pick your pumpkin up from the sides or bottom with both hands.
  • Select a mature pumpkin. You can tell a mature pumpkin by its thick, puncture-resistant skin. (If you can cut the skin with your fingernail it isn’t ripe, and it won’t last long, so look for another pumpkin.)
 Shop at a local farm, as pumpkins shipped across
  • Shop at a local farm, as pumpkins shipped across the country may pick up bruises along the way, and bruises can lead to premature spoilage.
  • Be sure to consider the ugly, asymmetrical pumpkins, as you can often use their shape as part of your design.
  • When you get it home, give the outside of your pumpkin a good scrub with natural dish soap or castile soap to help reduce the number of microorganisms hanging out on the skin, just waiting for you to cut into it so they can feast.
  • Plan on displaying your pumpkin uncarved until a day or two before the big day. (If you just can’t wait, buy one to carve right away and another to carve right before Halloween.)

Scrape the insides thoroughly, using an ice cream scoop, large spoon or pumpkin carving kit scraping tool

Make sure that all the membrane is removed and s

Make sure that all the membrane is removed and slather a good coat of petroleum jelly on the inside of your pumpkin to seal in moisture. (A good spritzing of vegetable oil works well.)

Displaying Your Creation

You want your pumpkin to be in good shape for Halloween, so you probably shouldn’t take this endeavor on too early in the season. In fact, it’s best to wait until you’re one to two weeks out from Halloween before you carve. As soon as you start carving, the clock starts ticking.

There are a lot of methods touted as ways to prolong the life of your jack-o’-lantern, such as cleaning the inside of the pumpkin with a bleach and water solution, giving it an ice bath, or just keeping it in your refrigerator when it’s not on display. However, if you’re looking to keep your pumpkin maintenance to a minimum, just rub a little bit of petroleum jelly on the cut edges to keep them from drying out.

The final step is deciding how you want to light your pumpkin. Candles are traditional, but they can be a pain. LED tea lights or glow sticks are an easy and safe alternative. Some stores also sell battery-operated lights specifically made for lighting jack-o’-lanterns.

Set your pumpkin out on your doorstep, light (or turn on) your candle and get ready for the trick-or-treaters. Happy Halloween!

[[[[ Edit] Warnings

  • Always be careful when carving a pumpkin. Make sure you cut or chop away from your body if your tool slips so that you do not injure yourself.
  • Do not touch the tip of a rotating tool while it is still spinning as you could seriously injure yourself.

Optional: Photograph your jack-o’-lantern to commemorate the fun — or an especially creative design

To photograph your masterpiece, turn off your fl

To photograph your masterpiece, turn off your flash, so that your camera doesn’t bounce light off the surface of your object leaving your photo bleached out and non-dimensional. A pumpkin is lit from within. What you want to do is capture that by artificially lighting the image from the front with lamps, candles, or other subdued lighting without using flash photography. You’ll enjoy the eerie effects you get.


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