Useful Pumpkin Carving Tips

Before you grab a knife and start transforming your pumpkin into a jack-o-lantern, take a look at these pumpkin carving tips. We'll take you all the way from picking the perfect pumpkin in the pumpkin patch, to creating a fun and distinctive idea, to preserving the pumpkin so it lasts through Halloween.

two jack-o-lanterns, one large and angry, one smaller and happy, next to each other, lit up in the dark

Choosing the Right Pumpkin

  • Select a clean, bruise-free, mold-free pumpkin with a flat bottom.
  • Choose a pumpkin with a greenish, firm stem; stay away from brittle looking stems or pumpkins that are missing stems.
  • Don't shy away from weirdly shaped pumpkins - the odd shapes could inspire a unique pattern.
  • If you already have a pattern in mind, consider if it would look better on a taller, rather than wider, pumpkin.
  • Once you have the pumpkin, don't carry it by the stem.

Carving Your Pumpkin

  • Before carving, gently wash the outside of the pumpkin with lukewarm, soapy water.
  • Ensure the carving tools are also clean, and sharp.
  • Buy a pumpkin carving kit (inexpensive and available at drug stores or grocery stores) for smaller scraper tools.
  • Consider using other tools you can find around the house - X-Acto knives, clay sculpting tools, etc.
  • Have a plan - print out a copy of the design you want to do, and draw a picture of it on paper before drawing on the pumpkin.
  • Use a dry erase marker to draw the image on the pumpkin so you can erase if need be.
  • Consider removing the back of the pumpkin instead of the top.
  • If you do remove the top, cut at an angle, not straight up and down; this way the lid won't drop inside the pumpkin when you replace it. A boning knife works well.
  • Scoop out as much of the flesh as possible - any left can lead to molding.
  • Hold the pumpkin in your lap as you're carving and make clean cuts up and down, not at an angle.
  • Be creative and use props! Create a tongue from a discarded piece of pumpkin or taffy candy, use plastic fanged teeth on mini pumpkins, etc.

Preserving Your Pumpkin

  • Don't carve too soon! Jack-o-lanterns tend to last 5 to 10 days.
  • Before carving, you could soak the entire pumpkin in a bleach solution (1 tsp bleach per 1 gallon water) for 8 hours - this keeps a pumpkin fresher, longer, and has been shown to work better than vaseline.
  • There is also a "Pumpkin Fresh" spray that has proven effective to slow mold growth and decay.
  • If you're not expecting the jack-o-lantern to last longer than a week, don't bother with the bleach solution or spray.
  • Removing the back of the pumpkin instead of the top could help it last longer.
  • Keep the jack-o-lantern out of direct sunlight in a cool but not freezing spot.
  • The ideal temperature for the jack-o-lantern is between 50 and 55 degrees.
  • If it's going below freezing outside, bring it inside. You could temporarily store in the fridge if need be.
  • Consider using a glowstick or LED light instead of a candle; the flame cooks the flesh.

If you follow these pumpkin carving tips, you'll be sure to have a fantastic and long-lasting jack-o-lantern to show off to the whole neighborhood this Halloween!

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