How to Carve a Pumpkin

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Learn how to carve a pumpkin for this year’s spooky Halloween decorations. Follow this easy step-by-step guide for jack-o’-lantern success. Tips for the best way to cut, design, store, and enjoy the tasty pumpkin seeds.

How to carve a pumpkin and make a Jack O'Lantern
Table of Contents
  1. Gather tools and set up the workspace
  2. Cut the pumpkin lid
  3. Remove the pumpkin seeds and guts
  4. Transferring the design
  5. Cut out the design
  6. Light up the pumpkin
  7. How do you keep a carved pumpkin from quickly rotting?
  8. How to Carve a Pumpkin Recipe

Did you visit your local pumpkin patch or store and pick out the perfect specimen to carve this year? I share some essential tips to make the process easy and fun. If you plan to light up the hollow center, I’ll show you the best way to cut and clean.

Picking out the design is always a tough choice. However, once you make it, I like the pinprick method to transfer the image onto the pumpkin. I share my favorite tools for carving and creating more intricate patterns. And knowing just the right time to cut ensures preserving the pumpkin for fall festivities.

Gather tools and set up the workspace

After years of frustration, I finally ditched my flimsy knife set and purchased some quality pumpkin carving tools. I’m thankful I did. The blades are sturdier, sharper, and the time it takes to carve is faster. There are also more options for etching and doing fancier designs. Find a sturdy table or counter, then place a cutting board on top. Alternatively, you can cover the surface with paper or plastic trash bags, especially if you are working outdoors.

Scooping the seeds out of the bottom of the pumpkin

Cut the pumpkin lid

Cut the bottom of the pumpkin instead of the top around the stem. This area keeps the pumpkin design cleaner and the top from drying out and falling inside overtime. I cut at a 45-degree angle in a circle that is just large enough to fit the scraper tool and your fist. The angled cut also makes it easier for the pumpkin to sit on top with a better seal on the bottom, if using.

Remove the pumpkin seeds and guts

There will be a bunch of pulp, fibers, and seeds inside the pumpkin that needs to be removed. Use the scraper tool, ice cream scoop, or large spoon and brush the interior walls in a spiral motion. Once you do that, you can use your hands to pull out the goop. Wipe the outside of the pumpkin with a kitchen towel to clean and dry the surface.

Don’t throw away the seeds! It’s easy to roast the pumpkin seeds for a healthy snack.

Freshly removed pumpkin seeds in a bowl

Transferring the design

There are various pumpkin design options; draw a custom image or use a printed pattern. From there, tape the design on the flattest part of the pumpkin. I like to use a tool that has a needle tip or pushpin would work to pierce holes through the paper, about ⅛-inches apart. 

Remove the paper, and you can start carving along the dots. However, you can connect the dots with an erasable marker for more intricate designs, which is easy to wash off the surface. I also like to use a paring knife to make a shallow cut to refine the design, making it easier for etching. Don’t forget to save the design for reference. 

Another option is to cut the portions of the design to make a stencil. Then draw the image onto the pumpkin. I also taped an image on the pumpkin and then tightly placed plastic wrap around to secure it. This technique makes it waterproof, and easier to carve.

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Cut out the design

Use a fine-tooth saw to cut out the shapes, making straight cuts into the flesh. Then discard those pieces. I typically start at the top of the design, with the smallest cuts first, then move down to the more significant designs. This keeps the shell sturdy until the last cuts are made. 

You can also etch, removing just the dark orange skin for contrast in colors and textures, or sculpt the flesh for intricate details. You can refine the design using a paring knife, X-ACTO knife, or clean up tools in your kit.

Pumpkin Carving Kit

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Light up the pumpkin

If using a votive candle, place it inside, then place the pumpkin on top. The pumpkin won’t last as long because the heat will gradually soften the flesh over time. Other good options are battery operated votive candles or small LED string lights. Don’t forget to blow out any real candles or turn off the lights at the end of the night.

Etching tool to create a nose

How do you keep a carved pumpkin from quickly rotting?

  • After cutting, you can spray the inside and outside with some bleach cleaner. Allow it to sit for about 5-minutes, then wipe down the outside of the pumpkin. The bleach kills surface bacteria and organisms for a short period, but not completely. 
  • You can also rub some petroleum jelly on the cut areas. This method will create a barrier to oxygen in the air and locks in some of the flesh’s moisture. 
  • The pumpkin can also be refrigerated during the day. Cover the carved areas with plastic wrap to keep it moist, then take it out when displaying at night. 

How long do carved pumpkins last?

To keep the carved sections and design fresh, I recommend carving your pumpkin no more than 3 days before Halloween, or when you plan to display the jack-o’-lantern. Depending on the outside temperature conditions, a carved pumpkin can last from 5 to 10 days. The moment the skin and flesh are cut, the natural rotting process will begin. This is due to the fruit’s oxidation, moisture loss, organisms, and insects breaking down the flesh. High heat can accelerate the spoiling.

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How to Carve a Pumpkin

Learn how to carve a pumpkin for this year’s spooky Halloween decorations. Follow this easy step-by-step guide for jack-o’-lantern success.
Pin Print Review
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time10 mins
Active Time25 mins
Total Time35 mins
Yield 1 pumpkin

Ingredients

  • 1 large pumpkin

Instructions 

  • Set up a workspace: Find a sturdy table or counter, then place a cutting board on top. Or you can cover the surface with paper or plastic trash bags, especially if working outdoors. Gather carving tools, kitchen towel for cleaning, bowl for the pumpkin seeds, and trash can.
  • Cut the pumpkin lid: Use a carving saw to cut the bottom at a 45-degree angle in a circle. Make the lid large enough to fit the scoop and your fist. Keep the lid, or discard depending on how you plan to light up the pumpkin.
  • Remove the seeds and guts: Use a scraper scoop or large spoon to scrape the inside walls in a spiral motion. Remove the goop with a spoon or your hands. Use the spoon to further scrape and clean the walls. Wipe the outside of the pumpkin with a kitchen towel to clean and dry the surface.
  • Transfer the design: Tape the design on the flattest part of the pumpkin. Use a tool that has a needle tip, or pushpin to pierce holes through the paper, about ⅛-inches apart. Remove the paper and use an erasable or permanent marker to connect the dots. A paring knife can also be used to make a shallow cut to trace the design. Don’t forget to save the design for reference. Alternatively, cut the portions of the design on the paper to make a stencil, and then draw the image on. You can also tape the picture onto the pumpkin, then tightly wrap plastic around it to secure the image.
  • Cut out the design: Use a fine-tooth saw to cut out the shapes, making straight cuts into the flesh, then discard those pieces. Start at the top of the design, with the smallest cuts first, then move down to the bigger designs. This keeps the shell sturdy until the last cuts are made. You can etch, removing just the dark orange skin for contrast in colors and textures, or sculpt the flesh for intricate details. Refine the design using a paring knife, X-ACTO knife, or clean up tools in your kit.
  • Light up the pumpkin: If using a candle, place it in a votive, light it, then place the pumpkin on top. Alternatively, add battery operated votive candles, tea lights, or small LED string lights. Make sure to blow out the candle or turn off the lights at the end of the night.

Equipment

Notes

  • When to carve: Carve the pumpkin 3 days before Halloween or displaying for the freshest appearance. Although it can last about 5 to 10 days, but will break down over time, especially in warmer weather.
  • Preserving the carved pumpkin: Rub petroleum jelly on the cut areas. Or lightly spray with cleaning bottles containing bleach, allow to dry for 5-minutes before wiping the outer surface. The pumpkin can be covered with plastic on the cut areas, then refrigerated until displaying in the evening.
  • Don’t through away the seeds! Roast them for a fantastic treat.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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3 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Chuck says

    I’ve found that a drywall saw, similar to the carving tool in your photo above works really well for the larger cuts and is more sturdy than the typical pumpkin carving tool. It has a pointed tip to get through the thick parts of the pumpkin and has enough flexibility to make curved cuts without snapping in half (I’ve broken a few pumpkin carvers in my day) !!

  2. JJ says

    I never paid too much attention to pumpkin carving…not big on Halloween when Tgiving is only three weeks after. But this looks like a great fun activity to wow my little grand kids…especially if they can help the design of the face. Like the idea of the LED lights, and all the ways to preserve the flesh along the way. Nice article!

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