How to Select and Prep a Pumpkin. Learn the best way to choose the right pumpkin and how to prep it for carving. Find out what tools you need and how to utilize pumpkin carving templates.
Nothing says Halloween like a glowing Jack-o'-lantern. To ensure you have the perfect canvas for your spooky designs, start by choosing and prepping a healthy pumpkin. When shopping for a pumpkin, choose one that is solid and sturdy. Avoid those with cracks, splits, soft spots or bruises, and especially mold—particularly around the stem. Also make sure the stem doesn't bend. A weak stem is a bad sign. An orange pumpkin is a ripe pumpkin. If it's green, it might not ripen any further. There are lots of different shades of orange though, and lighter colored pumpkins can be easier to carve. To check for ripeness, press your thumbnail against the base—a ripe pumpkin shouldn't scratch easily. When it comes to shape and size, pick the one you like best. Tall, short, round, oval—as long as it has a smooth exterior, carving will be much simpler. And if you're using a template, bring it along to ensure you pick a pumpkin large enough for the design, with just the right "face."
Once you have your pumpkin home, wash it off with clear water and let it dry thoroughly. Next, gather the necessary prepping and carving supplies. You'll need newspaper, an ice cream scoop or sturdy spoon, a bowl for seeds, a water-soluble marker, your template, masking tape, toothpicks or thumbtacks, and a small light or candle. When it comes to carving knives, a strong, serrated bread knife, a jab saw or dry wall knife, or a specialty pumpkin carving knife are the best options. For more detailed work, an Exacto knife is helpful.
Now you're ready to prep your pumpkin for carving. To remove the top, outline a circle about two inches from the stem. Carefully cut into the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle to create a lip, so that the lid won't fall inside the pumpkin. A ripe pumpkin can be tough to cut through, so work slowly. Pull out the lid and cut the bottom flat, so the lid is about an inch thick. Also make a half-inch notch in the lid to act as a "chimney". This will help release heat from the candle or light, and prevent your pumpkin from cooking inside out. Use a damp sponge to clean off the lid outline. Next, scoop out the strings and seeds from inside the pumpkin. Use a spiral motion to get all of the insides out. Make sure to save the seeds. They can be cleaned and roasted with a little salt for a tasty snack. Continue scraping the walls down to about an inch thick. This makes the pumpkin easier to carve and will help the light show through, giving your pumpkin a nice, warm glow. Your pumpkin is now the perfect canvas for your unique design. All it needs now is spooky face.