halloween pumpkin jack o lanterns
All featured products are curated independently by our editors. When you buy something through our retail links, we may receive a commission.

There are many ways to decorate pumpkins these days, but the classic way to carve a pumpkin is to pick up a sharp kitchen knife and get to work. With Halloween approaching, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to carve a pumpkin, plus other options for those who want an easier (or safer) way.

Fall FlairMore Clever Ways to Decorate with PumpkinsIt’s that time of year when everything is coming up orange and pumpkins take center stage on our stoops and in our windows. Pumpkin carving can be a fun family affair even though children should not be responsible for the actual carving process since it can be a dangerous proposition when tiny hands meet sharp knives and thick pumpkin flesh.

The Origins of Pumpkin Carving

While you’re carving, share with your kids the history of pumpkin carving which began in ancient Ireland. It was the Irish who first brought this tradition to America from their green homeland steeped in mystical Celtic traditions. Since pumpkins did not exist in Ireland at the time, turnips were traditionally carved and placed on doorsteps with candles burning inside on All Hallow’s Eve as a way to ward off evil spirits and honor the dead.

Don’t Forget to Save the Seeds

When you scoop out the insides of your pumpkin, save the seeds and check out our top ideas on how to use pumpkin seeds.

what to do with pumpkin seeds (how to use pumpkin seeds)


How to Carve a Pumpkin

1. Select your pumpkin with an eye toward how you want to carve it. Taller pumpkins can work better for freeform faces whereas round pumpkins are more suited for intricate stencil designs. Also be sure there are no soft spots on the pumpkin, since that indicates it’s already starting to rot.

2. Wipe the pumpkin clean with a damp cloth before carving it.

3. Using a sharp paring knife, first cut off the top of the pumpkin to create a lid. Cut a small notch into one portion of the lid to make it easy to fit it and pumpkin back together again once the carving is complete.

4. Use a large metal spoon to scoop out the inside of the pumpkin. Reserve the pulp and seeds separately for future recipes or simply discard in your compost bin.

5. Optional step: To make the jack-o’-lantern last longer, spray the inside of the pumpkin with a bleach and water solution and let it dry completely before carving. You can give it another bleach treatment after carving if you’re worried it might rot too quickly, but if it will be sitting somewhere relatively cool and not carved too far ahead of time, it should be fine.

5. Draw your design on the pumpkin using a marker or ballpoint pen. This step is when you can involve small children since it will make them feel more invested in the process.

6. Carve the design using a sharp paring knife and discard the excess pieces or reserve them for recipes. Always cut away from your body in order to prevent injuries from slipping, and don’t grab the biggest knife you own (that’s overkill).

7. Pop a tea light into the pumpkin, replace the lid and await your trick-or- treaters. Battery-operated candles are safer than regular candles and also help the jack-o’-lantern last longer since they don’t heat up the inside!

Homemory Flickering LED Tea Lights, 12 for $12.99 from Amazon

These flameless LED candles provide a realistic flickering glow for your pumpkins.
Buy Now

Check out some of the best pumpkin carving tools if you want to get a bit more sophisticated and specialized with your tools.

Alternative Pumpkin Decorating Ideas

You can also try a surface carving kit, use pumpkin stickers to avoid carving at all, or try painting them with fun designs (or solid colors if you prefer).

See some of our other favorite pumpkin decorating ideas if you want to try your hand at pumpkin vases, pumpkin stacks, pumpkin candle holders, and more.

Related Video: If You Have Baby Pumpkins, Try Baking Eggs in Them!

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Jody Eddy is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. She has cooked at Jean Georges, The Fat Duck, and Tabla and is the former editor of Art Culinaire Magazine. Her most recent cookbook was "Cuba! Recipes and Stories From a Cuban Kitchen", published by Ten Speed Press. Her cookbook "North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland" was published by Ten Speed Press in 2014 and won the 2015 IACP Judge's Choice Award. She is the author of the James Beard nominated cookbook "Come In, We're Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World's Best Restaurants" and her upcoming book for Ten Speed, "The Hygge Life", will be published in November, 2017. She is writing a cookbook for W.W. Norton profiling the cuisine and food traditions of monasteries, temples, mosques and synagogues around the world which will be published in 2019 and a cookbook with the Food Network chef Maneet Chauhan profiling the cuisine of India via an epic train journey throughout the country. She writes for Travel+Leisure, Saveur, Food & Wine, The Wall Street Journal, Plate, and VICE, among others. She is the author of JodyEddy.com, leads culinary trend tours for food and beverage corporations in Iceland, Peru, Mexico, Ireland and Cuba and is the Vice President of Marketing, Partnerships and Events at Hop Springs, an 85 acre agritourism destination opening in Nashville in May, 2018.
See more articles