Wondering how to cut squash like butternut, acorn, and other hard winter squash varieties (without muttering expletives, making a mess, and possibly slicing off a finger)? Here’s an easy way to prepare squash no matter what kind you hauled home.
Slicing summer squash like zucchini is easy; you barely have to touch it with your knife to make it slide apart. Your huge, heavy winter squash, by contrast, lands with a thud on the kitchen counter. You take a deep breath and hack into it with your biggest knife. Or try to, anyway. These bad boys can be stubborn even met with your sharpest blade, refusing to yield into smooth slices or shed their skin.
To conquer the winter squash’s tough exterior and savor the mildly sweet flesh within, you must use a chef’s knife with at least an 8-inch blade that has been recently sharpened. Most accidents happen with dull knives.
8-Inch Chef's Knife, $89 from Made In
A heavy, sharp knife is essential.
Next, place a damp towel on a large cutting board for extra stability. But before you raise your knife high above your head to take a whack, try this trick:
How to Prepare Squash So It’s Easy to Peel & Cut
Turns out, there’s an easier, softer way to cut hard squash (like acorn squash, kabocha squash, turban squash, buttercup, and all their cold weather counterparts). Just pierce your squash all over with the tip of the knife, and then microwave the whole squash for 1 to 4 minutes—or stuff it in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes or so. Then start the excavation.
If you’re going to puree the flesh for squash soup, pie, or something soft, you’ve got it easy. Cut the squash in half vertically. If it’s a butternut squash, cut the neck off and then proceed. (Unless you want to make hasselback butternut squash, in which case, leave the fluted halves intact.)
Scoop out the stringy seeds with a melon baller, ice cream scoop, or grapefruit spoon with serrated edges (you can use the squash seeds any way you would pumpkin seeds). Then peel the skin off the outside; it comes off easily with just your hands after it’s been briefly roasted or zapped.
One peeled, cut squash cubes or chunks to toss in your slow cooker, Instant Pot, Dutch oven, or skillet, or cut slices for a gratin, and you’re in business. (Spaghetti squash is an outlier; once that’s seeded, you’ll use a fork to separate the long strands inside.)
Of course, you’ll still need to cook your peeled squash the rest of the way until it’s completely tender.
If you’re set on peeling a raw squash, you may prefer to use your knife to trim away the skin. Depending on the size of the squash and how intricate the contours of the outside, a small, sharp paring knife may be best. Usually a vegetable peeler is more cumbersome if there are ridges; it can work well to peel butternut squash since it has smooth skin (see it in action in the video below for our Baked Eggs in Mini Pumpkins with Roasted Butternut Squash Hash recipe), but then you’re dealing with the uneven shape and curves:
Which leads us to the next question…
Do You Need to Peel Squash?
Obviously, if you’re making soup or puree, you’ll need to get rid of the rind at some point (but that can be after roasting the entire squash if you prefer). Also obviously, if you’re simply planning to stuff and roast each squash half, you can skip the peeling step since that tough skin helps it hold together and form a (mostly) edible bowl.
But what you might not know is that you can eat unpeeled squash when you roast it, including butternut if it’s a small, young specimen. Delicata squash, as seen in the fall salad above, usually has quite thin skin; ditto acorn and kabocha—so you can simply slice or dice them (after the microwave trick above to help make halving them easier) and toss them with olive oil and whatever else on your baking sheet before roasting to perfection:
This easy fall sheet pan dinner recipe is the perfect example that you can tweak to your heart’s content.
If you have a huge, gnarly squash that was on the vine considerably longer, though, the skin will probably be too tough to chew.
How to Cook Winter Squash
Once you’ve scooped out the seeds and peeled it (or not), then cut it into whatever shape you need, the possibilities are vast.
Check out all our winter squash recipes, or some of our favorite highlights below:
Header image courtesy of Westend61 / Getty Images