The second September hits, it's uber tempting to grab a shopping cart at your local grocery and go to town loading it up with the pumpkins out front of the store. Tiny pumpkins, great pumpkins and everything in between — honestly, we'll take them all. Between carving, decorating and baking, they're all gonna get used, right?
Let us stop you right there. If you're thinking of using the same pumpkins intended for carving to make a pie, you're entering into a trap. Not all pumpkins are created equal.
Not to worry, lovers of fall and all things pumpkin spice. It's pretty easy to separate the jack-o'-lantern pumpkins from the pie pumpkins once you know what you're looking for.
In contrast to the flesh-packed pie pumpkin, carving pumpkins, commonly referred to as jack-o'-lantern pumpkins, were designed to make it easier to, well, carve. Jack-o'-lantern pumpkins have a thinner shell and typically have less flesh (or pumpkin guts) on the inside. The flesh is grainier and stringy. The inside of a carving pumpkin tends to contain more water than pie pumpkins.
Jack-o'-lantern pumpkins, also called carving pumpkins, are less fleshy and easier to carve:
- Thinner shell
- Less flesh/guts inside
- Grainier/stringier flesh
- Contain more water than pie pumpkins
Pie pumpkins, also called sugar pumpkins, are smaller in shape than the monstrous pumpkins you'd find at your typical pumpkin patch. Pie pumpkins are commonly found in the grocery store in the produce section or at farm stands. This small, round pumpkin is packed full of flesh that makes it a good choice for cooking. The pulp also has a better texture (less grainy) and is sweeter.
Compared to carving pumpkins, pie pumpkins, aka sugar pumpkins, are smaller and easier to bake:
- Small and round
- Normally found in the grocery store or at farm stands
- Full of flesh that's good for cooking
- Pulpy, sweeter flesh on the inside
Next up: The 6 best pumpkins for baking
Originally posted November 2012. Updated October 2017.
The 6 best pumpkins for baking
Now the distinction is clear — you're never going to use a carving pumpkin for baking or a baking pumpkin for carving again. (How embarrassing.) But as you're gathering up your ingredients to make your famous pumpkin pie this fall, you may come upon still more decisions to be made. Even among the pie pumpkins, you've got choices aplenty. It's hard to know where to begin.
Here are some of our favorite sugar pumpkins and why:
- Baby Bear: Teeny-tiny and super-cute, this petite pumpkin has a deep orange color and is popularly used to make flavorful pies because of its fine-grained flesh.
- Baby Pam: When you're looking for sugar pumpkins, you hear this name come up a lot. Baby Pam pumpkins are also deep orange and slightly larger than Baby Bears, with a sugary, string-less, dry flesh.
- Fairytale: As adorable as the name is, this sucker can get up to 30 pounds. And yes, it looks just like a pumpkin from the fairy tales, with a thick flesh that tastes more like winter squash.
- Cinderella: These names just keep getting cuter. Cinderella pumpkins are bright red-orange with a thick, moist flesh that has a sweet, custard-like flavor.
- New England Pie: Considered a classic fall baking pumpkin, the New England Pie pumpkin is round with a deep orange color, offering an almost perfect pumpkin pie taste.
- Winter Luxury: Now we're pulling out the big guns. This heirloom pumpkin has orange and white skin, a smooth flesh and a more rustic flavor.
To cook, or not to cook?
While many foodie enthusiasts tend to prefer cooking with a pie pumpkin over a carving pumpkin, you still can put your old jack-o'-lantern to use in recipes. The most common challenge with cooking a carving pumpkin is too much moisture. So after carving out the flesh, put it in a bowl, and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. This should allow for water to separate from the flesh, which you can then drain before using.