How to carve a pumpkin
You don't have to be named Martha to make an exquisitely carved pumpkin this Halloween. It's just a matter of finding your "best" pumpkin, using good tools, finding a template you love, and setting aside enough time to carve without having to rush. Here are a few tips for carving the perfect pumpkin this Halloween.
Finding the right pumpkin
This year, there are more unusual pumpkin varieties in grocery stores: in addition to the traditional round and oval orange pumpkins, there are white ones, flat ones, blue ones, and speckled white and orange ones.
Look for a pumpkin that's firm; it will be thicker and harder to cut, but it won't go bad as fast. It's always sad to see moldy jack-o'-lantern's on people's steps before Halloween.
Go to a local farm or farmers' market for the best prices and biggest selection.
Pumpkin carving tools
You can find a variety for cutting tools in a huge range of prices. There are plastic sets that you pay very little for, but which may wear out fairly quickly.
If this is a one-time event for you, go ahead and get a set of plastic tools. The exception is if you have a huge, thick pumpkin to carve. You can go old school and use steak knives but, if you want to do a detailed carving, you need to get a tool set with etching tools. Serrated knives or tiny pumpkin saws are a must to easily cut through the thick pumpkin skin.
You can use household drills with different sized bits to create intricate lace patterns, apple corers, screwdrivers, melon ballers, and other home tools; X-Acto knives and the end of a potato peeler are great for detail work.
Pumpkin lighting 101
You have a few lighting decisions to make: You can use a traditional candle, but I recommend using one of the battery operated "candles" that mimic the flame of a real candle. If your pumpkin showpiece will be near an outlet you can even use LED string lights.
Pumpkin carving templates and stencils
Freehand pumpkin carving is fine if you are doing a simple face, or if you have drawing skill to spare. Otherwise, you can find free templates and stencils online.
Draw on your pumpkin with a water based marker so you can easily correct any mistakes.
Getting down to business
- If your pumpkin doesn't have a flat bottom, go ahead and carve the bottom end out. Make it level so your pumpkin won't topple over. With the bottom carved out, you can set it on top of a battery powered candle; if you aren't using a candle there's no need to cut the top.
- If you cut the top out, make sure your knife is angled into the pumpkin, this will help the top stay on more securely.
- Scoop out the guts and seeds into a large bowl and save to make roasted pumpkin seeds later.
- Leave about 1-inch of flesh to carve, any less and you increase the chance of breaking while you carve, more and it's much harder to carve.
- Saw firmly, but don't strong arm it: turn the pumpkin with one hand, while sawing with the other to create smoother curves.
Protect your masterpiece
Pumpkins are vegetables and once they are cut they begin to deteriorate. If they are drying out you can spray them with water or vegetable oil, but you need to prevent mold, if possible. Keep your pumpkin out of the sun on hot, Indian summer days.
Kid-friendly pumpkin carving tips
If you have small children who want the fun of making their own Jack-o-lanterns, but you're concerned about them using sharp knives, Allen Smith has a method that will let them get into the spirit of the holiday without the danger.