How To Carve A Pumpkin For Halloween

Matt Brown
Feb 29, 2024 By Matt Brown
Originally Published on Oct 23, 2020
Everyone should get the chance to know how to carve a pumpkin for Halloween.
Age: 0-99
Read time: 3.6 Min

It’s one of the great traditions of Halloween. Pumpkin carving is both creative and fun, plus you can use the seeds and flesh for countless recipes. Preparing a Jack-O’-Lantern needn’t be a nightmare, either. Just follow the simple steps below. And while you’re making your pumpkin face, see how many of these 73 pumpkin puns you can deploy.

How To Choose Your Pumpkin

Pumpkins come in many sizes. Most supermarkets sell everything from little cute baby pumpkins to massive specimens that’ll have you bent over like the hunchback of Notre Dame. Smaller pumpkins are best if you have limited room, or don’t like the idea of throwing away lots of leftovers. They’re not particularly easy to carve, however, with typically tougher skins and less room to work with. Larger pumpkins are less fiddly and more fun, to boot. However, the flesh and seeds are not so rich in flavour, so they’re best avoided if you’re hoping to impress with pumpkin soup. Shops often have a section for medium-sized pumpkins, which give you the best of both worlds.

Safety First

Once you’ve got your pumpkin home, the first rule of carving should go without saying: don’t let small children anywhere near sharp knives. You may need to put the knife down several times during the carving stage, so think ahead to where you’ll place the knife and how you’ll keep the kids at bay. Also, never mix up carving and calving -- although they are both very messy affairs ;-)

How To Prepare A Pumpkin

It pays to prepare the pumpkin before you begin marking or cutting. If you draw a face on it straight away, you’ll probably end up smudging the ink. So the very first task is to slice the top off the beast. 

Carving spooky smiley faces into pumpkins is a fun and traditional family Halloween activity.

* The best knife to use is a medium-sized serrated blade. You’re going to be sawing rather than slicing, and a flat-edged blade literally won’t cut it. 
* Make your cut about 30 degrees down (a third of the way from the ‘pole’ to the ‘equator’), and take off the entire top.

* Next, scoop out all the soft flesh and seeds with a large spoon or ice cream scoop (or just use your hands if you don’t mind the slime). Whatever you do, don’t throw away the seeds. Wash, dry and roast them for 20 minutes in a little olive oil (and any spices you fancy) and you’ll have a delicious snack. 
* You can also cut out as much of the harder flesh as you feel like. This can also be eaten, typically in pies or soups -- you’ll find dozens of recipes online. Cut away particularly at the ‘front’, so you have less work to do when carving the face.

How To Carve A Pumpkin

You now have before you a hollowed out pumpkin with a detachable lid. Congratulations -- that’s the least-fun part of the task out of the way.

* You now need to mark up your design. You can use any old felt-tip or marker for this, and the kids can help, too.
* Alternatively, find a stencil online. Print it out, tape it to the pumpkin, then use a pin to dot out an outline. 
* What kind of face or pattern to carve is entirely up to you. Pumpkin faces typically have jagged edges as these are easier to cut neatly, and also cast spooky shadow, but there’s no reason you have to stick to this. Don’t be shy of using an image search for inspiration.
* To cut out your design, use a small, sharp, serrated blade. Gently prise the blade through into the hollow interior, then use a cutting motion to saw around your outline.

Finishing Off

With your design cut out, the pumpkin is essentially finished. All you need to do now is pop a tealight inside, light it and replace the lid. If the pumpkin’s going to be a feature of your home for a few days, you might also consider rubbing all its surfaces in vaseline or a similar product. This slows down the rotting process.

See Also
Pumpkin baby costumes are a thing.
How Will Halloween be different this year?
Halloween costume hacks.

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Written by Matt Brown

Bachelor of Science specializing in Chemistry, Master of Research specializing in Biomolecular Sciences

Matt Brown picture

Matt BrownBachelor of Science specializing in Chemistry, Master of Research specializing in Biomolecular Sciences

With a Bachelor's degree in Chemistry and a Master's in Residency specializing in Biomolecular Sciences and roots in the Midlands, Matt has developed a passion for writing about London. As a former editor and prolific contributor to, he has authored several books exploring the city's hidden gems. In addition to his work, Matt enjoys spending time with his two preschool-aged children.

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