1. Figure out what design you want to carve: It’s always better to have a design in mind before you go pick out a pumpkin, that way you can pick out one with the right dimensions. Depending on the design it might be better to go with a short, round one, or a tall, narrow one. Just try to find a pumpkin with a similar shape to the pattern you want to carve, especially when using stencils.
2. Picking out the right pumpkin: Make sure the skin is smooth and the color looks the same all over the pumpkin, watch out for discoloration and mold! When you press on the skin it should be firm and not give, avoid pumpkins with bruises, cuts or any dents if you can. Also, knock on the pumpkin with your fist, if it makes a hollow sound that generally means it’s ripe. This is fine if you only want to carve but realize unripe ones will last longer on your porch.
3. Handling and storing your pumpkin prior to carving: After you have picked out the pumpkin you want be sure not to carrying it by the stem, I know this is tempting but don’t! The stem is a big part of the visual for the finished Jack-O-Lantern, and if the stem breaks off it will cause the pumpkin to rot sooner. Store your pumpkin somewhere cool, dry, and preferably away from sunlight until you are ready to carve. This helps it last longer, once you have finished carving and put it out onto your porch the heat and sunlight will deteriorate it fast.
4. Carving prep: Wash the entire skin of the pumpkin prior to carving with a water and chlorine solution. 1 gallon of water with 1 teaspoon of chlorine, this helps prevent molding prematurely. Next, draw your pattern of choice on paper, this makes revisions much easier. DO NOT DRAW ON THE PUMPKIN.
5. Transferring pattern to pumpkin: You are going to need scissors, tape, and needles or a craft knife for this step. Cut out your pattern with the scissors being careful not to cut too close to the actual pattern. Once completed tape the cut out onto the pumpkin where you would like the pattern to go. Next, use your needle or craft knife to poke holes through paper to score the shapes you want to carve onto the face of the pumpkin. If this is sounds like too much work or you don’t have the tools then you can buy a fairly inexpensive pumpkin carving kit at most grocery stores.
6. Carving Time: Lay out some old newspaper on top of a steady surface or table and place your pumpkin on top of that. Small, serrated edge blades work best for carving. Use slow, controlled, sawing motions when cutting. Please DO NOT try to cut your pumpkin with a normal straight-edge razor, forcefully pressing the blade through will damage the pumpkin and you could possibly cut yourself. Be patient, some shapes take time. If you can’t get through to the other side on the first try that’s okay!
7. Carving out the top or head of the pumpkin: After you have finished carving out your design use a similar blade to carve out the top. Use a dark colored marker and draw a small circle around the stem about an inch and a half away from the stem. Next draw a small triangle that connects from the stem to the circle you just drew. This triangle will act as a chimney when finished. You can cut out the circle first and pull up the top or cut out the triangle first, it’s really personal preference.
8. Scraping out the inside: This is my least favorite part of carving but good news is you are almost done! Some people like to use a spoon to scrape out the inside and avoid getting sticky; personally I like to stick my whole hand in to take out the excessive clumps first. Once I have finished getting all the excess seeds and clumps out I use a spoon or dough scraper to clear out the bottom. Your goal should be to provide a flat surface for the candles to sit once you are finished. Once flat put no more than 3 or 4 small candles inside your pumpkin and set on your porch. Lite the candles and put the top back on. You are ready for trick-or-treaters!