1. Picking Your Pumpkin
Like any piece of fruit, freshness is of utmost importance. Check the stem first. If it's green and intact, you know your pumpkin is fresh. Dry or brittle stems are signs of age.
Never lift a pumpkin by its stem. Don't do it! It can snap off easily, and two things will happen: the pumpkin will hit your feet like a bowling ball, and it'll rot much faster.
Next, check that the skin is free of blemishes, bruises, or any visible damage.
Finally, like a good melon, a pumpkin should feel heavy for its size.
2. Set Up Your Station
Pumpkin carving can get messy. Here's what you want to have:
Plenty of newspaper to line your table with. Slimy pumpkin innards have a habit of getting on everything.
A few bowls of various sizes for storing things like guts, seeds, and cut-outs.
A few different knives. A small chef's knife for cutting out the top, and a couple of sturdy, sharp-tipped paring knives are good, though in a pinch, very basic designs can be cut out with just the chef's knife.
A waterproof pen for mapping out your design before you begin carving.
3. Cut The Lid
Time to give Jack his lobotomy!
Cut off the top of the pumpkin, making sure to cut it wide enough to give you room to scrape out the inside easily later. To make it easy to figure out how to orient the lid later on, make sure to cut out a triangular notch along one side. If you plan on using a candle instead of an electric light, you might also consider cutting out a chimney hole to allow oxygen in and smoke to escape.
4. Seed Out
Make a preliminary scrape with your bare hands, removing as much of the goopy flesh and seeds as possible. For full instructions on how to clean and toast the pumpkin seeds, read our guide here »
5. Spoon It
Scrape our the inside of the pumpkin by choking all the way up on the head of a large stiff spoon (the larger it is, the easier it'll be). Scrape away the remaining stringy flesh working from the top of the pumpkin in concentric circles all the way down. Continue scraping until you've got about an inch or two of flesh remaining (the more complex your design, the thinner you'll want the flesh to be).
6. Plan Your Design
Use a waterproof pen to block out your design. Remember, the design can only be as fine as the size of your knife, so make sure that it's appropriate. If you are very confident with yourself, you can use a sharpie, but a dry-erase marker is a better option—it'll let you make corrections as needed. Straight lines are much easier to carve than curves, so be aware of that as you plan your carving.
Robyn here has decided to go with the classic triangle-eyed, snaggle-toothed look.
7. Start Carving!
Carve by plunging the knife tip into the lines. If you have a complex design, it's best to work from the center outward, so that you don't put extra pressure on sections you've already cut.
This is Robyn trying to look like a Jack-O-Lantern, or perhaps it's Jack trying to look like Robyn?