Hassle-Free Halloween: 7 Expert Pumpkin Carving Tips

photo/design:  Layla Palmer  for HGTV.com

photo/design: Layla Palmer for HGTV.com

Perhaps the most iconic sign of the season is the jack-o'-lantern? Check out these tips to make carving your own pumpkin safe, sanitary and stylish

Tools of the Trade 
Newspapers spread out on a table or countertop before starting keep your carving station clean and tidy. 
 Dry-erase markers will make drawing or tracing your designs a snap (and easy to wipe clean if you need to start over). 

An ice cream scoop or large serving spoon makes pulp removal a snap. 

Carving knives should be sharp and flexible with easy-to-grip handles. Thinner blades are helpful for more detailed designs. Children should not be allowed to handle knives and adult supervision is always a must. 

Selecting a Pumpkin 
 Whether your pumpkin comes from the grocery store or is selected from one of the many pick-your-own pumpkin patches, find a canvas that will suit your plans -- big or small, perfectly round or misshapen -- to create a grimacing ghoul. Whatever your design, find a pumpkin that is fresh and free of bruises or cuts and flat-bottomed to keep your jack-o'-lantern standing upright and stable. 

Cutting the Lid 
Use a boning knife to remove the top with an angled cut to prevent the lid from falling inside. The lid should be large enough to comfortably accommodate hands for scooping out the pulp. 

Removing the Pulp 
Make sure to thoroughly scrape out the inside of the pumpkin. Clean sides reduce decay and allow light to shine through evenly. Be sure to save the seeds for roasting! 


Drawing and Carving 
Whether drawing freehand or using a template, use dry-erase markers to mark all lines before making the first cut. Use santoku knives of different sizes to cut along the lines: large knives to remove large sections and finer blades for detail work. 

Make It Last 
To extend the stoop life of your work of art, rub a thin layer of petroleum jelly on the inside surfaces of the pumpkin to reduce mold and slow decay. 

Tea light or votive candles placed in the bottom of your jack-o'-lantern will provide a classic flickery glow, but battery-powered LED "candles" are a cheap, safe and effective alternative (especially when jack-o'-lanterns are kept indoors).