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There is no symbol more iconic to Halloween than the jack-o'-lantern.
Indeed, picking out pumpkins and deciding how to decorate them is one of the most enjoyable traditions of the Halloween season. Whether you keep yours simple with some standard triangles for the eyes, nose and toothy grin, or you go a more artistic route (glitter, anyone?), having a glowing jack-o'-lantern on your stoop is a Halloween staple.
That said, as anyone who has ever attempted to carve a pumpkin knows, doing so can be much harder and messier than it looks, whether you're a skilled artist or a novice. Of course, you could avoid all that and just go with a no-carve pumpkin or a painted pumpkin instead. But nothing is more satisfying than creating your own classic jack-o'-lantern for Halloween.
To help you make the pumpkin of your dreams, we asked experts for their best carving tips that will keep your creepy creations looking and smelling good the entire trick-or-treat season.
From where to make your cuts to how to hold your pumpkin while you carve to the best ways to use your scraps and more, these pros have tips that will help you bring your jack-o'-lantern to life (not literally, don’t worry). Once you're set on expert tips, check out our best pumpkin carving ideas for more inspiration.
1. Start with the right pumpkin.
Choose one that's fresh, with a sturdy stem, no bruises, and a flat bottom so it won't roll while you carve.
2. Cut from the bottom, not the top.
Michael Natiello, pumpkin carving pro and creative director for The Great Jack-o'-Lantern Blaze, says cutting your "lid" from the bottom of the pumpkin helps prevent the sides from caving in later.
3. If you do carve from the top, cut out the lid on an angle.
This way it won't drop inside the pumpkin when you put it back on top, like it would with a straight up-and-down cut. A boning knife should work well for this.
4. Scoop out all the pulp (and then some).
5. Sketch out your design on paper first.
If you draw your jack-o'-lantern face to size, Natiello says you can use it as a pattern: Just tape it to the front of your pumpkin and use a fork or pencil to poke holes along the lines you want to carve. (Or save yourself from creative blocks by getting a pumpkin carving kit, complete with a marker, scraper, cutting tools, and pre-made patterns.)
6. Hold the pumpkin in your lap.
It's easier to create features when the face is gazing up at you. Natiello suggests using a serrated kitchen knife or an X-Acto knife for carving, but to make intricate designs, you could try using a small saw. Just don't cut on a slant — clean up-and-down slices look best.
7. Start by making simple rough cuts.
If you get the big pieces of pumpkin out of the way first, you can go back and clean up the edges of your design later.
8. Use your scraps creatively.
Make a tongue, pipe, or hair accessories out of a discarded piece of pumpkin shell, for example.
9. Keep your pumpkin fresh.
Natiello recommends spreading petroleum jelly on the cut edges to seal in moisture. If your pumpkin still shrivels a few days later, you can revive it with a facedown soak in cold water for up to eight hours.
10. Create a chimney.
11. Sprinkle cinnamon inside the lid.
That way, when you light the candle, your jack-o'-lantern will smell like a pumpkin pie. Yum.
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