Begin 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.
Start cutting 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.
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.
Scoop out all the pulp (and then some).
You can buy a special “claw” for pumpkin gutting, but an ice cream scoop will do just fine. Thin the inner wall of the “face” area to be 1¼-inch thick, so it will be easier to pierce the shell.
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, use a pumpkin carving kit, complete with a marker, scraper, cutting tools and pre-made patterns.
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 a small saw. Just don’t cut on a slant — clean up-and-down slices look best.
Start with 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.
Use your scraps creatively.
Make a tongue, pipe or hair accessories out of a discarded piece of pumpkin shell, for example.
Keep your pumpkin fresh.
Natiello recommends spreading petroleum jelly on the cut edges to seal in moisture, which helps make your carved pumpkin last. 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.
Light it up.
Place your candle (or candles) into your pumpkin before lighting. If you don’t want to use votives, try Christmas lights, especially those that blink for a spooky appearance. Or, save yourself the stress and go with battery-operated votives instead.