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11 Genius Hacks for Halloween Pumpkin Carving You’ll Use From Now On

Our treat: The secrets to effortless scooping, perfect carving, making the most of those silly mini-pumpkins, and more.

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First, pick the perfect pumpkin

Have your design in mind before you pick a pumpkin. Be able to answer, does your pattern require more width or height to pull off? If you are planning to use a candle, go taller: if a pumpkin is too short and squat, the candle will burn the roof. Once you pick a size, give your pumpkin a knock with your fist; a hollow sound indicates it is riper, and easier to carve. Finally, test the pumpkin’s stability by placing it on a flat surface before purchasing. No wobble? You’re ready to carve! Need inspiration? Check out these free pumpkin carving stencils you’ll love.

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Give yourself more room to scoop

If your go-to move for carving a pumpkin is cutting a circular hole around the stem, you’re making your seed scooping job about ten times harder than it could be. Instead, cut a large keyhole shape into the pumpkin that starts around the stem and extends down the side, like this. You’ll be able to reach your entire arm directly into the pumpkin’s side for effortless scooping and candle-placing.

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OR, start carving from the bottom

Instead of cutting a hole in the top of your pumpkin, start from the bottom. Cut out a circle and throw that piece away for good; this is where your candle will sit, flat on the ground with the pumpkin around it. This method also makes scooping easier. Thanks to gravity, a sizable chunk of pumpkin guts will fall out right with your bottom hole. Caveat: Without a top hole for ventilation, you should only burn a candle for about 30 minutes, or use LED lights instead. Plus, check out some pretty no-carve pumpkin decorating ideas to change things up this year.

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Speed up seed removal with an ice cream scoop

Using an ice cream scoop or large, sturdy spoon will greatly increase your pumpkin seeding speed. For lingering stringy bits, finish it off with a fork. The less gunk inside, the easier your carving will be.

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Don’t use permanent marker

Make your initial cut lines with a dry-erase marker first, in case you make a mistake—and we all know  the slippery, uneven surface of a pumpkin is a magnet for mistakes. These are other tips to help preserve a carved pumpkin.

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Carve two days before Halloween—or preserve your pumpkin with jelly

A carved pumpkin will start molding within days of breaking the skin. To delay this, coat all cut surfaces with a bit of petroleum jelly—including the scooped-out inside, if you can spare the time. The jelly seals in the pumpkin’s moisture, slowing down the dehydration process that turns brilliant art into sad gunk.

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Fix carving mistake with a toothpick

If you accidentally cut off a piece you didn’t mean to, you can stick it right back on by jamming a toothpick into it. You can get creative with this method, too: save some of your carved bits to create 3D pumpkin eyebrows, mustaches or, well, smaller pumpkins. Check out some easy, unexpected ways to decorate with pumpkins.

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Make a pumpkin punch bowl

For that extra autumnal touch at your party, slice away the top third of a pumpkin with a serrated knife and place a glass punch bowl inside. Fill the bowl with ice and bottles of your choice beverage, and astound guests with your creativity.

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Give a mini-pumpkin fangs

Cut a small rectangular hole into the side of a mini pumpkin and insert a pair of dollar-store vampire fangs. Add some circular map tacks for spooky red eyes, or improvise with googly eyes. Bonus: This is a perfect, low-mess project for the kids! Here are some more great Halloween crafts your kids will love.

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Don’t feel like carving? Grab a drill

With evenly spaced holes you can drill beautiful patterns of light into your pumpkin, knife-free. For extra flair, string some Christmas lights through the holes to make your pumpkin explode with radiance.

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Don’t throw away the innards!

Use them for snacks. With your leftover pumpkin pieces, whip up some pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin pickles and more, thanks to these fun pumpkin recipes for fall.