How to Safely Peel and Cut Winter Squash

With tough outer skins, winter squash can be tough to slice. But don't let that stop you—here's how to cut squash without hurting yourself.

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If you’ve never prepared squash, it can be intimidating at first—how do you turn that hard, hulking vegetable into something remotely edible? But winter squash varieties like butternut, acorn and spaghetti are simply too delicious to miss out on. Our Test Kitchen experts shared tips for how to cut squash safely and effectively so you can whip up all of your favorite winter squash recipes with ease.

How to Peel and Cut Squash

No matter what type of winter squash you’re cooking with, you’ll have to slice through (and maybe peel) a thick outer skin. Here’s how to do it without accidentally slicing yourself.

Step 1: Secure your prep surface

To prevent the squash from wobbling around any more than it already will, steady your work surface first. A damp kitchen towel (especially one made with thin fabric, like flour sackcloth) works great for this. Place your cutting board on top of the towel before you start slicing—a wooden cutting board will work better than a plastic one.

Test Kitchen tip: Maple is the best type of wood for cutting boards—it’s durable, prevents bacteria and is easy to clean.

Step 2: Use your sharpest chef’s knife

Cutting squash is no task for anything less than your best chef’s knife, which is one of the most essential types of kitchen knives. Use at least an eight-inch knife to avoid getting the blade stuck mid-cut (although you may need to slice two or three times to fully pierce through the squash).

Test Kitchen tip: For the easiest possible cut, use a freshly sharpened knife. Here’s the best knife sharpener, according to our standardized testing process.

Step 3: Cut off the ends of the squash

As tempting as it may be to cut in right at the center of the squash, start by cutting off the outside ends to remove the roughest parts of the squash and create two flat surfaces from which to work. This will give that roly-poly squash a bit of stability.

Editor’s tip: Microwaving the squash for four to five minutes can help soften the squash, making it easier to cut into.

Step 4: Peel the squash (optional)

If the recipe you’re following calls for peeled squash, this is a good time to do that. Position the squash vertically upright on the cutting board, resting on the flat bottom that you created by cutting off the end. Next, use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin—we like Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss peelers. If your peeler isn’t getting the job done, use your chef’s knife to slice off the skin.

Step 5: Slice the squash in half lengthwise

If you’re not sure how to cut your squash, start by slicing it lengthwise. This will make it easier to scoop out the seeds and reduce the number of overall cuts you need to make. (Plus, many squash recipes call for a lengthwise cut, like this Roasted Acorn Squash and Brussels Sprouts dish.)

However, if the dish you’re making requires a different slicing method (for instance, this Herbed Butternut Squash recipe calls for a crosswise cut), defer to the recipe directions.

Step 6: Scoop out the seeds like a pro

If you don’t have a melon baller, now is a great time to invest in one. (They’re inexpensive—this OXO melon baller is less than $10.) When it comes time to scoop out those slippery, stringy squash seeds, you’ll be glad you have one. (Sure, you can just as easily use a spoon, but it’ll take more effort, involve more sliding and increase the odds that seeds end up in your final dish. No thanks!)

Step 7: Finish according to the recipe directions

Depending on the recipe you’re following, you may need to cube the squash or slice it into smaller pieces before cooking. In some cases, you might get fancy with your slicing technique, like with this Hasselback Butternut Squash recipe.

Winter Squash Recipe Ideas
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Rebecca Walden
Rebecca C. Walden is a freelance writer with Deep South roots - an Alabama native now living in north Texas. Her writing has appeared in Reader's Digest, the Huffington Post, Southern Living, and many other regional publications, focusing on everything from health and wellness to parenting, family, and women's interests. Walden also provides freelance writing to corporate clients in finance, government, healthcare, and higher education. Check out her latest work
Teddy Nykiel
A former associate editor for Taste of Home, Teddy specialized in SEO strategy. As a home cook herself, she loves finding inspiration at the farmer's market. She also enjoys doing any sport that involves water and taking long walks with her black lab mix, Berkeley.