How to carve a pumpkin like a pro

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(Courtesy of George Nickolopoulos)
(Courtesy of George Nickolopoulos)

It's finally spooky season — and what better way to get into the spirit than to carve a pumpkin?

And while you may have gutted and gouged a gourd before, it's always good to ask the experts for a little advice. For tips and tricks to carve the perfect pumpkin, WBUR's Radio Boston talked with George Nickolopoulos.

By day, Nickolopoulos works as a defense contractor who helps design software solutions for national defense issues. But each fall, he moonlights as a master pumpkin carver whose work graces the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, every year. Nickolopoulos says his team carves 5,000 pumpkins each year for the event.

Here are his tips for carvings pumpkins like a pro:

Buying a pumpkin

The ease of cutting your pumpkin will differ between the type of pumpkin you buy. Prizewinner or Big Mac pumpkins have a soft skin and soft flesh and are good for carving, says Nickolopoulos. You may be able to find those varieties at a farmstand. Howden pumpkins are the kind you're more likely to find at the grocery store and are a bit woodier and harder to slice through.

Nickolopoulos always recommends buying big pumpkins that have a lot of scars, marks and character.

"I think that they can become really interesting finished pieces of art," he says.

Using proper tools

Put away that little pumpkin-carving kit and head to the home improvement store.

To carve, Nickolopoulos recommends using a keyhole saw that can be found at home improvement stores (though he doesn't recommend that tool for children).

Nickolopoulos says when carves pumpkins with his 7-year-old daughter, he gives her a fine-toothed jigsaw blade with a handle. The tool makes it so his daughter won't lose control the blade while carving.

When it comes to gutting the pumpkin, Nickolopoulos says a good tool is a large metal cooking spoon with the handle broken off to act like a shovel.

Preparing to cut

Radio Boston host Tiziana Dearing prepares to carve a pumpkin in the WBUR studios. (Khari Thompson/WBUR)
Radio Boston host Tiziana Dearing prepares to carve a flower into a pumpkin in the WBUR studios. (Khari Thompson/WBUR)

When sketching out your jack-o'-lantern, remember to leave enough of the pumpkin intact so the gourd doesn't collapse in on itself. If you're making a detailed design, leave space between elements so the pumpkin can keep its structural integrity. For example, if you're carving a flower like Radio Boston host Tiziana Dearing, leave some pumpkin between the flower, stem and petals.

Carving time

Place your non-cutting hand firmly on the top of the pumpkin for stability, says Nickolopoulos. Start slow with cuts while you get used to your tool and the feel of the pumpkin.

Light it up

When it comes to giving your pumpkin a glow, Nickolopoulos says you can just go with a candle.

"It doesn't have to be super complicated," he says. "But where you can bring in a little bit of technology, you can create a pumpkin that changes color."

Nickolopoulos says you can put an LED lightbulb that can be controlled by your phone to create a color-changing effect. You can purchase a corded socket from a home improvement store and feed it into the pumpkin to power the effect.

No matter the how your pumpkin turns out, Nickolopoulos says each gourd is a masterpiece.

"Every pumpkin in the world has its place," said Nickolopoulos. "And there's no such thing as a mistake when you're making a jack-o'-lantern."

This segment aired on October 11, 2023.

Headshot of Khari Thompson

Khari Thompson Producer, Radio Boston
Khari Thompson is a producer for Radio Boston.


Headshot of Tiziana Dearing

Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.



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