Read the Rules ThoroughlyThe very first step in winning pumpkin carving contests is to make sure you know what the judges are looking for. Before you even think about what kind of pumpkin carving you'd like to do, make sure that the rules don't specify the size of pumpkin, ask you to stick to a theme, or have any other restrictions you need to follow.
Come Up with a Concept for Your Pumpkin CarvingThe key to winning a pumpkin carving contest is coming up with a creative idea for your pumpkin. You really want a pumpkin that will stand out from the pack, so try to think beyond the typical eyes, nose, and grimace. Here are some ways to get inspiration for your pumpkin carving contest entry:
Pick the Pumpkin that Suits Your DesignWhy do I recommend that you come up with your pattern before you even look for your pumpkin? So that you can pick out the perfect pumpkin for your design. Some designs look best with a tall, narrow pumpkin, others cry out for a fat, round one or one with a nearly flat face. By looking carefully, you can pick the pumpkin to make your carving shine.
You should also look for a pumpkin without any soft spots or cuts. Pull the stem firmly to make sure it's not loose. For more information, see How to Pick Pumpkins for Carving or Cooking.
Prepare Your Pumpkin for CarvingNow that you have your pumpkin, it's time to get ready to carve it. Start by washing and drying it to remove dirt and debris. Then look for the perfect side of the pumpkin to carve. Finally, trace your pattern onto the pumpkin using a marker or a pencil. The advantage of a marker is that you can see your tracing better. On the other hand, the pencil will be harder to see if you don't cut out the entire area of your tracing.
Gather the Right ToolsYou don't need to buy special tools for your pumpkin carving, but you should be sure that you have good tools on hand for doing your work. Having good tools will save your time and ensure that your end result looks better. Before you start, make sure you have:
- An ice cream scoop or a large, sturdy scoop
- A large, sharp knife for the rough carving work, like cutting off the lid of the pumpkin.
- Smaller, sharp knives for detail carving. A boning knife, a paring knife, or a keyhole saw are good choices.
Remove the Seeds and Pulp from the PumpkinFirst, cut a large hole in the pumpkin. Traditionally, this is made around the stem of the pumpkin, but you can also cut out the bottom of the pumpkin, or even on other faces of the pumpkin, if you can work it into your carving pattern.
Wherever you make your hole, be sure to cut the shell of the pumpkin at an angle, so that it won't fall through the pumpkin when you replace it. I also like to cut a notch into the circle, so that it's obvious which way the lid should be replaced.
After you've cut out the lid, scoop out the pulp and seeds with your ice cream scoop or spoon.
For more tips on cleaning a pumpkin, read How to Carve Pumpkins for a Jack-o-Lantern.
Carve Out Your StencilOnce your pumpkin has been cleaned, you can use your smaller knives or keyhole saw to cut out the pattern you've traced onto your pumpkin. Remember to cut on the outside of your lines, and be very careful with small pieces.
When you're done, rub cooking oil on all exposed edges to prevent browning.
How to Take Great Pictures of Your Carved PumpkinsJust because you've carved a perfect pumpkin, doesn't mean you're done yet. Many pumpkin carving contests will ask you to send in a picture of your carving.
Some ideas to complete your pumpkin carving entry include:
- Try to take a picture on the level of your pumpkin. Taking a picture from above will skew how your carving looks.
- Pay close attention to the background of your carving. Use a solid backdrop, or pick something appropriate like an old door, a hay bale, or a fence to form the background.
- Make your picture as large as possible. Let your pumpkin fill the frame so that the judges can enjoy your details.
Don't Throw Away the Pumpkin Seeds!One fun side effect of entering pumpkin carving contests is that pumpkin seeds are delicious toasted. TrySpicy Pumpkin Seeds or Sugar and Spice Roasted Pumpkin Seeds for a yummy treat.
Pumpkin Carving with KidsKids love carving pumpkins, but you need to be careful to be age-appropriate with the sharp implements. Younger children can have fun scooping out seeds and tracing stencils.
How to Make Pumpkins More LuminescentThe more pulp you remove, the more light will shine through the shell. This could make a better picture for your contest entry.
Try Something Unusual with Your PumpkinIf you want to make your pumpkin contest entry unusual, try some of these tips:
What You Need
- Pumpkin carving design
- Ice cream scoop and/or sturdy spoon
- Sharp knives in different sizes