How to Peel and Cut a Butternut Squash

The most essential thing I learned from taking a knife skills class with Chef Shuna Lydon, other than the obvious tip of keeping your knives sharp, was the importance of stabilizing whatever it is you are attempting to cut. This is nowhere else as critical as when cutting a butternut squash, a notoriously difficult task because of the thickness and density of that squash. The most important thing to consider when following these steps, or anyone else’s steps for cutting winter squash is to keep whatever pieces you are working on as stable as possible. The first cut from the bottom of the squash is to help keep the squash steady on the board as you gently work your knife down from the top to bottom.

How to Peel and Cut a Butternut Squash

Keep squash pieces as stable as possible while cutting. A rubber mallet can help, if you have one, to gently push the knife through difficult thick spots. Using a very sharp vegetable peeler, one with a carbon steel blade, will help with the peeling.

Ingredients

  • One butternut squash, 1 1/2 to 3 pounds
  • A sharp, heavy, chef's knife

Method

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1 Using a heavy, sharpened chef's knife, cut off about 1/4-inch from the bottom of the squash in an even slice. Then cut off 1/4-inch from the stem end.

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2 Holding the squash in one hand, use a sharp vegetable peeler in the other hand to peel off the outer layer of the squash. You can also secure the squash standing upright and peel it in downward strokes with the peeler. Stand the peeled squash upright on a cutting board. It shouldn't wobble, you want the squash to be stable. (If it is wobbly, make another cut at the bottom to even it out.) Make one long cut, down the middle from the top to bottom, with a heavy chef's knife. Some squashes can be pretty hard; to help with the cutting you can use a rubber mallet to gently tap on the ends of the knife to help push the knife down through the squash.

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3 Use a metal spoon to scrape out the seeds and the stringy pulp from the squash cavity. (If you want, you can prepare the seeds like toasted pumpkin seeds.)

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4 Lay the squash halves, cut side down on the cutting board for stability. Working section at a time, cut the squash into slices, lengthwise, the desired width of your squash pieces. Some recipes call for 1/2-inch slices or cubes, some for 1-inch or greater.

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5 If you are cubing the squash, lay the slices down (you can stack a few at a time) and make another set of lengthwise cuts. Then make crosswise cuts to make cubes.

One 1 1/2 pound butternut squash will yield approximately 4 cups of 1/2-inch cubed squash.

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44 Comments

  1. Avlor

    Yay! Thank you for posting this. I was wondering how I was going to deal with this new to me sqaush.

  2. gexx

    Wow, I guess that proves to me that my problem is simple. I need a better knife. One that can keep an edge. And here I thought I just couldn’t handle a butternut squash!

    E

  3. bethh

    I just learned a different way to deal with this, which worked well, but adds time to the process.

    Put the squash, whole, into a pot. Fill the pot partially with water (does NOT have to cover the whole squash, but should probably be a couple of inches deep). Bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes or so, remove from heat & let cool.

    This cooks the very top layer of the squash and a peeler made super quick work of the job after that.

  4. Shanan

    There is so much truth about needing a sharp knife…
    Years ago I was introduced to what I find one of the best butternut squash soups (Tom Douglas’ – with sage and cream, yummmmmm). I’d never had butternut squash before, but what didn’t sound divine? Making this soup became a household tradition every Fall to the point where neighbors and friends of neighbors would bring me extra squash from their gardens. I loved the soup enough to keep making it, but boy did I hate cutting & preparing it. I just figured that was the name of the game and the sweat put in was part of what made it so wonderful in the end. Little did I know…
    One year I got a new set of knives (something I now realize I’d gone way too long without!). When the Fall came and the butternut squash was calling, I pulled out the new knives, got ready for the annual struggle, and voila! Much to my surprise it slid right thru the squash! No longer do I dread the prep of the butternut squash! Here Here to sharp knives! Long live sharp knives forever!

  5. Garrett

    I admit, butternuts are one of the few things I usually buy pre-peeled and diced at Whole Foods. My knives are crap over the years and I almost lost a finger last year. Still, the cost is a bit much, so I may give it another go with the rubber mallet trick.

  6. maggie

    So helpful—cutting up a squash can be exhausting! I usually microwave for a few minutes (piercing the skin a little first) to soften it up a little.

  7. Leisureguy

    I never peel butternut squash. I’ve found that the peel softens during cooking. I also tend not to peel eggplant, carrots, potatoes, etc.

  8. Tori

    I learned a great trick from a Japanese cookbook: boil water, let the squash sit in the boiled water for 10 minutes (covered), peel. Sometimes I actually let the squash sit in long enough that it is almost cooked.

    Using this method makes tt is so easy to peel you can even use a dull knife. Now I eat squash of all kinds much more as a result of this handy dandy way of dealing with the rind.

  9. Joseph

    Great post! Your instructions are clear and precise and should save many home cooks some time and finger tips this holiday season. I bear the scars of how uncooperative squashes can be when you try to cut them without a game plan. The photos are very helpful as well. There is always a proper technique to cut things and even when it is not obvious at first, it always feels so clear and intuitive after a demonstration.

  10. Jenna

    I peel my squash this way, but can anyone tell me if there is an enzyme in the squash that makes the hand you are holding it with feel very tight and tingly after you are done peeling it? This has happened to me several times and now I wear rubber gloves when I have to peel the squash. It only happens with the butternut squash, and takes several washing to get rid of that feeling.

  11. claire

    I find it useful to use the disposal hole of the sink to anchor the squash. The fat end of the squash seems to stay put, the peelings go right into the sink and, at least for me (short), the lower height is more manageable. vegetable peeler. After I get as much done as possible this way, I move the squash to the cutting board and finish up.

  12. Lu

    Elise, this is how I cut up a butternut squash. I am posting because I wanted to compliment you on these super photos. They are great step-by-step shots.

  13. Cris

    Awesome. I never thought I could use a peeler with a butternut squash, and the comments left here also added a lot to your post!

  14. Elizabeth

    I LOVE Butternut squash and cook it often. One thing that I do differently is that I peel mine AFTER halving and scooping out the seeds. I find it easier to hold on to the squash while scooping seed if it still has it’s skin.
    I save seeds and plant in the garden in late summer.

  15. bittermelon

    Another trick for stability and easier peeling is to cut the squash crosswise where the neck meets the bulbous end. The squash is not so unwieldy then to peel or cut. I also tend to look for the squash with the longest necks and smallest bulbs so it’s easier to dice since you don’t have as much of the rounded area to cut.

  16. Lisa

    A great trick I learned recently is to prick the squash and put it in the microwave for a minute or so. Softens it just enough that the peeling process much easier.

  17. Kim

    Wish I would have known this two weeks ago, when I ended up with a couple of butternut squashes all at the same time. I made soup, salad, and muffins, but the cutting and preparing nearly made me not like butternut squash anymore. With your tips I think I can even work myself up to have another go as early as this weekend, because the muffins sure turned out really yummy! And your photos and post make it look easy enough now.

  18. Rogers George

    Hah! My wife has an even easier way to peel one of these things. She makes me do it! Steely muscles and all that. It never occurred to me to soften the skin with hot water first. (My grandmother used to do that with tomatoes, but that’s another story.) I’d suggest this tip to my wife and make her do the work so I could watch a football game, but I’d rather help her than watch TV. So I guess I’ll keep this tip a secret…

  19. Tom Clancy

    Like bittermelon above, I cut the squash into the 4 pieces shown in step 4 before peeling. The bulb is the only part that’s hard to peel. For that, I run the peeler horizontally on both ends and then peel vertically.

  20. Tabitha (From Single to Married)

    This is so helpful! I usually just buy the bags of frozen, pre-cut squash and it’s nice to know how to actually cut a squash. Thanks!

  21. cholst

    EASY METHOD…Cutting and cooking squash can be time consuming so I use my microwave. Wash, cut the squash length wise in half, and scoop out the seeds. Place the two haves cut side up on a plate,cover loosely with wax paper and microwave 8-10 minutes on high power.(larger squash may take more time) When soft to the touch,simply scoop the squash out of the skin/shell. It’s easy to freeze in bags or continue cooking in a pot,mash with potato masher and add seasoning. ENJOY!

  22. Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener

    You can also bake it first, then cut open, scoop seeds and scoop out the flesh. I much prefer the baking method as there is a substance in the fresh butternut that seems to “eat” my hands – anyhow make them all rough and itchy.

  23. Jackie

    Thank you thank you thank you for posting this!! If only I’d read it 4 years ago when I was cutting one of these suckers for the first time. I was sweating and cursing up a storm, flinging flecks of squash meat, seeds, and string into all 4 corners of my kitchen!!!
    Then my boyfriend’s mom told me about zapping the squash in the microwave for a few minutes to soften it up. Really helps!!

  24. Jeanne

    Great tutorial Elise – I have yet another easy cheat method – get your husband to do it :)

    As a previous commenter says, there is some substance in the butternut flesh that dries out the skin on my hands and makes me look like a snake shedding its skin, so my excuse is that dry hands are less of an issue for a boy =)

  25. Bec

    I was inspired and cut up my squash this morning. It’s way more than we’re going to eat right now – how long will peeled, cut squash keep in the refrigerator?

    Great question. I had some extra that I cut up and kept in a ziplock bag in the fridge for over a week without a problem. ~Elise

  26. Elise

    Hi Jenna and Jeane,

    It appears that some people have a contact reaction to butternut squash. A Google search turned up this Metafilter thread. The official name of the allergy is “Cucurbita Moschata Dermatitis”. The thing to do is to wear gloves when cutting and handling the raw squash flesh.

  27. Jenna

    Well, at least I now know I’m not the only one who gets “snake skin” after peeling a butternut squash.

  28. Melissa

    This is very helpful, I’ve always stayed away from butternut squash as I didn’t know what to do with it. I love the colored step-by-step photos. I will make this tonight!

  29. Cris

    If you love butternut squash, then definitely try Blue Hubbard! The size can be very intimidating, in fact, around here most people use them for porch decorations!

    My late aunt would send one down to me from NH with anyone heading south. She shared her secret for preparing the squash: she smashed it open on the cellar concrete floor! (Sometimes this can be very therapeutic.) Using a cleaver, she’d break it into manageable sizes. Remove seeds, wash each piece and smear inside with butter sprinkle with cinnamon (I prefer fresh nutmeg) Then wrap in foil and freeze. Just pop a piece still wrapped into a 350º oven until you can pierce it with a knife. Just scoop out flesh and serve! They are so sweet and delicious.

    I didn’t get to cook the one I bought last year, my siberian husky ‘adopted’ it and wouldn’t let anyone near it. LOL

  30. sandra

    Funny you should post this. I recently had a recipe calling for a butternut squash. Because I never really dealt with this type of veggie, I really had no idea how to cut it, if I should peel it or what part was I supposed to eat. Thanks, now I know!

  31. seatea

    I use the microwave exclusively for all squash, unless I have the oven on for something else, in which case I bake the squash, seeds and all.

    I made a butternut last night. It was fairly large. I washed the squash, poked several holes all over with a paring knife, placed it on a plate and microwaved it in my standard microwave for about 15 min.

    I removed it and let it sit for a brief time until I could handle it (oven mitts could be used) ,then sliced it in two, lengthwise and removed the seeds. My squash was not yet completely cooked, although a smaller one may have been by now. Using a large spoon, I removed the flesh from the skin, cut the flesh into large chunks and placed in a covered casserole dish. Back into the microwave for 5 – 10 minutes, until the flesh was evenly cooked and mashable.

    I like this method (or baking) because the squash does not get extra water added from boiling, and it keeps all its flavour. It is also MUCH easier than peeling and chopping. Yummy!! This year the sqash are so sweet they don’t need any sugar or even butter!!

  32. Brenda

    I raise pumpkins and I don’t see why this method can’t be used on pumpkins. Dealing with large pumpkins is hard and dangerous. I like cooking down one large one at a time and freezing the mashed pulp afterwaards in measured portions. This should work great.No more close calls with the knife.

  33. bentley

    I’ve only cooked with butternut squash once — dinner party, lots and lots of peeling — and what I found really worked for cutting through the skin was a large, serrated bread knife. It scored the skin verily easily and the blade didn’t slip.

  34. Liane

    I just got a meat cleaver for Christmas so I think I will tackle that squash that has been sitting in my kitchen for a few weeks. Now to decide which recipe to use…

  35. ter@waaoms

    Do I ever feel like a Dumbo. I did everything more or less the way you did, except the peeler! Now why didn’t I think to try that?! It would be so much better! I’ll have to try and remember that next time I make butternut squash!

  36. Sarah

    My Mother taught me a new way to deal with the tough skin of squash several Thanksgivings back.

    She taught me with a sweet dumpling squash but I’m certain it would work on any squash you’d just have to play with the amount of time for softening the skins.

    All she did was put it in the microwave for a few minutes which would make it so much easier to cut through. I am about to try this with a butternut squash and can report back how long it took for me to get it soft enough to cut. I prefer to do the rest of the cooking of the squash in the oven and use the old fashioned method of using the empty seedbed to hold butter and brown sugar until it’s caramelized YUM!

  37. Candice

    I LOVE butternut squash but what do you do about the funky film it leaves on your hands?! I have tried rubber gloves, but feared for the safety of my fingers. In the past the only thing I found that removed the weird sticky coating from my hands was a pumice stone and generous elbow grease.

    Hmm. I’ve not encountered that film, or if it’s there I haven’t noticed it. ~Elise

  38. Laura

    Thank you so much for this! I’m making Pumpkin soup and got stuck at peeling and dicing the pumpkin!

  39. Denise | Chez Danisse

    It seems so simple, but I’ve always struggled. Now I’m all set. Thanks!

  40. Tammy

    That was very helpful Elise. I was not sure how to even begin to cut it up because it is so thick. Your technique should work really well. Thanks again!

  41. Lisa

    I find that the wet, gooey fibers holding the seeds in the cavity can be tenacious. I have taken to using a grapefruit spoon to scoop out the seeds and fibers, and this quickly results in a clean cavity.

  42. Aaron Boyd

    The instructions were a big help to me — thank you!

  43. Joan Burt

    If you rub pumpkin or squash with oil and roast you can eat the skin. It’s lovely

  44. Jamie

    I’m shocked. Has no one ever tried a cheese grater?

    I find it works excellently! Nice clean and perfect squash. My peeler isn’t good enough to peel all squash.

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