Your Microwave is the Secret to Safely Cutting Winter Squash

Zap your squash for a few minutes to make it easier to cut.

A person cuts open a butternut squash

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Hearty winter squash are a staple of cold weather cooking for a good reason. They’re sweet, tender, and filling, whether in a brothy, satisfying Butternut Squash and Pork Soup with Fish Sauce and Tender Herbs, warmly spiced in a Curried Squash Galette, or simply roasted like in this delicious Roasted Butternut Squash with Curry Leaves. Squash are endlessly versatile and reliably delicious. They can also be difficult to cut, peel, and prep. There’s a simple solution on your kitchen counter: the microwave. Whether you’re working with a petite honeynut, deep green acorn, or the ubiquitous butternut, the safest and easiest way to break down a squash is to start with a spin in the microwave. Let some gentle heat make the tough skin and dense flesh easier to pierce, so you can easily cut through it with a standard chef’s knife. Here’s how to get started:

First, prep the squash

Set the squash on a clean cutting board, and use a paring knife or chef’s knife to score the squash about 1/4 inch deep once around the circumference, resulting in a shallow groove around the entire squash. This groove will make it easier to halve the squash after you microwave it. Then, prick the skin all over the squash with a fork. Piercing the skin will help safely release steam while the squash gently heats in the microwave. Remove the stem if it is still attached. 

Next, microwave it

Set the microwave to the high power setting. Transfer the prepared squash to a baking dish or microwave-safe plate. Microwave a large squash like a butternut or acorn for up to 5 minutes. For smaller squash like Honeynut or kuri, start with three minutes. The squash will be hot to the touch, but not cooked. Allow the squash to rest until it is cool enough to handle.

Cut the squash in half

Carefully transfer the cooled, microwaved squash to a cutting board. Holding the squash safely in place with a kitchen towel, and starting at the stem end, cut the squash lengthwise along the pre-scored line with a sturdy, sharp chef’s knife. Let gravity and the knife’s heft help cut through the dense flesh.

Scoop out the seeds

Using a large spoon, remove any stringy flesh and seeds from each half; discard the stringy flesh, and reserve the seeds for making Spicy Squash Seed Sprinkle or Rosemary-Brown Sugar Pumpkin Seeds. Peel the squash and further chop or slice it as needed for your recipe. 

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