How to Choose the Right Pumpkin for the Job

From Cinderella to sugar to just plain gigantic.

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Pumpkin spice season seems to start in the middle of the dog days of summer in recent years, so in the spirit of the ever-earlier infusion of that fall flavors into our diets, it's never too early to reacquaint ourselves with pumpkins. Whether you traditionally opt to gorge on this gourd in sweet or savory dishes, we've put together this primer on when and how to use each of the common (and expanding number of) pumpkin varieties you're likely to come across at your local supermarket, whether your goal is Sweet Treats, Slicing & Dicing, or Spooking & (Table)'Scaping.

From sugar to Cinderella to just plain gigantic, here's a guide to choosing the right pumpkin for the job.

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Jack-O-Lantern and Field Pumpkins

Good for: Spooking & 'Scaping

These common carving pumpkins tend to have a tough outer skin and very stringy, watery, and tough flesh. While they may take over the produce aisle (and usually entire front of the supermarket) in the fall, they really are best for decorative purposes. But don't count them out for the snack table—you can always roast the seeds or turn one into a keg!

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Sugar and Pie Pumpkins

Good for: Sweet Treats

These little-r gourds have a sweet and creamy flesh, plus the sugar content you'd want in a delicious pie or other desserts.

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Cinderella & Fairytale Pumpkins

Good for: Sweet Treats, Slicing & Dicing

While these pumpkins look straight out of a Disney movie (and do make fantastic decorations), you're going to want to turn to these plump and squat varieties for sweet and savory applications alike, as their brightly-colored red-orange flesh has a high water content and creamy texture perfect for pies, custards, and curries. The thick skin can be tricky to cut into, but it's worth it!

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Cheese Pumpkins

Good for: Slicing & Dicing

Also short and squat, Long Island Cheese or Musee de Provence pumpkins contain dense, sweet flesh with a savory and earthy finish.

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White Pie Pumpkins

Good for: Sweet Treats

As their name suggests, these spookily-pale pumpkins are ideal for baking. If you've never cut into one but have always been curious, despite their skin color they actually contain orange flesh.

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Japanese Pumpkins / Kabocha

Good for: Slicing & Dicing

The firm flesh inside these green and yellow squash stay firm when cooked, offering a flavor that balances sweet, nutty, and savory. That's why you often see them popping up in curries and tempuras.

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Red Kuri Pumpkins

Good for: Sweet Treats, Slicing & Dicing

These reddish-orange squash sure look pumpkin-y enough to sneak into the patch. The flesh is lightly sweet, tender and creamy, and some people even liken the flavor to chestnuts. They're great for both sweet and savory applications (like soups), or roast it halved lengthwise (just scoop out seeds), and eat the whole thing (yes, their super smooth and thin skin is edible!).

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Miniature Pumpkins

Good for: Spooking & 'Scaping

Their extremely tough skin and little bang for your buck in actual innards make these a much better (and extremely adorable) fit for decoration.

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Giant Pumpkins

Good for: Spooking & 'Scaping

If you happen to see one of these massive C. maxima variety pumpkins, they're certainly an impressive addition to any fall tableau, but you're probably best turning it into a boat before you try to bake with it.

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