Butternut squash can be a pain to prep. Here's how to master it. 

By Stacey Ballis
August 12, 2019
Photo: Antonis Achilles, Food Styling: Mary Claire Britton and Sarah Epperson; Prop Styling: Prissy Lee

Butternut squash is one of my favorite vegetables. Naturally sweet, it can go anywhere a sweet potato can go, from pastry to savory dishes. It is great roasted, grilled, steamed or baked. For years now, my “famous” Thanksgiving pumpkin soup has been made with a minimum of 50% and sometimes as much as 75% butternut squash, and no one has noticed. And one of my standard salads is this one with butternut squash, pomegranate seeds and peanuts, which is a perfect side dish, or a lunch salad, and beloved by vegetarians and meat-heads alike.

I will admit that I usually rely on the pre-prepped butternut squash from the store for my recipes. This is because butternut squash is sort of a pain in the butt to prep. It has a super sticky sap just under the skin, which can be a bear to remove from your hands. It is a weird shape, like a giant Bosc pear put on a wetsuit. And it is a hard squash, so cutting through it can be really difficult. I’m not telling you not to tackle it, unless you are unconfident or klutzy in the knife skills department, I’m just saying it requires some technique. Here’s how to master it:

Pick your squash

You are looking for a squash with a smooth, tight, taupe colored skin that is without blemishes or soft s. It should feel heavy for its size, and the seeds should not feel like they are rattling around when you shake it, which is a marker of an old squash. If you are going to use within a day or two, you can store at room temp in a cool dark place. Otherwise, toss it in the bottom drawer of your fridge. These squashes start converting their sugar to starch once they are picked, so while you can store them a long time, the fresher they are the sweeter they will be.

Get the recipe: Roasted Butternut with Sage and Thyme

Get your gear

For butternut squash, you will need a sturdy cutting board that does not move around on your counter. To make it secure, take some paper toweling or a dish towel, run it under water and wring it out well so that it is damp but not wet, and place it between the counter and your board to help secure it. I recommend disposable latex gloves if you have them around, since it will protect your hands from the dreaded sap, but still give you good grip and control. As far as tools go, you’ll need a large sharp serrated knife, a large sharp chef’s knife, and a sharp swivel-bladed vegetable peeler. A Y-shaped peeler will work slightly better than a straight one.

Get the recipe: Butternut Squash Spice Cake

Pre-prep the squash