How to peel and cut butternut squash without losing a finger

This quick and easy kitchen hack will save your digits

Published October 11, 2021 5:00PM (EDT)

 (Julia Gartland / Food52)
(Julia Gartland / Food52)

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Even if it's not the dead of winter, I'm still cooking with tons of butternut squash year-round.

From butternut squash soup to cheesy Instant Pot butternut squash Alfredo to caramelized butternut squash wedges, I'll keep this bright orange, cold-weather staple in rotation for weeks on end — and probably until below-freezing temperatures and the Polar Vortex feel like a dark and distant dream.

But even the most reliably delicious of ingredients has its flaws, and butternut squash, in particular, has a big one: peeling winter squash is beyond difficult — not to mention, frustrating. After one too many close encounters between my thumb and a knife, I decided to do a bit of YouTube detective work (I've acquired most of my life skills this way) in hopes of finding a better, safer way to peel and cut butternut squash.

In the process, I stumbled upon a video tutorial showcasing a butternut squash-peeling method that claimed to be the fastest and the easiest, thanks to an ultra-simple trick: using the microwave.

Now, if you're more experienced and adept in the kitchen than I am, there's a solid chance you already consider this "hack" old news. But if, like me, you find this method to be a revelation, here's a step-by-step tutorial. For cutting a butternut, as well as peeling it, be sure to use a sharp, sturdy chef's knife or a cleaver. While a sharp knife may seem more likely to injure the home cook as opposed to a dull knife, it's actually the opposite. Its sharp blade will cut through the flesh of the squash — or any hearty root vegetable — much easier than a dull knife. Using dull knives means you have to use more force, increasing the danger of a slip that could lead to bloody fingers. Pay close attention to the following steps to learn how to cut a butternut squash safely:

  1. Behold your beautiful butternut squash, in all its winter glory.
  2. Furiously poke holes all over the squash with a fork.
  3. Using the same sharp knife that almost cost you a finger, carefully cut off the top and bottom of the squash on a cutting board.
  4. Microwave the squash for at least 3 minutes and 30 seconds (you might need to go a little longer, depending on the size, but that should do the trick).
  5. Let the squash cool to the point where it doesn't hurt to hold it, then peel away the skin and scoop out the seeds with ease! (In the video, she uses a paring knife or a sharp vegetable peeler, but I've found you can also use your hands). Once you've peeled the skin, you can prepare roasted butternut squash, purée it for soup, or smash it for mashed squash.

And with just a few minutes in the microwave, butternut squash — which I both loved and feared all at once — becomes just like any other easily roast-able, toast-able, puree-able, Instant Pot-able ingredient. Plus, this trick actually cuts down on time in the oven slightly. This little bit of magic leaves you with nothing to worry about except what you're going to do with it. (Hint: There are many, many options.) Jump to a handful of our favorite butternut squash recipes below.


Roasted butternut squash recipes

Dan Kluger's Roasted Butternut Squash with Spicy Onions

Once you have pre-steamed, peeled, anad cut the squash into thick slices, toss it with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast it with hazelnuts. Once it has roasted and becomes caramelized, mix it with an assortment of herbs (fresh parsley, mint, and marjoram) and spicy onions for a colorful side dish.

Orecchiette with Roasted Butternut Squash, Kale, and Caramelized Red Onion

Dress up this pasta, which has a name that translates to "little ears," with roasted butternut squash, sautéed kale, and caramelized onions. Frankly, it's all we want to eat from September through November.

Squash with Chile Yogurt and Cilantro Sauce from Yotam Ottolenghi

Microwaving butternut squash will soften the flesh, making it easier to cut and peel. But in this recipe, there's no need to peel the squash. Our editorial team agrees that "the contrast between crispy skin and the soft squash interior cements this technique as a keeper."

Caramelized Butternut Squash Wedges with a Sage Hazelnut Pesto

Pesto isn't just reserved for pasta dishes and sandwich spreads. This earthy, autumnal version is also a fragrant accompaniment to roasted butternut squash, the side dish recipe for Thanksgivingand other fall harvest spreads.

Winter Noodle Soup with Coffee-Roasted Squash

"Roasting the squash in a bed of spent coffee grounds doesn't make the squash taste like coffee, rather it heightens the squash's own flavor," writes recipe developer Lindsay Jean-Hard. You'll have to taste it to believe it.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Toasted Farro Salad with Curried Brown Butter

Salads don't have to be boring, and neither do sides of roasted root vegetables. They go so beyond salt, pepper, and olive oil, or a classic vinaigrette dressing. This two-in-one recipe is hearty enough to be the main course, or a crowd-ready side dish that's ready for a big ole holiday feast.

By Erin Alexander

MORE FROM Erin Alexander

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