My friend, Eric, messaged me this week asking how to cook pumpkin for pumpkin pie, so I decided to put together a quick guide for everyone tackling pumpkin cooking for the first time. Sure, it's easy to pop open a can of pumpkin from the store, but cooking pumpkin is also pretty darn easy. Like most fruits and veggies, fresh tastes better! We'll cover how to cook pumpkin in the oven, on the stove and in the microwave. Pumpkin and most other winter squash can be used interchangeably in recipes, so the techniques covered here work for both.
How to Cook Pumpkin or Winter Squash to Bring Out the Best Flavor
Many of us are cutting back on added sugar, so here are a couple tips to bring out out the natural sweetness when cooking your pumpkin:
- Use winter squash instead of pumpkin. Yes, I know this sounds like cheating, but most of them are the same species, just different varieties. (More on that here.) As, you can see in the video below, winter squash typically has darker, denser, sweeter flesh. Pie pumpkins are a little better than jack o' lantern pumpkins, but still not as good as squash. I reserve the giant jack o' lanterns pumpkins for livestock feed.
- Bake or roast the pumpkin instead of boiling. The only reason I'd cook a pumpkin on the stove top was if I didn't have an oven. Boiling tends to make the flesh more bland and watery.
- If you have watery pumpkin, line a colander with a flour sack towel or cheesecloth and drain the pumpkin puree for a few hours or overnight. This will get rid of excess liquid and concentrate the flavor of the pumpkin. You can drink the pumpkin water, compost it, or feed it to pets or livestock.
How to Cook Pumpkin in the Oven
Baking pumpkin or squash in the oven in the option is the option I use most often. It's easy.
All you have to do is:
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds and strings.
- Place pumpkin halves cut side down in roasting pan and add about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) of water.
- Place pan in pre-heated oven and bake for about 45 minutes to one hour, until you can easily pierce the flesh with a fork.
- Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle. Scrape pumpkin out of skin and mash or puree for use in recipes.
Andrea Chesman notes in “The Garden Fresh Vegetable Cookbook“:
“Most recipes call for cutting winter squash into pieces. Some winter squash, like blue Hubbard, require a heavy cleaver (or ax) to do the job, while others, such as delicata, have skins that are easily cut or even edible. Butternut can be peeled with a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler. For a very hard squash, the best thing to do is drop it on a concrete floor or paved driveway. Another way is in the microwave. Place the whole squash in the microwave and cook on high for 2 minutes. Allow the squash to stand for several minutes, then cut in half for further cooking. After cutting the squash, remove the fibers and seeds.”
Can you put a whole pumpkin in the oven?
Yes, you can cook pumpkin whole – just cook it a little longer. I'd rather remove the pumpkin guts in the beginning than fish them out of mushy cooked pumpkin at the end of baking, but to each their own.
How to Cook Pumpkin on the Stove
If you don't have access to an oven, you can cook pumpkin on the stove top.
- Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds and strings.
- Cut pumpkin into chunks and peel.
- Place pumpkin chunks in a large saucepan or stockpot and fill with enough water to cover bottom of pan/pot.
- Cook pumpkin on low for about 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft. You may also mash the pumpkin right in the pan and cook off excess moisture.
- Strain to drain off excess liquid if needed, cool and puree.
How to Cook Pumpkin in the Microwave
I'm not much of a microwave cooker myself, but I know some folks use them for everything. The drill for microwaving pumpkin is similar to other cooking methods.
- Cut pumpkin in half and clean out the pumpkin guts.
- Place cut pumpkin in a microwave safe cooking dish with about an inch of water in the bottom.
- Cover and cook pumpkin in microwave on high for 15 minutes. Test tenderness. Microwave in 5 minute intervals until pumpkin tests done.
- Remove from oven, cool, scoop out flesh and puree.
Making Puree for Pumpkin Pie with Your Cooked Pumpkin
I usually scoop the cooked pumpkin into the food processor and puree until well blended. You can also use a blender, a stick blender or even a potato masher. Finished pumkin puree should be smooth and creamy. Sometimes winter squash is so dry that it doesn't get creamy, and you to add a little bit of water. Another option is to mix half pumpkin and half squash.
How Much Puree Does One Cooked Pumpkin Make?
1 pie pumpkin (around 6 pounds) = 2 cups cooked and strained puree
A similar size winter squash will typically yield a little more puree. Pumpkin (squash) puree freezes well. I like to cook up a big squash (or several smaller ones), puree them all, and freeze the puree in portion sizes for the recipes that I use most. You can also store puree in the refrigerator for about a week.
Some of our favorite pumpkin recipes include:
For tips on using the seeds, see Pepitas vs Pumpkin Seeds – Plus How to Use and Grow Pepitas.
Thanks for stopping in, and I hope you find these recipes and kitchen tips helpful. Have any questions or pumpkin cooking tips? Just leave a comment below.
Originally posted in 2017, updated in 2018.