All About Butternut Squash – How to Peel, Seed and Prep

With the fall season here, winter squash varieties line the produce shelves. Winter squash are different from summer squash (like zucchini and yellow crookneck)—the skin is hard and inedible, while the inside is firm and flavorful. Winter squash are allowed to mature on the vine, then stored for use in winter. Because of their tough outer shell they keep well for long periods of time. There are some squash that qualify as both summer and winter; when harvested early, they are summer squash, but if left to mature on the vine they develop a hard outer shell and become winter squash.

Butternut squash is one of my favorite winter squash varieties. It belongs to a species known as C. moschata., a group of squash that also includes the Winter Crookneck, the Cushawsome, and some varieties of pumpkin. Butternut squash, like all squash, has ancestry in North America. Archaeological evidence suggests that squash may have first been cultivated on the isthmus between North America and South America (known as Mesoamerica) around 10,000 years ago. Squash was one of the three main crops planted by Native Americans, known as the “Three Sisters”– maize (corn), beans, and squash. Winter squash was prized by the Native Americans and early American settlers for its long shelf life. The most popular and widely available butternut squash is the Waltham Butternut, which was originally cultivated in Massachusetts.

Butternut squash is very nutritious. The flesh is full of vitamins A and C, and it has a naturally sweet flavor that really emerges when roasted. The seeds are packed with protein and heart-healthy fats. It’s a delicious seasonal squash that can be cooked in a variety of ways– baked or roasted, in a puree, in soups or stews, and as a sweet addition to other hearty winter dishes.

Preparing a hard-shelled butternut squash can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve given you a step-by-step tutorial below that will teach you everything you need to know. Doing the prep work yourself will save you a lot of money compared to buying the pre-peeled and diced variety, which can run you upwards of $5.99/lb at my local grocery store. Compare that to $1.49/lb for the whole squash variety, and you’ve got a very significant savings—the pre-cubed costs over four times more! Seems kinds of crazy, when you consider that peeling and dicing a whole squash should only take you around 10-15 minutes.

I’ve also shared instructions for roasting butternut squash seeds. They’re smaller and more tender than pumpkin seeds, and are every bit as delicious when roasted (in fact, I like them even better than pumpkin seeds!). When I was roasting pumpkin seeds last year, I learned a tip from Elise Bauer at Simply Recipes—boil the seeds for ten minutes in salted water before roasting. This extra step really helps the shells toast up crisp, and it also makes the seeds more digestible. I’ve used the tip when toasting butternut squash seeds, and it works the same way. Thanks Elise!

You will need a sturdy kitchen knife to slice through a tough butternut squash. To check out the knife I use and recommend, click here. A strong, sturdy chef’s knife is a wise investment in your kitchen! You will also need a sharp, serrated peeler or paring knife; you can check out my recommendations for a serrated peeler here and a paring knife here.

From choosing to peeling to slicing to seeding to roasting, by the end of this tutorial you’ll be a butternut squash pro!

Butternut Squash Recipe Ideas

Maple Butternut Squash Puree

Roasted Butternut Squash Gratin

Maple Cinnamon Roasted Butternut Squash

Roasted Butternut Squash with Sage and Pine Nuts

Vegan Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash: How to Peel, Seed, Slice and Prepare

You will need

  • Whole butternut squash
  • A sturdy chef’s knife, cutting board, rubber mallet (optional, if needed), baking sheet

You may also need

  • Olive oil, salt, pepper, minced garlic, seasonings of your choice
Servings: Varies
Kosher Key: Pareve or Dairy, depending on preparation

How to Choose Butternut Squash

  • Butternut squash is seasonal. In the U.S., the best time to buy ripe local squash is September through October. It may be available at other times throughout the year as an import. Look for butternut squash with a solid beige color, without any deep cuts or bruises. A little surface scratching is normal. Choose squash that feels heavy for its size. Avoid squash with brown patches or punctures, which can introduce bacteria and mold. Butternut squash will keep in a cool, dark part of your kitchen for several weeks-- it does not need to be refrigerated.

How Much Butternut Squash Should I Buy?

  • Mature butternut squash comes in sizes ranging from 1 to 5 lbs. The average butternut squash will be around 2 to 3 lbs. After peeling and seeding, your squash will lose 2-3 oz of weight. For example, a 3 lb squash will yield about 2 lbs 13 oz of flesh. This is helpful to know for recipes that call for a certain amount of diced, peeled squash—if your recipe calls for 2 lbs of diced squash, you’ll want to look for a squash that is around 2 lbs, 3 oz in weight.

How to Peel and Seed Butternut Squash

  • Note: If your hands are not very strong, or you don’t have a sharp paring knife or serrated peeler, you can microwave the squash before you begin peeling to make the process easier. Pierce the squash a few times with a fork, then microwave for 2 minutes. This will soften the skin connection and make the peeling go faster.
  • Slice off the stem and bottom ends of the squash, so that both ends are flat.
  • Slice the squash in half, just where the thinner end begins to widen around the middle.
  • Turn each half so that a flat end rests against the cutting board. Use a sharp serrated peeler or paring knife to peel off the skin in downward strokes.
  • You will notice light green lines emerging beneath the skin as you peel. You want to make sure to peel all of those green lines away from the squash—they can be tough and fibrous. The squash isn’t completely peeled till all of those green lines have disappeared and the orange flesh remains.
  • Once both halves of the squash are peeled, slice the fatter half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a metal spoon. Reserve those seeds… they are absolutely delicious when roasted! (instructions below)
  • Now you have three sections of peeled squash, which you can slice or dice depending on your preference.
  • I usually dice the squash into 1-inch cubes, which helps it to cook faster and more evenly.

How to Roast Butternut Squash, Skin On

  • There are two ways to roast butternut squash—skin on, and skin off. It’s easiest to roast skin on, that way you don’t need to deal with peeling. This method words best if you are planning to make a butternut squash puree, or you simply want to scoop out the cooked flesh and you’re not worried about the presentation.
  • To roast skin on, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice off the stem and bottom ends of the squash so that both ends are flat.
  • Set the squash on a cutting board with the widest cut end flat against the board. Use a heavy chef’s knife to cut the squash from top to bottom, slicing it in half vertically. This may be difficult depending on how strong or sharp your knife is, or how big and thick your squash is. Take your time. If you encounter some resistance, you can tap downward on either end of your knife blade with a rubber mallet to slowly move it along. If you've pre-microwaved your squash, the slicing should be easier.
  • Once you’ve sliced the squash in half, scoop out the seeds with a metal spoon. Reserve them for roasting, if desired.
  • Brush the cut surfaces of the squash with olive oil.
  • Place the squash halves cut side down onto a baking sheet.
  • Roast the squash for about 1 hour, turning the sheet once halfway through cooking. Start checking for doneness around 45 minutes—smaller squash will cook faster. It will take a full hour or longer to cook a 3 pound squash.
  • The squash is done when the flesh is tender all the way through to the skin. The outer beige skin will be slightly blistered and browned. The inner flesh will be dark orange, soft, and caramelized around the edges.

How to Roast Peeled Butternut Squash

  • The easiest way to roast squash that has already been peeled is to dice it into 1-inch cubes. The smaller size will help the squash to roast more evenly.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the cubes into a large mixing bowl and toss with 1-2 tbsp olive oil (I use about 2 tbsp for a 3 lb. squash). You can also toss it with minced garlic, if you’d like.
  • Spread the squash out evenly across 1 or 2 baking sheets. I often line the sheets with foil for easier cleanup. The squash has natural sugar in it, which can make for a sticky cleanup. Foil makes the cleanup a breeze. Sprinkle the squash with salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you like.
  • Roast the squash for 30-40 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking, till the largest pieces of squash are fork tender.

How to Roast Butternut Squash Seeds

  • A 3 lb squash will produce about 1/3 cup of cleaned seeds.
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place seeds and pulp into a mixing bowl.
  • Cover the seeds with water. Use your fingers to separate seeds from the fibrous butternut squash threads. It is easiest to do this underwater.
  • Drain the seeds in a colander. Pick through the seeds and discard the loose orange squash threads.
  • Bring 1 quart of water and 1 tsp of salt to a boil. Add the seeds (up to 2 cups of seeds per quart of water) and boil for 10 minutes.
  • Drain the seeds in a colander and pat dry with a paper towel or towel. A few seeds will stick to the towel as you dry, just use your fingers to brush them back into the colander. Pour the seeds into a mixing bowl and toss them with a little olive oil or melted butter. I use about 1 tsp of olive oil or 2 tsp of melted butter per 1 cup of seeds.
  • Spread the seeds out in a single layer onto a baking sheet. Season with salt and any other seasonings you like. Smoked paprika, cinnamon-sugar, nutmeg, chili powder, or cayenne (spicy!) will all work well. I prefer my seeds simple, with a generous sprinkling of salt.
  • Toast the seeds in the oven for about 20 minutes, watching carefully to make sure they don’t burn. They won’t change color much (if they turn too brown they’ll be over-done), so the best way to check for doneness is to taste them. I’ve found that once I hear a few seeds “pop” like popcorn in the oven, that’s the perfect time to take them out. Don’t let them stay in much longer after that first “pop,” or you risk burning them.
  • The seeds should end up crispy and delicious, with a flavor similar to fresh popcorn. Delish!

Comments (95)Post a Comment

    1. Terry, I was thinking the exact same thing. I would like to see two different recipes on how to use it as well. I had Speg Squash at someones house for dinner but their recipe was a SECRET family recipe.

    2. I love this recipe for Spaghetti Squash:
      poke the squash several times and microwave about 10 min on high.
      remove, cool, scoop out seeds
      scoop out the good spaghetti like squash and put into a bowl
      add:
      dill weed, pepper butter or olive oil, garlic and onion powder
      put on a cookie sheet or in a casserole dish then put mozzarella cheese on top. Bake @350 until the cheese is melted. My family loves dill so I use a lot. We do not use salt, so if you like things with some salt you may want to add that.
      It is a nice side dish with chicken.

  1. Hi Tori, it’s butternut squash season again, isn’t it! Thanks for the shout out on the toasted seeds. It’s one of my favorite snacks of fall. Now if only the weather would get a move on it and cool down a bit.

    1. Your tip about boiling the seeds is genius, Elise. It makes a big difference. And yes, I am so ready for the chill of autumn… it was over 100 degrees here this weekend. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. PLEASE can you recommend a good knife that isn’t 140.00! I bought the paring and peeler but cannot spend that kind of money on a knife.

    1. Hi Martha! I totally understand where you’re coming from, I know it’s a lot to spend on a knife. At one time, it was difficult for me to imagine spending that much on a knife, too! A good chef’s knife is worth its weight in gold– it’s an investment and it will last you a lifetime if you take proper care of it (regular honing every week or two, and sharpening once every couple of years). That said, I do have another recommendation that is much more affordable and also great quality, try this Victorinox from Swiss Army: link to theshiksa.com Check out the reviews on Amazon, I think you’ll find it’s a great choice for your needs.

  3. Done and done. Look forward to my three new cooking implements. Also look forward to cooking a lot of butternut squash recipes. My daughter and I LOVE making dishes for our families, particularly soup. Bought pumpkins at a farm today to do some new pumpkin recipes. Love your website(s), recipes, with all the details and pictures.

  4. The Butternut is the best, it is so smooth and when made into a soup with apples, it is totally a joy to eat. Love your ideas.

  5. I really love all your “how to” ,very helpful, with the help of your pictures I did for the first time the round challa for rosh ha shanna :)

  6. Hi Tori

    I sooo enjoy your blog and how you celebrate your passion with food through it…great!! Thank you.
    I love butternut squash and roast it (unpeeled) in thick 1cm slices in a little bit of good quality olive oil..it is so delicious both hot and cold. No need to season because it gets lovely and caramelized as it cooks, which adds to the flavour. Best to buy organic if not peeling. Shana Tova and Hag Samauch.

  7. thanks for the thorough butternut squash lesson. looking forward to cool weather (in l.a.) when a 400 degree oven will be welcome, especially with that gorgeous squash.

  8. Hi…i just discovered your website looking for a Jewish mushroom barley soup recipe and found your SUPER HELPFUL BUTTERNUT SQUASH info…i microwaved the whole squash with some fork pokes like you said to do, and it was so great how easily the squash cut and peeled after that short time in the microwave…thank you so much for your HOW-TO ON THE BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND THE BEAUTIFUL PICTURES AND DETAILED INFO ON HOW TO PREPARE…AMAZING!!! :) Jerilyn

  9. Question; if you put the squash in the microwave to aid with peeling, does this cook the flesh also, or just loosen the skin? And how long after microwaving and peeling does this keep? I am making roasted butternut for the holiday and I am going to have to slice it all up tomorrow since i won’t be home at all on wednesday and thursday morning i won’t have time or space to work in the kitchen with the squash.
    Thanks!

  10. Is there any reason one could not roast a butternut squash with the seeds still inside? It has saved me a whole bunch of time peeling etc but wonder if I have somehow compromised the flavor by leaving the seeds in.

    1. I bake it with the seeds in. So much easier to get them out after it’s cooked and I think it keeps the inside more moist while it’s cooking. I still roast the seeds after.

  11. I just wrestled my first butternut squash. I found your instructions after I nearly destroyed my kitchen…I will definitely do it this much easier way next time! I LOVE your blog! Trying out your falafel recipe and Moroccan Chicken asap!

  12. I followed step by step on ya instructions and got it all right.
    Not being a fun of microwave i steam cook the traditional way
    then poured some olive oil and vouala! Thanks!

    1. It means you’re lucky to have the extra meat! LOL seriously though, you may have sliced through and missed the seed pocket– it is sometimes small and can be missed if the squash is not sliced right down the center. Try poking around a bit to see if perhaps you missed it. Otherwise enjoy the extra squash!

  13. This is a meaningful lecture i have been looking for. I have some waiting and i am right on my way to bake butternuts. Many thanks.

  14. For years I have grown and used butternuts to make “sweet potatoe” caseroles. My easy method is to simply place the whole butternuts on aluminum foil and bake until soft, split lengthwise and remove the pulp and seeds. No sharp knife necessary.

    1. I tried roasting butternuts last year without cutting, peeling and seeding and loved the finished product. So much easier! Scoop out the seeds, then scoop out the meat all the way up to the skin and leave the green fibrous part alone. I have always used a grapefruit spoon to scrape out the seed from any vegetable – squash, pumpkin, cukes, melon – the serrated edges are perfect because they “grab” the stringy flesh that holds the seeds.

  15. I have made lots of “Pumpkin” Pies out of Butternut squash. We actually liked them better. The texture and taste was wonderful.

    Thanks for the info on how and when to harvest. This is my first time to grow them.

    1. Hi Christina– if it were me I would peel, seed, and chop into 1-inch chunks, then place in a freezer bag and freeze. Butternut squash chunks can be used in a variety of recipes– soups, stews, etc.– or cooked and made into a puree for pies, etc.

  16. For those of you who are not able to buy the high dollar knives… Don’t panic. I bought a big chefs knife at GoodWill about 15 years ago for $2.00…. Turns out it was one of the High Dollar knives… Still using it today. My Mom had an old steel knife that had to be sharpened about every third time she used it. She was a fabulous cook. Also…. I refuse to pay big dollars for a “NAME”. My suggestion is… Buy the best knife you can afford and have a marvelously good time in your kitchen.

  17. I just started a bland diet due to gallbladder problems and I can only eat baked, boiled food, tonight I wanted to try for the first time butternut squash and all your tips by step by step are so helpful, know I’m so confident that I’ll keep the seeds for later.

  18. I found your how-to on peeling and de-seeding a butternut squash, and may I compliment you on the clear photos and concise instructions? I was able to prep my squash easily! I then went on to the seeds, which are now in the oven smelling heavenly – just the thing to garnish my Butternut Squash Tomato Soup – if I can keep from snacking them all up lol.

  19. Thank you for the clear instructions. I was staring at this big squash trying to figure out how the heck to peel it . . . your article was very informative. I’m making a pasta tonight with roasted squash, golden potatoes, red onions and sauteed tomatoes, garlic and basil over whole grain brown rice spaghetti . Even though fall brings a ton of rain to us in Seattle, it also brings great cooking opportunities! Roasted veggies are my fav!

  20. Great tutorial! However, 2 questions:
    1. My recipe calls for me to ‘scoop out the flesh of the RAW squash…..virtually impossible without damaging the skin! Do you have any techniques for that? I was wondering about doing the microwave for a couple of minutes beforehand…but would that cook the flesh?
    2. Do you have any ideas how many calories the roasted seeds have?

    1. Hi Trish! Rather than “scooping out” the raw flesh (which isn’t really possible, and would be a dangerous process if you’re using a sharp knife), I would peel the squash and seed it instead using the instructions above. Basically you need to separate the flesh from the skin; using the peeling techniques I described above will get you the same result as “scooping” out the flesh. I do not know how many calories the roasted seeds have, but there are many nutritional calculators online that might have the info. Glad you enjoyed the tutorial!

  21. Sorry, Tori – I didn’t make it clear that the recipe is for stuffed butternut squash – hence needing to keep the skin whole!! Seems like it is a recipe that is too dangerous to follow (although my rather unsuccessful ‘scooping’ did result in a yummy dinner!) :(

    1. Ahh! Sorry Trish, I misunderstood. In that case, if you are only scraping out a part of the flesh, try using a melon baller or a vegetable corer tool. it will probably be the easiest way to do this. Good luck! And glad the recipe was tasty :)

  22. Hi, Tori: Quick question – can the cubed squash also be boiled and then mashed as you would turnip, etc.? If so, would it appropriate to add butter … and perhaps brown sugar?

  23. Thanks, Tori … that purée looks delicious, and anything with maple syrup is a hit with me. Every year I help a friend make maple syrup; this past March we produced about 175 litres. If you were closer I’d drop one off to you!! Thanks again … regards … Bob

  24. This is a fabulous post. I went looking for a post on roasting butternut squash seeds and I am thrilled to have randomly clicked this link first. Thanks for being so thorough and helpful!

  25. Hi, Tori,
    Was wondering if same method for squash seeds will work for pumpkin seeds? I always try to roast pumpkin seeds, but they are never edible because of the fibrousness. Thanks for the great tutorial, btw. And the roasted squash recipe on the other page. Love the Shiksa!

  26. this works! just the way i cooked it couple weeks ago, so looks like there’s not too much new with butternut prep. I scooped out the pulp, added about 1/4 cup butter, 1 tblsp. brown sugar. Oh so good, it needs no improvement. is only $1.29 each at our economy grocery Aldi’s!

  27. I was working on a butternut squash today (I was having issues and got the knife stuck in it lol) and my hubby came up behind me, grabbed a serrated knife and VOILA… it cut like butter. Just a hint I discovered for those of us with not-so-adequate knives at our disposal :)

    1. I’m just wondering if it cut easier for him because he’s a dude? (My nickname is Max, shorter than Maxine lol.)

      I just wanted to point out something about knives, though. Especially when preparing the harder vegetables such as squashes and root vegetables, it’s very important to make sure your knife is as sharp as it can be. Cutting with a dull knife is very dangerous. You tend to use more or too much force which can cause the knife or your grip to slip, and even a dull knife can cut human skin.

      Also it’s very important to not use a thin knife. I have a set of knives that are serrated and very sharp, but their blades are so thin, that the only thing I can cut with them are tomatoes. Even cutting an onion, the blade skewed to one side and it startled me. Maybe they’ll make good steak knives o.O

  28. I cut finished cutting it and also cut a spaghetti squash later with it and it did work better for me, so I’m not sure. They are both kitchen aid knives that came in my knife block. So, I think it really was the knife. Normally I put the knife in the squash then slam it on the counter and the squash breaks in two. It didn’t work so well this time.

  29. Awesome!!! Thanks so much! I love using butternut squash but I battle peeling it every time…and I always feel wasteful tossing out the seeds.

  30. Thanks for the great post!

    I still had a hard time peeling the squash. I was using a regular peeler, and had to push so hard on the squash that I kept hitting my hand on the cutting board and it hurt. :( I tried hanging the squash over the edge of the sink about an inch – and that worked like a champ!

    1. Hi Gail, in my experience vegetables that have been frozen do not roast very well. They tend to turn mushy and do not roast nicely with golden brown edges, etc. Feel free to freeze the squash, but it may not roast as nicely as you would like it to after defrosting– steaming or boiling might be preferable. Good luck!

  31. Just prepared the seeds and squash as you had showed in the tutorial. It was very easy. I found that even my sharp knife needed to be sharpened before, and again during to get the great results. As knives get older, they need to be sharpened. Some sharpeners are better than others, so if the result is not a sharp knife after using a sharpening tool. Reap the steps to sharpen it over and over until it is sharp. There used to be places to have your knives sharpened. Are there still?

    1. Hi Gail– yes! There are still knife sharpeners. Google your local area to see if anything comes up. Sur La Table (if you have one nearby) sometimes offers free knife sharpening, call their knife department to see if they have anything scheduled. I agree it’s very important to have a sharp knife for this kind of thing!

  32. Thank you for this instructional. I have had many near misses in the kitchen trying to get at butternut squash. On a good day, it would normally take me an hour to peel and prepare. Your simple, sane instructions will help lessen that time dramatically.

  33. I just got finished with cutting up a butternut squash and decided to try something different not having much hand strength used an electric knife to cut it with had to put pressure with my hand on the blades be careful.

  34. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I could never have peeled my butternut squash without your help. I started by cutting the stem off and had so much trouble with it that I just KNEW there had to be a better way. A simple google search brought me to your site and lo and behold! — the better way. Since I don’t really have the proper equipment or very much hand strength, the microwave tip was a Godsend. The details and pictures you give are also extremely helpful. Most sites don’t do this, so please keep it up. I will definitely invest in some good kitchen equipment for my future forays into fall squash deliciousness. Thanks again!

  35. Am I the only one who eats the skin (all that good fiber!) I discovered along with my mom, that when you boil the squash with skin on, once cooked, the skin is soft and edible! So instead of roasting the squash first before putting in a soup, I just cube the squash skin on, boil it in the soup, and voila. No skinning needed. Way easier and nutritious too…

    1. Hi Justine, this is true for many soups and stews that cook long enough to soften the skin. It won’t work, however, for roasting and applications where the squash is more quickly cooked.

  36. I have the squash but do not want to use it until several days later. Can I prepare it for cooking (I am using cubes) and store it in my fridge, and if so, for how long? I do not want to freeze it.

    1. Hi Barbara, you should be able to refrigerate your squash cubes in an airtight container for 2-3 days without any problem. Don’t add anything to the cubes ahead of time (when you say “prepare” I’m not sure how much preparation you’re talking about). You can peel and slice the, but any additional preparation should be done just before you cook them.

  37. Thank-you so much for all of this cooking information on butternut squash! I followed your baking recipe and also baked the seeds – everything was incredible!!! Thanks again :)

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