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. I had hoped to get through life without having to peel, seed, and chop a butternut squash, but alas, Trader Joe’s was out of their pre-chopped bags today. Thank you so much for your excellent instructions and photos! But here’s another question, my hand that held all the squash pieces is now covered in a dry film that won’t wash off, even after scrubbing with a sponge, using hand soap, dishwashing soap, even tried some olive oil. What’s going on?

    1. Hi Caroline– from time to time when prepping butternut squash (and other types of squash as well) you’ll encounter an internal “sap” that creates a film on your skin. It’s not harmful, but it is a bit of a nuisance. Some people have more of a reaction to it than others, hopefully it is not irritating your skin. It will eventually wear off. To speed the process, some people recommend rubbing with lemon juice then scrubbing with your fingernails under warm water. Others recommend putting coconut oil on your hands at night before you go to sleep, it seems to soften the film overnight which makes it easier to scrub off the next morning. I’ve personally never had this issue but I have read a bit about it. Hope this helps!

  2. Great tutorial!! I appreciate that you were so thorough in listing how to cook peeled, unpeeled, and the seeds. Just what I needed :)

  3. Thank you I needed a little help on cooking butter nut squash and would like to grow dome in my garden next year. Thank you PM

  4. Thank you for the clear instructions in your tutorial on peeling butternut squash. I have enjoyed a delicious butternut squash soup, for which I received the recipe. Now I am ready to prepare it with your help regarding peeling.
    Roasting the seeds sounds good, too. I think I’ll give it a try.

  5. Thanks for the helpful tutorial. Great on the seeds- can you also do acorn squash seeds as well [do you know]? I am going to go out on a limb with the squash and slice it with a mandoline. Going to use it as a layer in a ‘vegetable lasagna I am making up in my head. I hope it turns out well.

  6. Thanks for very thorough instructions. I find that the butternut skin is much softer than other winter pumpkins, and when roasting I usually leave them unpeeled and eat them skin and all. Do you know if the skin might contain something harmful (ev pesticides apart)?

    1. Hi Marge- to freeze raw chunks, place the pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze the baking sheet. When the squash pieces are frozen transfer them to a freezer bag or container, loosely packed to allow for expansion. Cooked butternut chunks do not freeze well, as they get mushy, however you can puree the cooked chunks and freeze the puree. Hope that helps!

  7. Can someone tell me why there were no seeds in our butternut which was grown from seeds of a previous home grown butternut? It had a soft green and yellow shape about an inch long where the seeds would normally be.

  8. Hi. Thanks for the article… I just came across this whilst munching my toasted Butternut Squash seeds! I say toasted rather than roasted as I just threw them into a dry non-stick pan and let them toast on their own over a medium heat. Was good to read about the ‘popping’.. mine did that.. I just shook the pan a bit until the next one did it.
    I peeled and boiled the top half of the squash to make it into soup but I left the bottom half whole, stuffed it with sage and onion stuffing, topped with cheese and roasted it. It was delicious… and I ate the skin with it.. so I’m happy to read that it’s ok to do that! *phew*

  9. I found your tutorial extremely interesting and practical.
    For about forty years I have had a less than easy time cutting squash. Now it will be much easier. I still have not yet done
    the squash seeds as I am getting ready for a potluck. I would
    love some ideas about seasoning other than the minced garlic and olive oil. No doubt the garlic and olive oil will be acceptable. I am particularly into vegan recipes.

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