It’s squash season, motherf***ers
EC: How to Tell When Butternut Squash Is Ripe
Credit: Photo by Roger Phillips via Getty Images

It’s squash season, motherf***ers. And if you, like me, have purchased at least one golden-fleshed gourd in the recent past, you’re pretty damn excited about your next meal. Squash can do a lot. They can be pureed into a base for quick breads and muffins, they can add a delightful orange color to home fries or hash (treat them like a tater), they’re perfectly excellent grated raw into a salad, like carrots or beets. Some squash, bumpy and be-speckled, are intimidating. Can I eat the wart-y skin or just the flesh? Can I just toss a squash in the oven and roast the crap outta that bad boy? Or do have to cut it up?

Which to Peel

First things first. Technically, all squash skin is edible. But so are kale stems and banana peels and eggshells and even some teeny tiny fish bones. What I mean is, even though some parts of food are technically not going to kill you, they might be tough or bitter, and will be just as useful in the compost bin as in your mouth. Big squash like butternut, spaghetti, red kuri, and kabocha don’t need to be peeled in order to be baked, but even after a long time in the oven, the peels are never going to be as good as the sweet, custardy squash flesh. So scoop out those innards and toss the skins.

If you do want to peel those tougher-skinned squash (like if you’re planning to bake cubed butternut squash for a salad, for example), use a sharp, sturdy peeler, like Kuhn Rikon’s Y-Peeler.

Which to Pierce

Acorn, delicata, and honeynut squash skin is not only edible, it can be downright tasty, as is the case with potatoes, chicken, and some fish. When cooked (in the oven, stove, slow-cooker, what-have-you), these squash skins will have a firmer texture than the flesh, but will be tender and flavorful enough that you probably won’t even notice them.

Squash can also be roasted whole, and whether or not it’s recommended you eat the skin, it still doesn’t mean gourds need to go into the oven nude. It does take a lot longer to cook squash whole than if you’d just spent the extra two minutes to halve it, mind you (we’re taking an hour plus). But, if for some inexplicable reason you hate the Maillard reaction and you’ve got the time and oven space, godspeed. Rinse off the squash, dry it, place it on a sheet pan, and rub it down with a bit of olive oil. Poke the squash all over with a sharp paring knife, then slide it into the oven. For a low and slow, super-soft squash, bake at 300ºF for two to three hours (larger squash will take all three hours, smaller delicata and honeynut may be done in two).

Now that you know how to peel and pierce squash, here’s a handy guide for other ways to prepare golden gourds.