Your complete guide to mastering the seasonal staple.
Though summer tends to reap all the produce glory, winter produce includes a host of hearty, resilient vegetables built to withstand the cold, making them the perfect additions to the warm, comforting dishes we crave throughout the colder months. Of these, perhaps the heartiest of all are the many varieties of winter squash. Whether you’re just learning how to prepare the standard butternut or acorn, or want to branch out with some lesser-known squash varieties, we’ve got the lowdown on incorporating all of these sturdy veggies into your cooking.
While these might not technically be every winter squash available—after all, farmers are always playing around with cultivating new breeds of their crops—they are the varieties you’re most likely to find at your local farmstand or supermarket.
The Cooking Basics
Varieties of winter squash are extremely versatile, with the ability to be roasted, sautéed, baked, steamed, and beyond. And while each variety of winter squash has a unique flavor, texture, and size for the most part all squash can be roasted, boiled, or even microwaved in a similar way.
To roast most winter squash, carefully cut the squash in half through the stem, and scrape out the seeds inside. Then rub a small amount of oil or butter along the inner flesh of the squash and top with some salt and pepper. Then, place the squash face down on a baking sheet and roast in a 400-degree oven for between 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your squash. You’ll know it’s done when the skin has become brown and slightly blistered and the flesh has softened and can be pierced with a fork with no resistance. You also have the option of cutting the squash into pieces before roasting, which will take longer in prep time but will allow the squash to roast at a faster rate.
To boil your squash, you’ll want to first carefully cut off the skin and slice the squash into smaller chunks. Place in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. While the timing will vary depending on the toughness of the squash you choose, check periodically if your squash is tender enough to easily pierce through with a fork. To steam your squash, place your chunks in a steamer basket above the boiling water and cook until tender.
For those in a time pinch, or working with limited appliances, you can also microwave many types of squash—depending on its size—by slicing it in half down the center, removing the seeds, and microwaving on high for seven minutes per pound.
Once you’ve cooked your squash via one of these simple methods, then you can easily incorporate it into recipes ranging from showstopping savory mains to festive desserts.
Arguably the most recognizable winter squash—with the exception of a pumpkin—the butternut has become one of the most popular and ubiquitous kinds of winter produce, thanks to its creamy flesh that’s smooth and relatively seed-free, making for easier cooking. With a pleasantly sweet and savory flavor, butternut squash is perfect for rich soups and stews with a hint of sweetness. To learn how to properly dice up your butternut squash before cooking, check out this handy guide.
Try it in: creamy dishes that take advantage of the butternut’s supple texture, like Butternut Squash Soup, Butternut Squash Risotto, and Butternut Squash and Kale Lasagna. For more inspo, check out these 60 Ways to Cook Butternut Squash.
This smaller, slightly rounded squash is recognizable for its dark green and orange skin. Inside, you’ll find a slightly nutty tasting deep yellow flesh with a subtle sweetness. With an edible skin that can be roasted and served along with the flesh, acorn squash is an easy and convenient vegetable to prepare quickly and toss into a simple winter-inspired salad or on the side of a hearty main. Acorn squash keeps in a cool, dry setting for at least a month, so feel free to stock up ahead of time. Just make sure you pick one that is completely firm and doesn’t have any noticeable soft spots for the longest-lasting produce.
Try it in: recipes that take advantage of the acorn squash’s compact size and shape, like an individually sized Acorn Squash with Sage-Cranberry Rice Stuffing, or atop a satisfying and nutritious Roasted Acorn Squash Salad. And while you might typically rely on butternut, this Velvety Squash Soup recipe will make you want to incorporate acorn squash into all of your seasonal soups.
This uniquely stringy squash has recently experienced a boom in popularity thanks to Pinterest-friendly recipes that swap pasta for this healthy, naturally gluten-free and low-carb alternative. With an extremely mild flavor and slightly tender texture that still has an al dente-like bite, this squash can easily be served in place of your favorite pasta. The pasta-like strands develop as the spaghetti squash is cooked, and can be easily scraped out with a fork to be served in a variety of ways. For a detailed rundown of how to cook spaghetti squash properly, check out our guide, or if you’re looking to save some time try this recipe for Instant Pot Spaghetti Squash.
Try it in: simple and satisfying Italian inspired dishes like Spaghetti Squash and Meatballs and Spaghetti Squash Lasagna with Spinach, healthier appetizers like Spaghetti Squash Fritters, or even a funky dessert-inspired Spaghetti Squash with Apples, Walnuts, and Cinnamon Goat Cheese.
Though prime pumpkin season is in the fall—between Halloween jack-o’-lanterns and Thanksgiving pies—this instantly recognizable vegetable is in fact part of the winter squash family. When preparing pumpkin, you’ll want to find one that’s made for cooking rather than decorating as the large pumpkins you put out on your stoop tend to have drier, less flavorful flesh. Instead, opt for a smaller pumpkin that has a richly sweet flavor perfect for curries, pies, and soups. There is a variety of pumpkins available—including the blue-skinned blue Hokkaido, the pale cheese pumpkin, white pumpkins, and the brilliantly red Rouge Vif d’Etampes pumpkins, so make sure you check out our rundown of which pumpkins are best for cooking before hitting the farmers market.
This smaller squash, recognizable by its striped skin and oblong shape, has a creamy flesh with a mild flavor reminiscent of corn that makes it super versatile. The delicata’s skin is edible, which makes roasting whole a breeze—just make sure to scoop out the seeds before or after roasting. Their boat-like shape also make them great for stuffing whole. Because of their thinner skin, delicata squash tends to last for a shorter amount of time in your pantry, so make sure to prepare yours relatively quickly after purchasing.
Despite being a lesser-known winter squash, the kabocha is one of the most versatile of all—it can be roasted, added to soups and stews, and even made into pie filling. Below its typically slightly bumpy skin, the kabocha’s flesh is sweet and nutty with a texture similar to a sweet potato. The shape of the kabocha’s flesh holds up well to cooking, making it an ideal addition to thicker soups and even tempura dishes.
Try it in: super hearty recipes like Stuffed Kabocha Squash with Arabic Lamb Stew and Coconut-Red Curry Squash Soup, or in some more delicate fare like Steamed Kabocha Squash with Scallops or a brunch worthy Kabocha-Leek Tart.
You’re not likely to find this giant of a squash in its entirety in the produce aisle any time soon, thanks to its potentially enormous proportions. In fact, the banana squash can get up to 40 pounds and three feet in length. In addition to its notable size, the banana squash can also take on eye-catching colors, ranging from pink to orange to blue. While the flesh of a banana squash is similar to many other kinds of winter squash, and is great for roasting, the easiest way to work with it is to find pre-cut portions of the squash for sale, which will prevent you from having to do any intense carving work.
Try it in: just about any dish that calls for thick, sturdy chunks of winter squash, like this flavorful Southwestern Squash Stew.
The buttercup, not to be confused with the butternut, is a short round squash with a dark green exterior and bright orange interior. Despite the difference in appearance, the buttercup has a similarly sweet and creamy flavor to the butternut. However, the flesh is firmer and drier, making it a great option for steaming and in dishes that need a super sturdy squash, like stews. One of the benefits of this kind of squash is it can be kept for up to three months in your pantry, making it great for stocking up for the season ahead.
Red Kuri Squash
Also known as the Hokkaido squash, this small, red-orange squash is a actually type of pumpkin, but with a less sweet and creamy flavor than its counterparts. With a mild, versatile flavor it’s great for stuffing, roasting, and working into soups and stews.
Try it in: dishes that pack a unique, flavorful punch like a Sweet and Spicy Red Kuri Squash Bowl or Roasted Winter Squash with Honey, Tahini, and Lime.
There’s a good chance your only exposure to this funky winter squash has been as a decoration. With a large and lumpy skin, and a distinct bump that sits atop the bottom half of the squash—hence the name “turban”—this squash is less likely to make it into your cooking. However with a slightly nutty flavor, it can easily be used as a replacement for acorn and other nuttier squases. Turbans also make for show-stopping soup bowls, thanks to their naturally lidded shape.
Try it in: dishes that you want to stand out for their appearance as well as their taste, like this unique Beer and Egg Custard in a Squash that’s sure to be the hit of the dinner party.
While there’s a good chance you’ve never seen, or possibly even heard of, a hubbard—this darker skinned squash is large and in charge, with a super tough exterior and a sweet, rich flavor akin to pumpkin. Ideal for roasting and pie making, hubbard squash is typically dark grey, blue, or green in color and will most likely be found at your local farmers market, rather than in the produce aisle. One of the bonuses of this larger squash is a long shelf life—up to 5 months—during which the flesh gets sweeter and sweeter as time goes by.
Sweet Dumpling Squash
This small, ridged squash with a typically speckled exterior is both nice to look at and easy to store—lasting for up to three months in your pantry. With a subtle flavor and starchy texture, this squash is great for roasting and stuffing whole, given the fact removing the skin from this tiny specimen prior to cooking can be difficult.