Pumpkin-Carving Tricks from a Master

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

The art of pumpkin sculptinghas advanced far beyond the traditional triangle-eyed and smiling jack-o'-lanterns of years past. This month, top-ranked culinary competitors from around the country will gather at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for Jack Hanna's Pumpkin Carving Championship, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept 27.

Looking to defend his three-year winning streak is pumpkin-carving whiz Dean Murray of Kiel, Wisconsin. Murray has competed inFood Network's "Halloween Wars," the World Ice Art Championships in Alaska and the De Beers Ice Carving competitions. He gave us the inside scoop on his award-winning

Choose the right pumpkin. Find one with thick walls and a smooth exterior. Murray says a heavier pumpkin indicates the meat is thicker and has more room for sculpting.

Grab your tools. Murray suggests keeping a wide peeler, clay loop, wood shaver, drywall saw, X-Acto knife and flexible paring knife handy. "One of the things I try to get across to beginning sculptors is to try not to leave unintended tool marks or cuts," he says. He's also been known to reach for a scrubbing sponge to give his work a smooth face, or a steel kitchen scouring pad for a rougher look.

Sketch out the design using a dry-erase marker. Working from the center, begin cutting into the pumpkin. Murray, who has studied anatomy books to fine-tune his craft, starts the sculpting process with the nose, which helps him locate the other facial features.

Carve as deeply as possible."A beginner will make shallow cuts, and then they have all these extra cut lines," Murray says. "When you're more experienced, I recommend cutting deeper than you might think." This not only reduces the number of cuts made, but it also creates a more detailed 3-D design.

Keep a small mirror nearby.Imitate the expression you're trying to create-this is a great way to reference your design.

Preserveyour pumpkin.Murray says he appreciates the fleeting nature of pumpkin sculpting. But to preserve a pumpkin for a few extra days, wrap it in plastic or cover it with a damp towel and keep it in a cool area. Alternatively, carving only the outer layer and avoiding the cavity will sustain a pumpkin even longer.

Be patient and practice, practice, practice.