Winter Squash 101

Winter Squash 101

Everyone knows about pumpkins, but have you experimented with other kinds of winter squash? Here is a breakdown of my favorite types, how to prepare them, what they pair with, and what to make with them.

Squash Substitutes

The beautiful thing about winter squashes is that they can be used interchangeably with only slight flavor and texture differences. Keep in mind the flavor and texture notes and try to use the closest squash to what the recipes call for.

Acorn Squash

Shaped likes its namesake, this small squash is usually dark green, orange, or a mix of both. Acorn squash is the perfect size for an edible bowl; roast it and fill with rice pilaf or your favorite hearty dinner.

  • Cooking techniques: Bake, mash.
  • Taste: Sweet, nutty flavor with soft flesh.
  • Pairs great with: Allspice, nutmeg, and sage.
  • Tips: Peeling an acorn squash is quite difficult, so cut it in half or slice to roast.
  • Recipe to try: Wild Rice Pilaf Stuffed Squash

Butternut Squash

Generally a foot long, this squash is bell-shaped with butterscotch-colored skin.

  • Cooking techniques: Bake, braise, mash, roast, steam, or tempura-fry.
  • Taste: Sweet with dense, creamy flesh.
  • Pairs great with: Cinnamon, coconut milk, garlic, ginger, lemon, lime, nutmeg, onions, parsley, sage, and thyme.
  • Tips: Its thin skins makes for easy peeling. Butternut squashes with longer necks usually have more flesh.
  • Recipe to try: Butternut Squash Risotto

Delicata Squash

A long squash with pale yellow skin and green pin stripes.

  • Cooking techniques: Bake, braise, mash, roast, and steam.
  • Taste: Creamy flesh similar in flavor as sweet potatoes.
  • Pairs great with: Cilantro, cinnamon, coconut milk, garlic, ginger, lemon, lime, maple syrup, onions, parsley, sage, and thyme.
  • Tips: Delicata’s skin is edible!
  • Recipe to try: Spaghetti Squash with Vegan Mushroom Meatballs

Hubbard Squash

A large squash with thick, bubbly skin with a range of color from orange to grayish blue.

  • Cooking techniques: Bake, then purée.
  • Taste: Savory and sweet with a sometimes mealy flesh.
  • Pairs great with: Allspice, cinnamon, coconut milk, and nutmeg.
  • Tips: Purée hubbard squash to smooth the mealy flesh.
  • Recipe to try: Pumpkin Buckwheat Porridge

Spaghetti Squash

An oval yellow squash with stringy, noodle-like flesh.

  • Cooking technique: bake, boil, steam, then sauté.
  • Taste: Mild with stringy flesh.
  • Pairs great with: Basil, garlic, onion, pasta, and tomatoes.
  • Tips: Larger squash will have more flavor and larger “noodles.”
  • Recipe to try: Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai


A round, large squash with orange-colored skin and flesh.

  • Cooking techniques: Bake, braise, grill, puree, or roast.
  • Taste: Mellow sweetness with dense flesh.
  • Pairs great with: Allspice, bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves, coconut cream, garlic, ginger, lemon, nutmeg, and sage.
  • Tips: Hide puréed pumpkin to tomato-based sauces or soups for added nutrients.
  • Recipe to try: Slow Cooker Pumpkin Maple Butter

squash infographic


So, you can’t stand squash?

That’s fair. Squash isn’t for everyone—it’s a bit weird that you’re reading Winter Squash 101 but it’s cool, good for you for branching out! An easy substitute for diced or puréed squash is sweet potatoes and yams. Sweet potatoes and yams do tend to have denser flesh than squash, and are generally sweeter, but if you really can’t stand squash they will be a fine substitute.

How to Cut a Squash?

I like to grab my biggest knife – a butcher’s knife or cleaver is great for this – and make sure it is sharp.

1. Remove ends: Stabilize the squash with your non-dominant hand and cut off both ends. Some squash are softer and therefore easy to penetrate with a knife. If the squash you are cutting has thicker flesh, first make an initial cut just to pierce the skin using only a little pressure. Then cut through the flesh by putting more weight on the knife to complete your cut.

2. Peel: If needed, this is the point to peel your squash. Some squashes have smooth thin skin, like butternut squash, and are easy to peel. Some have bumpy, thick skin and I tend to avoid peeling these and will either scoop the flesh out once cooked or serve the pieces with skin. Fun Fact: All squash skin is edible once cooked until soft.

3. Cut in Half: Place squash on one end and cut down using your weight. Make sure to stabilize squash with your non-dominant hand.

4. Remove Seeds: Using a metal spoon, scoop out seeds. If cooking the squash in halves, scooping seeds can also be done once cooked.

5. Finish: From here you can roast the squash or cut into desired sized pieces and cook as desired.

Squash Roundup

Now that you know the types of squashes and how to prep them, what should you do with them? Here are a week’s worth squash dinner recipes:

Roast two squashes on Sunday and make squash treats throughout the week.
To cook squash, cut in half and remove seeds. Bake at 375° F for 45 minutes or until fork tender.

Note: Recipes that specify pumpkin can be substituted with squash of choice.

With these tips and this arsenal of recipes, you’ll be well equipped to tackle any and every fall recipe! Happy cooking!

What are your favorite squash recipes?