Guide to Winter Squash: How to Buy, Store, and Cook

Guide to Winter Squash: How to Buy, Store, and Cook

Get our free Guide to Winter Squash and learn how to buy, store, prep, and use winter squash deliciously this fall!

  • By Brittany Yamamoto-Taylor
  • September 14, 2021

Let’s talk about winter squashes. The first thing you should know is that the term ‘winter squash’ is a bit of a misnomer. You see, these thick-skinned vegetables are usually harvested in late summer and autumn, but keep well through the cold winter months — earning them their name.

Since pumpkins, acorn squash, and butternut squash are often the most common squashes to find at a grocery store, our Guide to Winter Squash is based on those 3 types. However, the buying, prepping, and flavor-pairing tips we put together will apply to almost all winter squash varieties. Just double check cook times when working with types other than acorn, butternut, and pumpkin.

You can download our free infographic guide below and keep reading to learn more in-depth tips on how to prepare winter squash, how to use winter squash in exciting ways, and much more!


Infographic

Guide to Winter Squash

Get our free Guide to Winter Squash and learn how to buy, store, prep, and use winter squash deliciously.


Winter Squash Basics

Winter squashes have a tough skin and come in a variety of sizes and colors. They are packed with vitamins and minerals and have a flavor range of mild to sweet. Here are a few of the most common winter squash varieties in the U.S. so you can understand some of their basic differences:

  • Acorn: Named for its acorn-like shape, it is smaller with sweet flesh and comes in orange, yellow, and green.
  • Buttercup: Not to be confused with butternut squash, this green-skinned squash is turban-shaped and has a very mild flavor after cooking.
  • Butternut: Bulb-shaped with tan skin, this variety is one of the most common because it is so versatile with it’s thin skin and unimposing flavor.
  • Carnival: This variety comes in many shapes and colors. Although it makes adorable fall decor, its sweet flesh can also be cooked in several delicious ways.
  • Delicata: Oblong and football-looking, this squash is yellow or orange and has a taste almost like a cross between sweet potato and squash. It has thin skin so you don’t need to bother with any peeling, and you can eat the skin!
  • Dumpling: Whitish-yellow and green, this squash is compact and has flesh that tastes almost like a sweet potato.
  • Kabocha: Since ‘kabocha’ is the Japanese word for winter squash, that means there are several types. The most common ones in the U.S. have green or grayish skin and are often sold in hunks due to its tough skin and large size. Once cooked, its flesh is a bit like velvet.
  • Spaghetti: Light yellow and football-shaped, it is often roasted whole before the flesh is pulled apart with a fork to resemble pasta.

Tips for Buying Winter Squash

Now that you know about the basics, let’s answer some important questions like, How do you pick out winter squash?

Peak Season

Winter squashes are in peak season in September and October in every region of the United States. Check the 7 main regions of the U.S. below to learn when you can find winter squashes in season where you live.

New England: August – October, but find it in season in RI from May – October and in CT from July – December

Mid-Atlantic: August – November, but find it in NJ and PA through December

Midwest: June – October, but find it in IL and NE starting in May and through December in MN, MO, NE

Coastal Pacific: August – February, but find it in season in HI from July – March

Rocky Mountains: August – December, but find it in ID and NV beginning in March

Southeast: August – December, but find it in season in FL from October – May and in LA from June – November

Southwest: September – November, but find it in season starting in April in TX and July in OK and in NM from October – February

Because the U.S. is huge, you can always check out the exact months a type of produce is in season in your home state with this Seasonal Food Guide.

What to Look For in a Winter Squash

What to look for: When shopping for winter squash, listen for a hollow sound when you tap it. If the stem is still attached, it should be firm and intact. Remember that some winter squash varieties have stripes, warts, or naturally splotchy coloring, and that is perfectly fine! Don’t fear the warts.

What to avoid: You should keep an eye out for actual blemishes and soft spots, which are signs that a squash is rotting. If you see shriveling or any broken skin, run the other way.


How to Store and How to Prepare Winter Squash

Now that you know when to buy squashes, it’s important to learn how to properly store and prep them . . .

When selecting a good place to store winter squashes, try to check off 3 boxes: cool, dark and dry. When you find a spot like that, squashes can last for a month or longer, depending on the variety.

Prepping Tips

When you’re ready to put those winter squashes to good use, follow these prepping guidelines:

We also have a short video tutorials that show you how to prep winter squashes:

Video

How to Chop Butternut Squash

There's no need to wrestle with butternut squash anymore once you see how easy it is to prep this vegetable.

Video

How to Prep Spaghetti Squash

In this video, we show you just how easy it is to prepare this delicious squash.

After you’ve cut into your squash, you can store pieces in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container for up to 5 days. You can also freeze raw, cubed squash for up to 6 months. Just freeze the cubes in a single layer on a tray and then transfer them to any freezer-safe container once they are thoroughly frozen.

Winter Squash Seeds

Since all winter squash seeds are edible and nutritious, why throw them in the trash? 

You can simply rinse the seeds with water and remove those stringy bits of squash. Then pat them dry and spread them out in an even layer to toast / roast in the oven, toaster oven, or a skillet. You can enjoy them plain, salted, or even with yummy spices like cinnamon.

After being roasted, squash seeds can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 months. When refrigerated or frozen, they can last a whole year.


How to Cook Winter Squash

The bright yellow or orange flesh of winter squashes brings a cheerful pop of vibrance to any dish and really helps you feel the season around the dinner table.

Since squashes can be cooked with a wide range of methods, our Infographic Guide to Winter Squashes outlines the method, time, and temperature guidelines when making squash halves or slices / cubes.


How to Use Winter Squash in Exciting Ways

Our Guide to Winter Squash lists 14 of our favorite flavor pairings and 16 of our favorite types of dishes to enjoy these hearty veggies in.

But, we also want to show you some of our favorite recipes that use a variety of squashes in both traditional and unique ways. All of these recipes are a part of our meal plan service. Not only do we pay attention to seasonality when creating our weekly menus so recipes with winter squashes will pop up in the fall, but the following recipes — and over 50 other meals — are always in our Meal Plan Archives to be enjoyed whenever you wish.

1. Pear and Fontina Grilled Cheese with Butternut Squash Soup

Adding fresh fruit to a grilled cheese sandwich makes it feel a bit fancy while also being so darn easy. Our creamy butternut squash soup on the side is perfect for sandwich-dipping and makes this a comforting meal that the whole family will love.

2. Middle Eastern Twice-Baked Acorn Squash

When tender baked acorn squash is stuffed with spiced ground beef, couscous, and feta, the result is pure delight. In just 45 minutes, you’ll be ready to scoop up all the delicious elements together with crunchy pita chips.

3. Thai Chicken Ramen with Butternut Squash

It’s always fun to mix a classic dish up with a good twist. We have you use Thai curry paste, shiitake mushrooms, butternut squash, and soft-boiled eggs to add a depth to the flavor and aroma of this 45-minute meal that is perfect for chilly weather.

4. Pork Tenderloin with Cranberry Sauce and Delicata Squash

With roasted pork, winter squash, pecans, and sweet and tart cranberry pan sauce, this 40-minute recipe will make you feel like you are dining at the fanciest of establishments. And, if you’ve never had delicata squash, you’re in for a real treat, but you can also easily substitute acorn squash for this delicious dinner, too.

5. Panko Salmon with Maple-Mashed Butternut Squash

We pair our delectable maple-dijon salmon dish with 2 colorful and sweet side dishes for a fabulous fall combo! If you’ve previously cubed and frozen butternut squash, you can easily pull it and peas out of your freezer any time of year to have this weeknight dinner ready in just 35 minutes.


Now that you know about seasonality, prep, and how to prepare winter squash, it’s time to download your free Guide to Winter Squash here:

Free Download

Guide to Winter Squash

Tips for how to buy, prep, cook, and enjoy squashes this autumn!


If you want more information on cooking other vegetables seasonally, we have a veggie spotlight on asparagus and broccoli as well.

In the comments below, we would love to hear about your favorite squash dishes or how to use winter squash in unique ways!

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