Butternut squash is perhaps the most versatile winter squash. It's sweet and light when cooked, but also substantial enough to stand up to both long cook times and quick sautés. Though available all year, winter squash is best enjoyed during harvest season—late summer through early winter. It's also a super-nutritious food. Like other varieties of winter squash, butternut squash is packed with antioxidants and fiber. This is your one-stop guide for how to shop for and store butternut squash, delicious ways to cook it, and why it's so good for you.
Related: Healthy Butternut Squash Recipes
Cutting into butternut squash requires a lot of caution and a bit of strength. Smaller squash can be jabbed with a large, sturdy knife and then carefully sliced open.
For harder or larger varieties, you may need to tap the knife through the skin with a rubber mallet or meat mallet.
If you can't cut into the squash, place it in a preheated 400°F oven for 12 minutes or microwave on High for 3 minutes. The heat will loosen the skin enough to let a knife inside; just be careful of escaping steam from the inner core.
Once opened, clean out the seeds and stringy fibers with a spoon. A grapefruit spoon is our favorite tool for the job.
Winter squash can be peeled with a vegetable peeler or paring knife, but there's no need to remove the skin if you're planning to bake it and scoop out the flesh when it's done.
Butternut squash's natural sweetness is enhanced by sweet spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, as well as earthy, toasty spices such as fennel, cumin, coriander, chili and curry powder. The flesh of this squash has a gorgeous golden hue and a firm, smooth texture that holds up well when cut into chunks and stirred into risotto. It also makes a sweet and velvety soup.
Pictured Recipe: Baked Butternut Squash
Cut squash in half and seed. Place the halves on a baking sheet, cut-side down. Bake at 350°F until tender when pierced with a knife, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Scoop out flesh when cool enough to handle, for use in soups and sauces.
Pictured Recipe: Roasted Butternut Squash
Cut squash between neck and bulbous bottom. Cut off stem and base ends. Cut bulb in half. Use a spoon to remove seeds and membranes. Use a sharp knife or peeler to remove the skin from the bulb halves and neck. Cube the squash flesh. Toss 2 to 3 pounds peeled and cubed butternut squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Spread on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast in a 375°F oven until tender and lightly browned, 30 to 45 minutes. In a small skillet, cook 2 cloves minced garlic in 2 teaspoons olive oil until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Toss the squash with the garlic and 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley. Serves 4.
Pictured Recipe: Sautéed Butternut Squash
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Toss in cubed butternut squash and cook until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
Pictured Recipe: Steamed Butternut Squash
Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a large saucepan fitted with a steamer basket. Add a 20-ounce package of cubed, peeled butternut squash. Cover and steam until very tender, about 15 minutes. Drain. (This method works well to create mashed butternut squash. Simply mash while the squash is still hot.)
Pictured Recipe: Butternut Squash Carbonara with Broccoli
Your spiralizer can turn your butternut squash into a delicious noodle base for dinner. Use just the top part of the squash (the part without the seeds), trimmed and peeled. You'll want to use the thickest spiral setting you have for this hard squash.
Choose squash that are very hard: press firmly all over to make sure the rind isn't soft (a sign of immaturity or improper storage). Additionally, the squash should feel heavy for their size, with no soft spots, bruises or nicks. During harvest season, look for vivid colors—the skin color should not look washed out. Later in the year, after the squash has been stored, the skin color may fade as the flesh becomes sweeter. Regardless of the season, the skin should not look shiny—a sign either that it's underripe or that it's waxed, possibly masking bad quality.
Choose squash with a remnant of the dried-out stem still attached, like a small knob at one end. A missing stem can be a sign of mold and bacteria growth inside.
Store whole butternut squash in a cool spot with good air circulation (not the refrigerator, but a cool pantry or cellar) for up to a month. Store cut squash in the fridge and use within a week.
Pictured Recipe: Chicken, Arugula & Butternut Squash Salad with Brussels Sprouts
Precut butternut squash costs a little more than buying the whole squash and prepping it yourself, but the convenience and time savings are sometimes worth it. It can take about 15 minutes to peel, seed and cut up a whole butternut squash, so buying it precut is a great option for weeknights when you have less time.
Precut butternut squash is usually sold in a 20-ounce package of large cubes (5 cups of 1- to 2-inch pieces) or a 16-ounce package of smaller diced squash (3 cups of 1/2-inch pieces). If you only find the larger cubes but need the smaller pieces, cut them into 1/2-inch dice before cooking. Or if you buy the smaller diced but need the larger cubes, measure what you need from 2 packages and reduce the cooking time.
When buying at your market, make sure the pieces are dry, firm and vivid in color. Avoid those that look wet or dried out with sunken grooves in the flesh.
Pictured Recipe: Spicy Butternut Squash Soup
Butternut squash is a nutritional gold mine—a single cup of cubes boasts more than four times your daily value of vitamin A, which promotes healthy eyes. And adding as little as a teaspoon of oil or butter increases your body's absorption of vitamin A by up to 650 percent. Squash is also a good source of fiber, which helps you feel full and may lower your risk of heart disease.
Beta carotene from butternut squash may offer some cancer protection by enhancing immune system function and healthy cell communication, among other benefits.
Nutrients in 1 cup of cooked cubed butternut squash: Calories 82, Fat 0g (sat 0g), Cholesterol 0mg, Carbs 22g, Total sugars 4g (added 0g), Protein 2g, Fiber 7g, Sodium 8mg, Potassium 582mg.