Butternut squash:

Sure, it saves prep time to buy pre-cut, peeled butternut squash, but I had to wonder: How does the flavor and texture of this timesaving squash stand up to a whole squash we cut up ourselves? Whole squash you peel and cube yourself can’t be beat in terms of flavor and texture.

(That said, most supermarkets sell butternut squash that has been completely or partially prepped. If you are truly strapped for time, I have found the peeled and halved squash is fine. We don’t like the butternut squash sold in chunks; while it’s a timesaver, the flavor is wan and the texture stringy.)

Essential Equipment for Prepping Squash:

A Good Vegetable Peeler:
Dull and inefficient, a subpar peeler makes a mountain of tiresome work out of a simple task. A good peeler should be fast and smooth—no clogging up with peels, jamming on bumps, or making you go over and over a spot to remove all of the peel. It should make thin peels, not waste a lot of good food. It shouldn’t hurt or tire your hands and it should stay sharp.

I keep two peelers: a classic model that handles the usual tasks, and a second model with a serrated blade designed to remove peels from delicate foods like peaches and tomatoes. I found that straight peelers, with blades that extend directly out from the handle, and Y peelers, with a blade running perpendicular to the handle (resembling a wishbone), function similarly. Ceramic blades will dull very quickly and become discolored; stick with metal blades.

A Good Chef’s Knife:
When it comes to vegetable prep, a good chef’s knife is absolutely essential. This knife can handle myriad tasks large and small, from chopping onions and splitting butternut squash through the center to trimming asparagus.

Look for a chef’s knife that is 8 inches long and that has a pointed tip, a comfortable grip, and a curved edge, which helps when rhythmically rocking the blade to chop a pile of carrots or dice an onion. A good chef’s knife will be substantial but lightweight. Look for one made from high-carbon stainless steel, a hard metal that, once sharpened, tends to stay that way.

Squash Shopping and Storing Tips:

Whether acorn, butternut, delicata, or another variety, squash should feel hard; soft spots are an indication that the squash has been mishandled. Squash should also feel heavy for its size, a sign that the flesh is moist and soft.

You can store winter squash in a cool, well-ventilated spot for several weeks.

Step-by-Step: How to Cut Up Butternut Squash

1. After peeling squash, use chef’s knife to trim off top and bottom and then cut squash in half where narrow neck and wide curved bottom meet.

2. Cut neck of squash into evenly sized planks according to recipe.

3. Cut planks into evenly sized pieces according to recipe.

4. Cut base in half lengthwise and scoop out and discard seeds and fibers. Slice each base half into evenly sized lengths according to recipe.

5. Cut lengths into evenly sized pieces according to recipe.