Happy Halloween—well, almost! It seems like we can’t get enough of this harvest holiday. One of my favorite parts about Halloween is choosing a carving the perfect pumpkin for the big night. Here are my tips to make the most of this Halloween tradition.

1. Choose A Design

Lots of people choose to start by first picking out their pumpkin, but I recommend choosing your design first. That way you can choose a pumpkin that is perfectly shaped for the design you want to carve.

2. Pick The Perfect Pumpkin

There are several steps to choosing the perfect pumpkin. First, find a pumpkin that is suited to the design you chose in step one. Now, you’ll want to examine the stem. The stem of a great pumpkin will be firm and intact, not dry, thin or broken—these are all early signs of decay. Next examine the whole pumpkin for soft, mushy spots. I am partial to vibrant orange pumpkins, but as long as there’s no green spots, you can choose any variation of orange, yellow or even white that you look. A general rule of them is that the more hollow the pumpkin sounds, the easier it will be to carve because the walls should be thinner.

3. Carve Your Pumpkin

Now you’re ready to carve your pumpkin. Start by cutting a hole in either the top or the bottom of the pumpkin. If you’re using electric lights to illuminate your jack-o-lantern, cut through the bottom, so you can feed the cord out to an outlet. If you are starting with the top, don’t forget to carve at an angle, so the lid doesn’t fall in when you are done. Now it’s time to get messy. Scoop out the flesh. But don’t forget to save the seeds for roasting! Now it’s time to transfer your design using a toothpick or metal skewer point. That will make it easier for you to bring your design to life on the pumpkin. After you carve the design, I recommend spring down the cut surfaces and interior with bleach or a cleaner containing bleach—this will help prevent decay. For little hands, you may want to paint your pumpkin to ensure everyone’s safety.

4. Roast The Seeds

After rinsing off the flesh off of the seeds, pat them dry with paper towels. Then spread them out in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet. Roast for thirty minutes at 300 degrees to fully dry them out. Now toss the seeds with your favorite flavorings, like cinnamon and sugar; parmesan and oregano; or barbecue—brown sugar, chile powder and cumin. Return to oven and bake until crisp, about 20 more minutes.

The practice of carving pumpkins has its roots in Irish folklore and was brought to the U.S. by immigrants where it was quickly adopted as a traditional part of Halloween festivities. By following these quick and easy steps, you can keep the tradition alive in your own home this year and many years to come. Happy Carving!