Spaghetti squash was not the first squash I fell in love with. It took some time. It's a very mild tasting squash, and when everyone was raving about using it in place of wheat pasta noodles, I did not hop on board. I liked pasta just the way I'd always had it, thank you very much. And confession: I wasn't completely sure how to cook spaghetti squash.
Comparing Spaghetti Squash: In the Oven vs Air Fryer, Microwave and Pressure Cooker
This post covers the best (IMHO) ways to cook spaghetti squash in the oven and air fryer. Both are dry ways of cooking, as compared to an electric pressure cooker or microwave. Here are some quick notes of comparison between cooking spaghetti squash in the oven, air fryer, microwave oven and and electric pressure cooker such as the Instant Pot.
Oven and Air Fryer
Both the oven and air fryer intensify the squash flavor, which is an advantage since spaghetti squash has a mild taste, particularly compared to typical fall and winter squash.
It's easy to lightly season the squash when sliced in half, and roasted or cooked in the air fryer. This adds additional layers of flavor.
Microwave and Instant Pot
The flavor of spaghetti squash, however, is more muted when using a microwave oven or electric pressure cooker. This is especially true when using the microwave oven, when not cooking the squash whole. Because it's being steamed, some of the flavor is literally watered down.
I typically cook spaghetti squash whole in my Instant Pot, making any pre-seasoning impossible. However, when I microwave this squash, I slice it in half and microwave it with a little water, and cover it with plastic. Since it's covered with plastic wrap and such a moist environment, pre-seasoning is ineffective.
Verdict: oven roasted and air fryer win for best flavor.
Texture is important to me. The dry methods of cooking spaghetti squash, oven roasted and in the air fryer, yield a texture that's tender with a little bite. Al dente.
Microwaved spaghetti squash, if halved and cooked covered in a little water, is a more soggy version. When cooked whole in the Instant Pot, the “noodles” are a little softer and less bite than roasted.
Verdict: oven roasted and air fryer win, but the Instant Pot version is fine if cooked whole.
Speed of Cooking
The size of spaghetti squash will naturally determine how quickly it will cook. The following are rules of thumb cooking times for a 2 1/2 pound squash:
Oven Roasted: Split in half with the guts scooped out – 30 to 35 minutes. It takes my oven another 20 minutes, at least, to come to temperature. Total time: up to 55 minutes.
Air Fryer: Split in half with the guts scooped out – 20 to 25 minutes. It takes my air fryer another 5 to 7 minutes to come to temperature. Total time: up to 32 minutes.
Microwave Oven: Split in half with the guts scooped out – 10 to 12 minutes. There's no preheating time. Total time up to 12 minutes.
Instant Pot (or other electric pressure cooker): Cooked whole – 15 minutes. Any electric pressure cooker has a preheating time, which can take up to an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Total time: up to 30 minutes.
Verdict: the microwave oven wins this round, with a virtual tie between Air Fryer and Instant Pot for the fastest methods. The Instant Pot, however, has the edge on the air fryer since you don't need to slice the squash in half first with an IP. Just be sure to make a few slits in it with a sharp knife before cooking.
How to Cut and Prep Spaghetti Squash for Cooking
Take a sharp knife and slice off the top and bottom of the squash.
Pro-Tip: If the skin is too tough, puncture the skin with a knife 2 – 3 times around where you'll cut it anyway to halve it. Place it in the microwave for 2 – 3 minutes. Depending on the size, you may need to microwave it up to 5 minutes. This softens the skin, making it easier to slice.
Slice the squash in half, forming 2 halves. Try to get the two halves as equal as possible for even cooking.
Using a spoon, dig into one end of the cavity, and scrape down the sides of the cavity to remove all the seeds and guts of the spaghetti squash. Continue scraping it all down to the other end, and remove. If there are loose strands that the spoon doesn't catch, kitchen scissors work great for these.
Rub the squash cavity and skin with olive oil, and season. I like to use combinations of salt, pepper, onion powder and smoked paprika.
Roast in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes or air fry for 20 – 25 minutes, depending on the size of your squash.
It's best to check the squash after 15 minutes to gauge how quickly it's cooking. To do this, gently scrape the tines of a fork across the bottom of the cavity. When ready, even a gentle scrape will pull up golden strands of squash. At this point, use a fork to pull up all the strands you can, leaving only the skin behind. Heap it on a plate, or serve in the skin.
Can I Save the Seeds for Roasting?
If you want to save the seeds for roasting, place the seeds and guts in a bowl of water. Gently finger the seeds loose. It's much easier to do this in water than an a work surface. And faster! Rinse the seeds, and arrange them on a paper towel to dry before roasting.
Can I Roast Spaghetti Squash Whole?
It will take longer, and cannot be seasoned ahead of time. It will also be moister, which is good or bad, depending on your own preferences.
If you choose to roast the squash whole, be sure to puncture it with a knife, making several small slits to allow steam to escape.
Can Spaghetti Squash be Cooked Ahead?
I often do this for an even faster weeknight dinner. I air-fry or roast it ahead, cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days. To reheat, place faced down on a baking sheet in a 350˚F oven for 10 – 15 minutes, depending on the size of the squash. Once it's reheated, use a fork to pull up the strands.
Is Spaghetti Squash Keto-Friendly?
This type of squash is lower in carbs than other fall and winter squash.
1 cup cooked spaghetti squash = 10 grams of carbs and 7.8 grams of net carbs. (See the below note on net carbs.)
More good news is that spaghetti squash is a nutrient-dense food, meaning it’s low in calories but high in several key vitamins and minerals.
(Net carbs do not take fiber or (some) sugar alcohols into account, because your body does not fully digest them and they do not impact your blood sugar.) Spaghetti squash provides 2.2 grams of fiber.
How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (Air Fryer or Oven Roasted)
- Preheat the oven to 400˚F or the air fryer to 360˚F.
- Trim the ends of the spaghetti squash, turn it on end, and slice in half lengthwise. Try to slice it so the halves are as equal as possible.
- Using a spoon, start at one end of the cavity and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Scrape it down the cavity, and discard.
- Rub the surfaces of the squash with oil, and sprinkle with the spices you choose to use. Turn upside down, and arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or air fryer basket.
- Roast in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes, or in the air fryer for 20 – 25 minutes.
- Pro-Tip: The cooking time depends on the size of the spaghetti squash being cooked. For small squash, check for doneness at 15 minutes. To do this, gently scrape the tines of a fork down the cavity. If strands easily lift up, the squash is done.
- Remove and allow to cool slightly. Turn over, and using the tines of a fork, scrape up the strands that form "noodles". Serve in the shells of the squash, or heaped onto a plate.
- Serving suggestions: 1) toss with olive oil and dried oregano; 2) toss with olive oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley; 3) top with roasted tomatoes; or 4) top with your favorite pasta sauce.