Five Tips That Will Help You Choose a Ripe Watermelon Every Single Time
Want to ensure you bring home a ripe fruit after your next shopping trip? Keep our expert-approved advice in mind.
Plump, drum-tight watermelons are surely one of summer's most anticipated eating pleasures. Refreshing slices are the best hot weather snack and this favorite melon features in everything from a savory salad to Martha's favorite summer cocktail. But is there anything sadder than slitting open a heavy melon and splitting its crisp flesh to discover that it looks pale and tastes paler—a diluted disappointment of the sweet watermelon ideal? Not only is the let-down a gastronomic one, but now you're also left with a giant disposal quandary (with attendant guilt).
We consulted a couple of expert growers to learn how to tell when a watermelon is perfectly ripe. Whether you are harvesting your own or buying one at market, their four tips will dispel some myths and take the guesswork out of choosing the perfect melon.
Jim Durst, the owner of Durst Organic Growers in California, whose watermelons are sold by retailers like Whole Foods, says he has seen people standing in front of stacks of watermelons, "and they're smelling them, and tapping them, they're rapping and shaking them. They're listening to them." Unfortunately, none of these methods will work.
His illuminating piece of advice is this: Thump the watermelon. And the art of the thump is important. Durst is very specific: "Thump it with the palm of your hand," and not with the knuckles. "Like you're playing a drum. Who plays the drum with their knuckles?" he asks. He adds an important qualifier: It should sound like a bass drum, not snare drum. "A ripe melon will have a deep resonance." If the pitch is very high, the melon is unripe. There you have it. Flat of your hand. No more sniffing or tapping.
The Field Patch
Rose Robson owns Robson's Farm in New Jersey. Her watermelons are included in her summer CSA boxes, and they're also sold at the farm's stand and at local farmers' markets. She explains the importance field patch (also known as the ground spot) plays in selecting a quality watermelon: "When you turn a watermelon over as it gets closer to ripeness you'll notice a yellow spot"—this is where the fruit has been lying on the ground. "This spot will become more apparent with ripeness and it's a good sign you're getting close to enjoying that watermelon."
This one is trickier. While heaviness can indicate a good watermelon, it may also be a sign of excessive wateriness. Ironically, the fruit with water in its name can have too much. Robson explains that when there's a lot of rainfall before harvest, "lots of water dilutes the taste of the melon. More water than sugars." An unusually wet season in the critical week or so before the melons are picked may lead to watermelon disappointment. If the field patch is leaky or soft, it also indicates too much rainfall.
Remember the Supplier
"Nine times out of ten growers know what they are doing," Durst says, and they will only send ripe melons to market. Occasionally, though, certain suppliers will cut corners. And if they do it once, they will probably do it again. He advises that you take note of the supplier (look on the box or bin, or at the label on the watermelon itself). The chances are good that if their melons tasted bland once, they will taste bland again. Ditto with a wonderfully sweet melon. Ditch the bad melon supplier and have confidence in the good.
If you are growing your own watermelons, most of your crop will offer an-easy-to-spot harvesting clue: A curly corkscrew tendril grows on the vine, close to the fruit; if it is still green and pliable, the melon is unripe. When the tendril withers and turns dry, harvest the watermelon with confidence.