Nothing says summer like a juicy slice of watermelon. But we all know how disappointing it can be to bring home a whole watermelon and cut it into pieces, only to discover it is dry and mealy. You can avoid this by learning how to select the perfect melon for your use.
Choosing a Fresh Watermelon
Watermelon season runs from May to September; its peak is mid-June to late August. Watermelons are sold whole, halved, quartered, and cubed. Common types of watermelon include seedless, picnic, icebox, and yellow/orange-fleshed. Each type also has multiple varieties. Seedless watermelons will be void of the dark black seeds but will have small white underdeveloped seeds that are fine to eat. Picnic watermelons are large, round or oblong, with green rind and red flesh. The icebox is like a personal-size watermelon, small and round and perfect for one person or a small family. The yellow/orange watermelons have yellow-orange flesh and can have seeds or be seedless.
No matter which type you choose, look for skin that is dull and slightly waxy (although many watermelons are waxed to add shine), yielding only slightly to pressure. Make sure there are no cuts or dents. The stem should be attached, brownish in color and dry. The round or oblong melon should be symmetrical without any flat sides, feeling heavy for its size.
Some experts believe that making sure the underside (where it lies on the ground) is a pale yellow color is a sure sign of ripeness. Others use the "thumping method" with great success. Here's how to do it: Flick your middle finger off your thumb and against the melon, listening for a deep, low thud, an indication that your melon is ripe.
If buying a cut watermelon, look for bright red flesh with mature dark brown or black seeds. Unless it is a seedless variety, an abundance of white seeds means it was picked before its prime. Avoid melons with white streaks through the flesh and pieces where the flesh is mealy, dry, cracked, and/or separating from the seeds. Bypass any cut pieces that are sitting in liquid. That's a sign the watermelon has been sitting for too long.
Watermelons are picked when they are ripe so they will not continue to ripen and soften much at room temperature. Melons picked before their prime will never develop full flavor. A whole watermelon can be stored in the refrigerator or left at room temperature for a week or two. Cut watermelon should be wrapped in plastic, refrigerated and used within three to five days. You can also freeze cut watermelon, but the texture will be soft when thawed (which is fine for cold soups and smoothies).
More About Watermelon
You've selected a beautiful, ripe watermelon—now what? Consider using this delicious melon to create your own watermelon basket.