The Pro Knows

A Plant Pathologist’s 3 Easy Tips For Picking A Good Watermelon

This is useful advice, any way you slice it.

Learning how to pick a good watermelon can make the difference between a sweet fruit and a bland one...
Vladimir Grigorev/EyeEm/Getty Images

When it comes to summer, the date on the calendar doesn't matter — it just doesn't feel like the season has officially arrived until you've snacked on a juicy watermelon, right? Watermelons are synonymous with sunshine and warm weather. You can't have one without the other, and we aren't just saying that because May through August is peak watermelon season. Thanks to its sugary-sweet taste, you can easily include this fruit in your favorite summer salads, wraps, and desserts. But, the tricky part is figuring out how to pick a good watermelon.

Unlike other summertime fruits like peaches, watermelons are picked at the peak of their ripeness. "Watermelons sit on the vine for about 70 to 100 days before they reach peak harvest and are hand-picked by farmers," Sue Colucci, plant pathologist and seed sales representative at Clifton Seed Company, tells Scary Mommy. "Similar to strawberries, watermelons don't ripen off the vine. So once a watermelon is picked, that's as ripe as it's going to get." In other words, you can't place a watermelon in a paper bag and hope it ripens like you would an avocado or apricot. This also means a picked watermelon won't develop any more sugar. Because the watermelons at the grocery store are already ripe, picking a good watermelon is actually easy peasy. All it comes down to is physical appearance, weight, and whether or not the watermelon has a ground spot.

Grocery shopping with the kids can go one of two ways. Picking a good watermelon can be a fun and interactive distraction to keep them from slipping junk food into the cart (we see you, sneakers!). Keep reading for expert tips and tricks to picking a good watermelon. Plus, how to tell when the watermelon is drying out.

How to Pick a Good Watermelon

So, what's the secret to picking a sugary-sweet watermelon on the first try? Colucci says it comes down to an easy three-step process: appearance, heaviness, and locating its ground spot.

Step 1: Give the watermelon a physical exam.

"As with all produce, you want to ensure the watermelon is free of bruises, soft spots, and gashes that could have happened en route to the grocery store," Colucci explains. Watermelons that were accidentally dropped or mishandled during transportation and delivery could have cuts or mushy idents, so be on the lookout for those. A good watermelon will be round and symmetrical with no deformities.

Step 2: Do arm lifts with the watermelon (no, seriously!).

Now that you've found a watermelon that aces the physical test, it's time to get those arm reps in with a quick workout. "Watermelon is 92% water, so a watermelon that feels heavier than it looks is a pretty strong indicator that you've picked a good one!" Colucci says. Take the watermelon for a spin — lift it, hold it, fist pump it, and compare it to its neighbors. These things shouldn't come totally effortlessly; watermelons are supposed to feel heavy.

Step 3: Locate the watermelon's ground spot.

Lastly, and most importantly, you want to find the watermelon's creamy yellow spot, otherwise known as its ground spot. While all-green watermelons are pretty, they may not taste as sweet as they look. "If a watermelon is all green, that could be a sign it was harvested too early," Colucci says. "The nice, creamy yellow spot on a watermelon indicates where the watermelon sat on the ground. The area turns yellow because it wasn't directly exposed to the sun." A round and heavy watermelon with a yellow spot should be perfectly ripe. Don't worry if the watermelon's stem is still attached, as the farmer could have just missed it. The color of a watermelon's stripes doesn't matter either.

How to Tell if a Watermelon Is Bad

Between summer camp schedules and pool playdates, summer days go by fast — and before you know it, the sliced watermelon has sat in the fridge untouched for a week. Watermelon (whole and sliced) should be eaten as soon as possible for best taste. If you're nervous that the watermelon is approaching its expiration date, inspect its flesh (the red part of the fruit). According to Colucci, its texture should be crisp, not hard, soft, or mushy. If the watermelon isn't holding its shape, or it's beginning to look watery and the flesh is translucent, that could also mean it's going bad. A wilting or dry rind could be another sign that the watermelon is aging.

However, that doesn't mean you have to toss it. "The cool thing about watermelon is that every part of it can be used," says Colucci. If the watermelon has passed its "snacking" stage, you can visit https://www.watermelon.org/ for recipe ideas and tutorials on what to do with its flesh, juice, and rind.

Expert Sources:

Sue Colucci, plant pathologist and seed sales representative at Clifton Seed Company