How to Pick the Perfect Watermelon For a Sweet Summer Treat

Young girl eating a watermelon
Rolencino/Bigstock

How can you tell if a watermelon is ripe? Here is everything you need to know to pick the perfect watermelon in the store or from the garden.

Nothing says summer like biting into a piece of juicy, sweet watermelon. But getting that long-sought-after summer experience of enjoying the perfect piece of melon means being able to pick the perfect fruit in the first place.

Whether you’re shopping for melons or picking them straight out of the garden, here’s everything you need to know to pick the perfect watermelon and ensure your summer picnic or barbeque is everything you dreamed it would be.

How to Pick the Perfect Watermelon In the Produce Aisle

Choosing a watermelon in the grocery story
Choosing a watermelon in the grocery story. Photo credit: evgenii mitroshin/Bigstock

Watermelon season begins in August, but the fruits tend to be the best and most plentiful in September. If you can wait, you’ll often be rewarded. But even if you can’t wait, the tips below will help you find the sweetest watermelon your grocery store or farmer’s market has to offer.

1. Choose the Heaviest One

No matter what size watermelon you are angling for, pick the heaviest in that size range. Heavy means the fruit is bursting with water, and lots of water means more sweet pink flesh to enjoy. 

2. Give It a Tap

Melons with plenty of pink, juicy flesh will sound hollow when you tap on them. Any fruit that sounds solid, dull, or tinny when tapped likely has a thick inedible rind, less sweet flesh, and was probably picked before it had a chance to ripen up.

3. Check the Spot

Yellow spot on a watermelon
Yellow spot on a watermelon. Photo: © Clean Green Simple

All melons will have a slight discoloration on one side where the fruit made contact with the ground. This is known as a “field spot.” As the watermelon ripens, this spot becomes more and more yellow. The creamier and deeper yellow the spot, the riper the melon. Any watermelon with a pale or white discoloration was picked before peak ripeness and should be left for the next unassuming consumer.

4. Look for Symmetry

Melons that received consistent watering will be juicier than those that had to deal with intermittent dry periods. You can spot well-watered melons by their smooth, uniform shape (circular or oblong) and a lack of and humps.

5. Don’t Pick the Pretty One

While symmetrical is good, shiny is not. Dull watermelons are riper than shiny ones and will taste much better. And don’t shy away from melons with scabby scars on the side with the yellow spot. These are actually caused by the sugar leaching out of the fruit and indicate a sweeter than normal melon (the photo above is a good example).

How to Pick a Perfectly Ripe Watermelon From the Garden

Large oblong watermelon in a watermelon patch
Large oblong watermelon in a watermelon patch. Photo: © Clean Green Simple

If you’re shopping for watermelon, you’re going to be limited by the quality of the selection provided by the store. But if you’re lucky enough to grow your own melons, your odds of getting a perfectly ripe, beautifully sweet treat are much higher.

This process may take a little patience, but it is well worth it in the end.

1. Get Familiar with Your Fruit

As you count down the days until your watermelon should be ripe, it’s a good idea to get familiar with what the fruits look and sound like. Unripe fruits will be shiny, sound dull or tinny when tapped on, and the blemish or field spot where their skin has rested on the ground will be white or pale in color. Commit these sights and sounds to memory and be on the lookout for any changes.

2. Show Some Tough Love

Once your melons have reached their mature size, but before they start to show other signs of ripening, begin to withhold water. Fruits that are subjected to a touch of drought before picking will have a higher concentration of sugar and taste way sweeter. Water just enough to keep your vines and leaves from wilting, but not any more.

3. Check Off the Boxes

A ripe melon will change from shiny and bright to a dull green, the field spot will change from pale to a creamy or strawy yellow, and the sound they make when you tap on them will be deep and hollow instead of dull. Once your watermelon shows all of these changes, it might be ready to pick and enjoy!

4. Look for a Brown Tendril

The most surefire way to tell if a watermelon is ripe and sweet is to check for a dry, brown tendril, or “curly q,” closest to the main stem of the watermelon. When you see that, it’s ready to harvest.

5. Be Ready for More

Melons will typically all ripen within about a two-week span. So, once your first fruit hits perfection, expect the rest to be ready pick soon afterward.

How to Store a Watermelon

Once you have the perfect watermelon, you don’t want to chance having it spoil on you. 

For grocery store melons, it can be hard to know how long ago they were picked, so the sooner you can use them, the better. Most will stay fresh for up to a week either in the fridge or on the counter. Leaving the melon on the counter will allow it time to get even sweeter, but if your house tends to get hot, move it to a cool basement or the fridge to avoid it overrippening.

Freshly picked garden or farmer’s market melons will typically be fine on the counter in a cool room for up to two weeks.

Once a watermelon is cut, use plastic wrap or, even better, a beeswax wrap to cover the pink flesh and pace the leftovers in the fridge. Leftover watermelon should keep for around three days.