David explains his 6-step approach to how to tell if a watermelon is the ripest, juiciest, sweetest watermelon possible. Works like a charm each and every darn time.

Watermelon, one of summer’s cool, shivery treats, can be a blast or a bust. You know that feeling when you expect sweetness but instead get a ho-hum mouthful of watery nothingness.

Here are six tips on how to select a watermelon that’s perfectly ripe.

1. Pick it up

A person selecting a watermelon from a pile of perfectly ripe melons.
: Lightfield Studios

A ripe watermelon should feel heavy for its size. And heavy is a good thing. (As a man of portly proportions, I love being able to write that!) So, when shopping, always choose the heavier of two same-size melons.

2. Look for the yellow spot

A pile of watermelons with yellow sweet spots to help you tell if a watermelon is perfectly ripe.
: trongnguyen/Adobe

Since watermelons grow on the ground, the spot where they’re in contact with the earth gets no light–hence no green color. That area is called the “field spot” and is probably the best indicator of ripeness and sweetness. Look for a spot that’s yellow in color, which means it’s been ripening on the vine for a long time. A light-colored or white spot means the melon was picked too early. And too early means a fruit that’s fakakta.

3. Give it a good spanking

Okay, you can settle for a good rap with your knuckles. A ripe watermelon will feel sturdy and have a resonant, satisfying hollow sound. That means it’s bursting with watermelon juiciness and is at its peak of ripeness. If the thwap is dull sounding or the fruit feels soft, pass on it.

4. Look for a uniform shape

We here at LC embrace the irregularities of food and life. We welcome misfit veggies and adore ugly fruit. But, sorry, not when it comes to watermelon. We go for cover-model shapes. If your melon is bumpy or has ridges, it’s most likely the recipient of inconsistent love from nature–meaning it was alternately neglected and smothered in sun or water. And you don’t need a melon with emotional baggage.

5. Find the sugar spot

A pile of watermelons with yellow spots as a clue for how to tell if a watermelon is perfectly ripe.
: Syda Productions

No, this isn’t the title of some pop song with explicit lyrics. The sugar spot is a dark brown rough patch, or webbing, that looks almost like dirt. This is where the sugar is seeping out of the fruit. Sugar=sweetness. Sweetness=a good time had by all.

Wedges of watermelon on a cutting board, a knife on the side, and watermelons in the background.
: Shaiith/Adobe

6. Go for dull

A shiny, dewy complexion ain’t for watermelon. A mature, has-seen-the-garden melon has a dull surface…and it’s what lies below that lackluster surface that counts. Sweetness.

A black oval dish filled with watermelon salad with Aleppo pepper and black olives.
: William Brinsom

And now . . .

One of summer’s simplest rituals is eating watermelon out of hand (and, if you’re a kid, spitting the seeds at your brother). But have you ever considered watermelon with a sprinkle of sea salt? The cool of watermelon spiked with the heat of Aleppo pepper? Or juxtaposed with salty feta and tangy cherry tomatoes? Or rubbed with the cut side of fresh ginger? Or even tossed on the grill—yes, we’re telling you to heat watermelon. Just brush both sides with a wee bit of olive and place it on the grill for a few minutes to take the edge off its crispness. And, of course, you can always churn it into sorbet.

Three scoops of watermelon sorbet in a white serving dish.
: Quentin Bacon

So now you have superpowers. Go, now, dear fruit lover, and be the Master of Your Own Watermelon-verse.

A person holding their arms up against a wall that has watermelon grafitti painted on it.
: Gijs Coolen

Originally published August 8, 2020

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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  1. Tho hard to find, bullet watermelon with seeds are the juiciest and sweetest. Usually more expensive than the round ones but great for seed spitting on a hot summer day.
    Thunking the melon has always been my go-to for picking a melon and after that, the yellow spot. Someone once told me that the brownish pock marks were from bees and indicated the melon was sweet.
    I really appreciate the tips on picking a good melon but a not so good one just means a lot of vodka watermelon margaritas. So it”s summer and it’s all good.

    1. Marilyn, thank you for introducing me to bullet watermelons. I’ve never heard of them before. I don’t think our local markets sell them, but I’ll check the farmstands this summer. And there’s nothing like a vodka watermelon margarita, is there?