Two kids holding spoons and digging into a halved watermelon
How to Pick a Perfectly Ripe Watermelon

If a peach, banana or pear get picked a little too early, no biggie – they will continue to ripen as they mellow on your counter. Not the same with melons. They are non-climacteric fruits, which means that post-harvest, the sugars will no longer develop, and they will not continue to become tastier or sweeter as they age.

Melons aren’t themselves crystal balls in always helping us pick a winner, but on the outside they do provide very good signs as to how they’ll likely taste on the inside. These watermelon tests will help buy with confidence:

The Stem Test

I like to start here. If the stem is green, it was picked before it had a chance to ripen in the field. Look for a brown stem, which is a sign that it had the opportunity to ripen on the vine.

The Spot Test

As a watermelon grows in the field, it rests in place on the soil, thus, creating the telltale “ground spot”. These spots start out white and as the melon ripens, gradually change to a deep, golden straw color. When transformed, the melon is ready to harvest. If the ground spot is faint white, it hasn’t had enough time to fully mature, and will not have the juicy, sweet flavor you are after. The rest of the exterior should be dark in color and dull in luster – a shiny peel indicates the melon is not yet ripe. 

You may find “webbing” or “scarring” while taking a look at the skin. This is a good thing; these tiny, dotted lines on the surface are imperfections created during pollination and are a sign that the watermelon is sweet. At first glance they might appear to be dirt but won’t easily rub off.

The Push Test

Press on the watermelon – if it has a little give, that is a sign the watermelon is ripe. If it is too hard and there is no give, then the watermelon is likely not ripe. Make sure the exterior is free of large gashes, bruises, and soft spots. A juicy watermelon should feel heavy for its size. 

The Thump Test

Go ahead, knock. You might have seen someone doing this at the market, but the trick is to know what exactly to listen for. Some say if the melon sounds hollow, then it’s ripe. Unfortunately, it’s more nuanced than that – let me explain. When knocking, one is listening for certain auditory feedback. The less ripe the melon, the higher the pitch. Too low, and the fruit is overripe – you can almost hear a soggy sound. The trick is to return a perfect “punk”. Here is how Mark Twain once put it: “A ripe melon says ‘punk’ when thumped, a green one says ‘pink’ or ‘pank'”. So if you line up 5 melons in order of ripeness, when knocking on the most green melon, you’ll hear a higher pitched “pink” sound. You won’t want to cut into this one. As you move down the line you’ll hear “pank” and finally “punk”, which is the optimal note. This takes some practice, but once mastered, it’s a good cue.

The Knife Test

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re committed. However, you’ll be able to see how well you did sussing out the perfect melon. If when first cutting into a whole melon with a chef’s knife, the rind splits beautifully in two, you know you’re about to experience something special. A less ripe melon rind will require a lot more tending, having to cut nearly the full way around before it falls in two halves on your board.

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