A few weeks ago, I came home with probably the biggest watermelon I’ve ever purchased. I got to the farmers market later than usual, so the smaller melons were gone, and from there I lugged away the behemoth in the bright red wagon that used to tow my son and more often now carries my produce.
The melon sat around for a few days. I felt I needed to gather the gumption to finally devote the time needed to carve it up. Finally, one late afternoon, I grabbed my chef’s knife, a too-small cutting board and set about to work. Almost half an hour later, I had my kid-friendly cubes — two containers full, which lasted us a good week and a half.
A big watermelon — we’re talking an average of 20 pounds! — is a summer icon. But how to store, cut and use it all? Here’s my strategy, and a few other tips.
Buying and storing. “The New Food Lover’s Companion” by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst recommends slapping the watermelon on the side (this may not be possible in a coronavirus world) to listen for a hollow sound, which indicates ripeness. The melon should be symmetrical, with no flat sides, soft spots or gashes. Store the whole melon in the fridge, if possible, or at least a cool, dark place. The authors say that cut watermelon should be used in a day or two, which, well, is never going to happen in my small household. As I said, I’ve kept cut pieces around for at least a week, though they do tend to weep liquid and lose some of their vibrant flavor over time. In general, eat sooner rather than later. The more cut the melon gets, the more it deteriorates, so you can always cut half of it and leave the other half intact, tightly wrapped, until you’re ready to use it. Keep in mind that watermelon is ethylene sensitive, so it should be stored separately from ethylene producers, such as tomatoes, apples and peaches.
Cutting. There are lots of ways to go here. Just be sure you have a sharp knife — I always use my large chef’s knife — and a large cutting board.
- Wedges. It’s definitely among the most straightforward options. Divide the melon into quarters or eighths, depending on size, and then cut into slices. Ideal for a cookout or seed-spitting contest.
- Cubes. This is my go-to method, honed after years of cutting pineapples in a similar way. Cut both ends of the watermelon off, ensuring you get down to the red flesh. Stand the watermelon up on one of the cut ends — if the watermelon is very long and unwieldy to stand up, cut it in half parallel to the ends and then prop it up with the end side facing upward. Starting at the top, carve off the rind, following the contours of the melon. Try to leave as much fruit intact as possible. If I haven’t done so already, I then cut the melon in half and, going from the end toward the middle, slice large planks. Thickness is up to you, depending on how large you want the pieces. Cut the planks into cubes with two sets of perpendicular cuts, stacking the planks if possible to make quicker work. Ideal for snacking or fruit salad.
- Sticks. Go for something attractive that requires very little effort. Cut the melon in half through the equator and stand up with the cut side down. Make two sets of perpendicular cuts to form a crosshatch pattern of squares in the rind. Separate, and you’re done. Ideal for kids and group meals.
- Balls. Cut that melon in half, grab your melon baller and scoop away. Best for fruit salad, fancy drinks and people with lots of patience.
Using. Watermelon’s high water content and vivid color make it ideal for drinks, with or without alcohol. Watermelon salad, especially with feta, is always refreshing. Double down on its cooling potential by going for something frozen, such as granita, sorbet or ice pops. Incorporate it into a summery gazpacho. Dice into salsa. And definitely pickle those rinds!
For more specific ideas on how to make a dent in your melon, check out these recipes from our archives.
Summer Watermelon Punch. You’ll be richly rewarded for the effort you put into this large-format cocktail.
Watermelon Molasses. Make a sauce for meat out of watermelon? Yes, our minds were blown, too.
Grilled Watermelon. You can still serve this chilled, but grilling it first allows you to create a bit of caramelization and concentrated flavor.
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