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/ Source: TODAY
By Lauren Salkeld

Sweet, juicy watermelon is one of summer’s most beloved treats.

But watermelons are large, heavy and if you happen to get a less-than-stellar specimen, you’re stuck with a lot of lackluster fruit. Here’s everything you need to know to pick out a beautifully ripe melon, plus how to prep, store and enjoy it in different ways.

How to shop for watermelon

  • Watermelon comes in different sizes, as well as with and without seeds. You can even by a half or a quarter of a watermelon at most grocery stores. And it's also available in pre-cut slices or cubes — but you'll end paying quite a bit more for that convenience.
  • A whole watermelon should be hard and firm, with no soft spots or cracks. Weight is a sign that there’s a lot of water inside and the fruit will be juicy, so look for watermelons that are heavy for their size.
  • If you knock on the underside of a ripe watermelon, it should sound hollow; under-ripe and over-ripe melons tend to sound dull.
  • A creamy yellow spot on the watermelon’s underside is actually a good sign of ripeness. It’s called the "field spot" and it's where the melon was resting on the ground. Darker field spots usually mean the melon spent more time ripening on the vine, while a white or non-existent field spot typically means under-ripe fruit.

How to store watermelon

  • Whole watermelons can be kept at room temperature for up to 10 days. Once cut, watermelon should be refrigerated in an airtight container, and will keep for 3-5 days. If you buy pre-cut melon in the store, it will probably last 2 or 3 days before the texture and color start to change.
  • If you're serving melon outside on a hot day, it's best to put it over ice to keep it nice and cool.

How to cut and prepare watermelon

  • To cut a watermelon, use a large chef’s knife or a serrated knife to carefully cut off both ends, then cut the fruit in half crosswise.
  • Flip the watermelon halves so they sit flat on the cutting board. Following the curve of the watermelon, use vertical cuts to remove the rind then cut the melon crosswise into slices.
  • Arrange the slices so they sit flat on the cutting board then cut them into sticks or cubes.

Our favorite watermelon recipes

Watermelon Panzanella Salad

The sweetness of the watermelon is an excellent foil for the salty feta cheese in this take on Italian panzanella, which is traditionally made with tomatoes and bread. The crunch of the toasted bread and fresh cucumber add a wonderfully satisfying texture to this summery salad.

Watermelon Sangria

Watermelon Sangria

Ree Drummond

Ree Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman, knows a thing or two about throwing parties for crowds. With this summery sangria, she adds big chunks of fresh watermelon to rosé wine — what's not to love? The best part is eating the wine-soaked chunks of fruit when you're all done sipping!

Watermelon Fruit Cake

Zach Pagano / TODAY

This refreshing dessert is made entirely from fresh fruit, and you can top it with cream and nuts. If you want to make it vegan, try topping it with a whipped coconut cream.

Ingredients

1 seedless watermelon

1/2 pint strawberries

2/3 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoon sugar

1 pint raspberries

1/4 cup chopped pistachios

Preparation

Cut a thick, 3-inch slice from the center of the melon (this should resemble a big cake layer). Trim the rind from the slice, making it as neat and as round as possible. Place on a platter.

Remove the green tops from the berries, then thinly slice the fruit. Overlap strawberry slices around the base of the watermelon. Whip the cream and sugar to soft-stiff peaks. Spoon the cream on top of the fruity cake and sprinkle with raspberries, pistachios or any fresh toppings.

This article was originally posted June 24, 2015.