The Right Way to Tell if a Watermelon Is Ripe

Never bring home an under-ripe watermelon again.

Watermelon is a sweet summer treat and has been a Southern favorite for generations. When you bite into a watermelon, what you want is juicy, sweet goodness. But if you don't wait long enough for it to ripen, what you will end up with is watery sadness. Nobody wants that. And you can avoid by learning how to tell whether or not a watermelon is ripe before you slice into it, rather than waiting to find out with a mouthful of flavorless disappointment.

Unlike other types of summer fruit, you can't give a watermelon the sniff test to determine whether it's ripe and ready to eat. When it comes to watermelon, you have to use your eyes and ears instead. Whether you're buying watermelon from the grocery store, the farmers' market, or off the bed of a pick-up truck, look (and listen) for these signs of ripeness.

REDA&CO / Contributor

The Stem

If the melon still has a bit of its stem attached at one end, you actually want to select one that is more brown side than crisp and green. While a hard, green stem is an indication that the watermelon was harvested recently, its greenness also means that the melon has not had enough time to ripen.

Ground Spots and Sugar Spots

When a watermelon is ripe, you'll see a patch of yellow rind on its underside. This area is called the ground spot—or belly spot or field spot—because it's the part of the melon that touched the ground and wasn't exposed to sunlight as it grew. If you can't find the ground spot, it's likely that the melon was harvested too soon and didn't have a chance to fully ripen. Or, if there is a ground spot but it's more white than yellow, that is also an indication that it may have been picked from the vine too early. A yellow ground spot is the best sign that the watermelon is ripe and plenty sweet. You should also look for brownish, black dots known as sugar spots on the melon. These are a sign that the melon is practically brimming with sugar and will be quite delicious. But the ground spot and sugar spot are not to be confused with the black and white specks that come along with belly rot, a condition that speeds up the molding process. A melon with belly rot will not only have a bitter taste, but it might also make you sick. Avoid these at all costs.

Smooth, Dull Skin, and a Uniform Shape

Give the rind a close inspection on all sides. Avoid watermelons with cuts and soft spots. It's okay if the rind on the top of the melon looks a bit faded—that is due to sun exposure, and another sign of ripeness. Furthermore, watermelon that is lumpy or irregular, its taste is likely to be inconsistent, as the fruit likely received inconsistent amounts of sun and water while growing. The skin should also look dull, not shiny. Shinier rinds are newer rinds, and that means the melon has not had enough time to mature. You want a melon with a duller look, which indicates that it has spent enough time ripening on the vine.

Hollow Sound

Opinions vary as to whether or not you should thump a watermelon to test its ripeness. It may sound silly, but some say you should lightly rap your fist on the underside of the melon and listen for a resonant, hollow sound. This is supposed to indicate that the melon is plenty juicy and ready to eat. According to this theory, you should pass on the melon if the thumping results in a dull sound or if the rind feels soft.

Nice and Heavy

The easiest way to tell whether a watermelon is ripe is to simply pick it up. It should feel weighty in your hands, no matter its size. But you can't really be expected to know how much a watermelon of any given size should weigh. So, the best way to determine which melon is weighty enough is to pick up two or more melons of approximately the same size. Then, your best bet is to choose the heavier melon.

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