Now that you’ve selected a watermelon, how do you break it down? I like to fully cut it up into chunks and keep it in the fridge so it’s ready to eat. You’ll need two 14-cup containers or similar volume containers for a typical size seedless watermelon, and just one or slightly smaller for a miniature watermelon. You will also need a sharp chef’s knife, cutting board, and some paper towels or spare dish towel. It takes me about 20-30 minutes to break down an average size watermelon, 10-15 for a mini. If you have never cut a watermelon before, I recommend reading through to the end before starting.
- Wash and dry your watermelon.
- Cut it in half. Cut the halves into quarters, then the quarters into eighths.
- Put each eighth flat side down and cut slices about 1.5-2 inches wide.
- Trim the rind off each slice.
- Cut the rindless watermelon in a cross-hatch to get it into chunks.
- Place in container to eat or chill in the fridge.
1. Prepare Your Watermelon. Store your uncut watermelon somewhere safe and cool on your counter or floor. Safe means it cannot roll away, be tripped over, or reached by children and pets.
Wash your watermelon when you are ready to cut it. I use a little dish soap and then dry it with a dish towel (paper towels work too). Keep the towel nearby to wipe juice off your hands or counter. Washing removes any gunk that may be on the rind, prevents you from pushing said exterior gunk into your watermelon with the knife, and provides a clean grip on the rind to start.
2. Prepare Your Workspace. Set up at your desired counter space. I work next to my sink, which is good for juice runoff and close to my trash can. If needed, move your trash can nearby or set out a large bowl or a plastic bag so you can directly toss rind pieces as you cut. Tuck one or two folded paper towels under the front end of your cutting board to catch juice runoff instead of accidentally leaning into it with your clothes.
3. The First Cut is the Deepest. Set your clean watermelon on top of your cutting board. Let it settle naturally. One side will balance, as it previously sat on the ground while growing. The watermelon stripes should run left to right (horizontal). At all times, aim to keep the watermelon with as flat a side possible against the cutting board, and a knife movement that is comfortable. You can always move your watermelon to gain control more easily than contorting your hand.
The goal is to cut your watermelon in half so it looks like two round bowls, or a left and right hemisphere. Insert your knife in the top middle of the watermelon. Push the knife blade about 50-75% into the center of the melon to get the best leverage on the knife.
Place your free hand at the outside end or top of the watermelon, whichever feels comfortable but out of the path of your knife. Guide the blade down in a few motions to make the halfway cut on the side facing you, then remove the knife. If the knife ever feels stuck, gently wiggle it as you slowly pull the knife outward.
Rotate your melon or cutting board 180 degrees to cut the other side. Do not try to reach all the way over the melon and cut away from you. The halves by no means need to be even or perfect. Trim off any loose slivers or uneven parts and take the opportunity to quality control the heart of your watermelon.
4. Quarter the Watermelon. Aka cut if in half again. Set half of your watermelon aside. If it’s warm in your workspace or you are outside, cover the spare half with some plastic wrap or a reusable cover. Take your “working” half of the watermelon and turn it over so the flat, pink side is down against your cutting board. Cut this piece in half using two cuts, just as you did previously (cut, rotate, cut).
At this point, I set one of the quarters aside and work with one quarter until it is completely broken down into chunks. Then I go back to the other quarter, then half. You will ultimately need eigths, so if you prefer a slightly different order you certainly can do that.
5. Eighth Pieces. Keeping your quarter pieces flat side down, cut those in half again so you have 1/8 (eighth) pieces of the watermelon.
6. Slice, Slice, Baby. Keep one eighth on your cutting board and set all other pieces aside for working room. Rotate it so you can slice from a flat end with your dominant hand. About 1.5-2 inches from the flat open edge, cut a slice off the wedge from top to bottom. I typically get 3-4 slices off this section of the watermelon before you hit the awkward end piece.
If you plan to eat your watermelon in rind-on slices, adjust your slice width and size accordingly. This is great for grubby beach fingers, but otherwise the rind is a waste of space on your plate or in your fridge so we’ll keep going.
7. Remove the Rind. Turn the watermelon slice so the rind is against the cutting board. Hold the top, pointy part of the slice with your non-dominant hand. Line your knife up at the edge about 1/4 inch above the end of where the rind meets the pink part. Slowly carve the rind off the watermelon flesh.
Note that sometimes the rind is on an angle, and you can tilt the slice a bit to keep your knife pretty level. Err on the side of leaving too much rind, since you can always trim that off. Toss the rind into your trash (can, bowl, compost, etc).
Now, I know, you’re thinking – Hayley, this is not the flat side of the watermelon laying down! At this point, I find this to be the most secure way to hold it to cut off the rind while keeping your spare hand several inches away from and out of the path of your knife. If you were to put any of the flat sides down, you are likely going to be carving the rind off very closely to your fingers, or toward your fingers and body, or both.
8. Chop it Up! Now that you’ve freed the watermelon flesh from the rind, lay it down flat like a piece of paper. Slice it like a grid with vertical and then horizontal cuts. The curved edge may yield one piece less than the sections next to it. If you find your watermelon chunks too large or small, adjust your cuts on the next piece until you are happy. Transfer the pieces into your ready container.
9. The End Piece. Repeat steps 7-8 with each slice. Eventually you will get to the end piece, which has the most rind and looks a bit like a pyramid. Lay this piece on your cutting board with the rind against the board and pointed end up. Grip the top of the pyramid with your non-dominant hand fingers, and trim the rind off one side. When you get to the end, remove the knife, rotate the end piece, and continue on the second and third edges.
Once you’ve carved all the way along the bottom, insert your knife into your cut mark at the center of any side and push the knife down like a lever. If the watermelon does not come off the rind, go over your cut marks again and ensure your knife blade is reaching the middle of the piece.
Cut the end piece into chunks. You may realize you could have cut another slice prior, or left more for the end piece.
10. Keep Going, that was only 1/8 of your watermelon. Get your remaining pieces into eigths (steps 4-5), then repeat slicing and dicing (steps 6-9) until complete. Enjoy your watermelon fresh, or cover and place in the fridge to chill.
Cutting your own watermelon is cheaper than buying pre-cut from the store, but you do need more time and fridge space. You can also usually find a watermelon section or wedge near the prepared fruit that is portioned and priced somewhere in between a whole watermelon and pre-cut watermelon.
If you have a needy household member who is watching you and eating watermelon faster than you can cut it, hand them a full triangular slice to keep them busy while you work.
There are certainly other ways to break down a watermelon – I find this easiest and quickest way to cut it up while dealing with the least round sections that may roll or slip away.
Be sure to wipe down any juice-covered surfaces with water or cleaning spray, or it will be sticky later.
You can freeze excess watermelon though it is best fresh. I have not actually tried to eat thawed frozen watermelon, but have used it in blended drinks like smoothies or frose.