It is now August, which means it is time to ask: Have you grilled a watermelon? Have you smoked one? Sous-vide one? If not, why not?
Many people believe watermelon is best served cold, much like revenge or gazpacho. I also used to think that, but then I discovered the internet. Online, watermelon is an ovoid of possibility. Internet watermelons are not simple slice-and-serve operations. These watermelons are burgers. These watermelons are hams.
The concept of “hot watermelon” is not new, exactly, but like a watermelon dropped by fraternal brothers off a balcony, the trend has, in recent years, exploded. “Grilled watermelon may seem like a culinary joke, something esoteric that experimental chefs create in high-end restaurants to titillate jaded diners’ palates,” wrote Juliane Glatz in the Illinois Times, back in 2011. “But trust me, it’s not at all weird to eat. Grilled watermelon’s texture and taste are a revelation, yet not at all strange.”
Glatz recommends slicing a watermelon into wedges, brushing those wedges with olive oil, and grilling them. The result is meaty, but also, it is still watermelon. At SeriousEats, Joshua Bousel tried a similar recipe (adapted from Watermelon.org, a mouthpiece for Big Watermelon), and reported his results were mixed: “One by one, my friends curiously tried this watermelon and spat out disguised comments like, ‘weird’ or ‘that’s different.’” Not everyone is up for innovation, is the problem; people probably said the same thing about electricity.
These slabs of cooked watermelon might be called “watermelon steaks,” although the Wikipedia page for watermelon steak cautions that “watermelon is not a nutritional substitute for traditional steak,” on account of being watermelon.
But grilling watermelon is just the beginning. On Instagram — itself a hotbed of hot watermelon — chef Grant Achatz recalls first being introduced to manipulated melons by Andoni Luis Aduriz, whose restaurant, Mugaritz, in northern Spain, is one of the most celebrated kitchens in the world. The accolades are not a direct result of the watermelon, but who can say they aren’t related? Achatz’s own watermelon process involves roasting the melon (slowly, for 30 hours), dehydrating the melon, and then rehydrating the melon. He has moved beyond the watermelon steak. This is watermelon turned into Spanish salted tuna loin. It is watermelon mojama:
It is possible that the novelty of hot watermelon would have remained exclusive to avant-garde restaurants and backyard BBQs were it not for the 2018 advent of the smoked watermelon ham. The brainchild of Ducks Eatery chef and co-owner Will Horowitz, the smoked watermelon ham was a sensation. It was also exactly what it sounded like: A ham. Made out of watermelon. It turns out hamming a watermelon is not a simple or quick process. The waterham, Eater reported at the time, was “cured for four to six days, dried, smoked for eight hours, and then finished in a pan.” It cost $75 and had a monthslong waiting list.
Would you like to smoke your own watermelon ham? Conveniently, BuzzFeed’s Tasty has a recipe. “The key to success,” they advise, “is properly smoking the melon.” This is good advice: Generally, it’s best to do things right instead of wrong. Their recipe takes two days, but now that time has lost all meaning, that seems reasonable. What’s the difference? You can even wash it down with a new watermelon-flavored LaCroix.
If that is too much commitment for you, Allison Robicelli at the Takeout has the latest iteration of grilled watermelon and it is as simple as it is appealing: watermelon burgers, which she promises, persuasively, are a good idea. “As watermelon sits directly over an open flame, the most miraculous things happen to its flavor and texture — indescribable things,” she writes. Most foods are better as burgers; why not watermelon? It is logically consistent.
Normally, Grub Street’s approach to cooking is one that champions simplicity over futziness. Watermelon is very good, so why put in the effort to do something that might make it less good? But we are in the middle of a crisis and this is no time for conventional thinking. We must seize excitement where we can; right now, that might be watermelon.