A Fourth of July BBQ isn’t complete without watermelon. Though the juicy summertime staple is delicious on its own — especially if you pick the right one — with a little extra effort, it can be easily transformed into a memorable dish or snack.

Here are five ways to use watermelon creatively, without a step-by-step recipe. All you need is a sharp knife, a large cutting board, and a few ingredients you likely have in your pantry.

How to pick a watermelon: Many shoppers “thump” watermelons and listen for the right sound, but that highly subjective practice could take years to perfect. Here are some straightforward cues to picking a well-ripened watermelon:

  • Look for one that’s uniformly round, without dents or bruises.

  • It should feel heavy — lift several to compare weights.

  • Look for the yellow (sometimes white) spot on the rind, called the field spot — or where the watermelon sat on the ground. The deeper the shade of yellow, the better.

Grilled watermelon

If you’re firing up the grill (or grill pan) for steaks or BBQ chicken, consider tossing a few slices of watermelon on before or after. A quick turn on a hot grate will caramelize the fruit while adding subtle smokiness.

Top grilled watermelon with crumbled cheese, fresh herbs, and cracked black pepper for a simple salad.
iStock
Top grilled watermelon with crumbled cheese, fresh herbs, and cracked black pepper for a simple salad.

You can grill rind-on slices plain, but brushing then with a simple dressing containing a bit of sweetener will enhance the sear and flavor. Try whisking one part lime or lemon juice with one part honey and a dash of cayenne or a handful of chopped mint. One part olive oil, one part honey, and a splash of balsamic vinegar works well, too. Experiment with sweetness and flavors by swapping sugar or maple syrup for the honey. Be sure to add a pinch of salt to either dressing.

Cut the watermelon into one-inch rounds and put them on a hot grill. The fruit needs only two to three minutes per side. Brush the dressing on as the slices grill — the additional sugar will deepen the char.

Serve grilled watermelon on its own, or pair it with feta or a dollop of tangy Greek yogurt. For a dessert take, whisk cinnamon or another baking spice into the dressing, then top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Tequila-spiked Popsicles

Consider this a margarita on a stick. Buy a box of wooden Popsicle sticks, available at craft shops and in the craft section of most big-box stores. You’ll also need tequila, a lime, sea salt, and, of course, a whole watermelon.

Cut the watermelon into one-inch rounds, then slice each round into triangles. Insert a paring knife into the rind in the center of each slice to make slits for the sticks. In a bowl or a plastic bag, combine the watermelon wedges with 1/2 ounce of tequila per slice. Add the juice of one lime, then stir or shake. Let soak for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the liquid has been mostly absorbed.

Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Insert the sticks into the watermelon slices. Place the pops on the baking sheet, then sprinkle with sea salt. Place the baking sheets in the freezer until the watermelon is frozen, about three hours.

For a mojito version, use white rum that has been muddled with mint leaves. The fruit will absorb only so much liquid, so experiment with adding more or less alcohol to figure out the best proportion.

‘Pizza’

Don’t think twice about downing three or four slices of this “pizza” — made with toppings that are just as fresh and light as the base.

Watermelon "pizza" slices lend themselves to numerous topping options. Picture here are slices with toasted coconut flakes, salt, and curry powder (top left), arugula, goat cheese, and balsamic reduction (bottom left), raspberries, pistachios, and honey (bottom right), and blueberries and toasted coconut flakes (top right).
Grace Dickinson / STAFF
Watermelon "pizza" slices lend themselves to numerous topping options. Picture here are slices with toasted coconut flakes, salt, and curry powder (top left), arugula, goat cheese, and balsamic reduction (bottom left), raspberries, pistachios, and honey (bottom right), and blueberries and toasted coconut flakes (top right).

Consider the following combinations, all of which pair well with a dash of salt:

  • Toasted coconut flakes, honey, lime, blueberries
  • Sliced cucumber, feta, mint
  • Arugula, balsamic reduction, goat cheese
  • Raspberries, pistachios, honey
  • Toasted coconut flakes, dash of curry powder
  • Sliced strawberries, mint, goat cheese
  • Sliced peaches, basil, feta
  • Toasted pumpkin seeds, blackberries, dash of cayenne, honey

Assemble your toppings, then cut the melon, rind intact, into one-inch rounds. (To help your toppings stick, play around with whipped cream or yogurt to create a “sauce.”) Sprinkle the toppings over the watermelon, then slice each round into triangles.

Ice cubes

This one-ingredient trick quickly adds pizzazz to a glass of sparkling water or vodka tonic. Remove the rind of the watermelon, then cut the flesh into one-inch cubes and place them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in the freezer for about two hours. Once frozen, use immediately or transfer to a sealable bag and keep in the freezer.

The perfect accompaniment to a tall glass of seltzer water or a vodka tonic, watermelon ice cubes require little more than some time in the freezer.
Grace Dickinson / STAFF
The perfect accompaniment to a tall glass of seltzer water or a vodka tonic, watermelon ice cubes require little more than some time in the freezer.

For a variation, soak the watermelon in lime juice whisked with a drizzle of honey, or puree the melon in a blender with fresh mint and freeze the liquid in ice cube trays. The cubes also work well for chilling mint tea, sangria, champagne, and punch.

‘Cupcakes’

Decorate bite-size watermelon rounds as you would cupcakes, and fruit for dessert becomes much more decadent.

Use a sturdy glass to create cupcake-shaped watermelon bites. Then, add a smear of whipped cream and the toppings of your choice.
Grace Dickinson / STAFF
Use a sturdy glass to create cupcake-shaped watermelon bites. Then, add a smear of whipped cream and the toppings of your choice.

To make these “cupcakes,” remove the rind and cut the melon into two-inch rounds. Then use the mouth of a glass to cut out a squat cylinder from each round (if your glass isn’t heavy enough, use a paring knife to trace the circle).

Place the small rounds on a plate. (If you want to get extra cute, put them in aluminum cupcake liners.) Then decide what type of icing you want: whipped cream or coconut cream sweetened with a little sugar and vanilla, or a cream cheese- or mascarpone-based frosting (slightly more complicated but deliciously tangy). Smear or pipe icing on top of the watermelon, then sprinkle with toppings of your choice. Ideas to consider include mini dark chocolate chips, blueberries, grated coconut, honey, chocolate sprinkles, and raspberries.