A decade ago if anyone had asked me if it was possible to grill watermelon, I’d have laughed at such a ridiculous notion. That was before I first tasted grilled watermelon at Bacaro, a restaurant in Champaign whose chef, Thad Morrow, is a longtime friend. I ordered it out of curiosity and trust in Morrow’s expertise. But I must admit that I was a bit dubious while waiting for it to arrive. The first bite was incredible, not as sweet as I thought it would be, with an almost meaty texture. By the second bite I was trying to figure out how to make it. By the time I finished, I had it. And I’ve been making it ever since.
Grilled watermelon may seem like a culinary joke, something esoteric that experimental chefs create in high-end restaurants to titillate jaded diners’ palates. 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. It makes a terrific warm weather salad, served as is, in the olive oil and its own juices, or on a bed of greens such as arugula or mixed baby lettuces, dressed lightly with a raspberry or balsamic vinaigrette. Crumbled blue cheese or feta pair well with it (non-grilled watermelon and feta salads are common in Greece). And if you’d like to try grilled watermelon, but don’t want to make it yourself, Maldaner’s is currently offering an appetizer of blue crab salad with grilled watermelon.
- Seedless watermelon
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing the melon
Cut the watermelon in halves and then into slices about 1 ½ inches thick. Cut the slices into quarters, thirds, or halves depending on the size of the wedges. You should have pie-shaped (or half-moon shaped) wedges, using one piece per person. Cut off the rind and discard.
Lightly sprinkle the wedges on both sides with the salt. Stand the wedges on their edges on a rack over a sink or pan and let drain for ½ hour.
Preheat the grill to high.
After the watermelon has drained, rinse each piece under cold running water. Place each piece between two folded paper towels and gently but firmly press to remove excess water. Stop when you feel the watermelon begin to crunch.
Brush the watermelon lightly on both sides with the olive oil. Grill over high heat until grill marks have formed and the melon is slightly softened, about five minutes. Remove to a platter and let stand.