Grilled Watermelon Salad Recipe

Let's face it. On those blistering hot days of summer, a cool, refreshing slice of watermelon is practically the perfect treat to beat the heat. Sweet but not overpoweringly so, this especially juicy fruit continues to star year after year at picnics (can you say watermelon eating contest?). From sorbets to punch, watermelon is a surprisingly versatile fruit – or is it a vegetable? Either way, it's delicious. So, it's not a surprise that recipe developer Stephanie Rapone has created a dish that features this popular melon in a whole new way.

With just 15 minutes of prep and 20 minutes of cooking, you can have a truly unique salad that combines that familiar sweetness of watermelon with the surprisingly complex flavor combination of balsamic vinegar, baby spinach, mint, and cotija cheese. Yes, cotija. "Cotija has a more mild flavor than parmesan or feta," Rapone explains, "so I think it does a great job letting the watermelon and herbs really shine."

Gather your ingredients

To make your grilled watermelon salad you'll need balsamic vinegar, ground black pepper, sea salt or kosher salt, mint, basil, baby spinach, and crumbled cotija cheese.

Of course, you'll also need watermelon, but what variety should you get? Rapone says either a baby watermelon or ¼ of a regular-sized one will work well for the proportions outlined in this recipe. However, you don't want to use an unripe watermelon, not because it's dangerous but because it can taste terribly disappointing. So take a few extra minutes at the grocery or farmer's market to pick out the perfectly ripe watermelon.

In addition to the above ingredients, you'll need ¼ of a single red onion, as well as olive oil and either vegetable or canola oil.

Reduce your salad's dressing

To begin, heat your grill on medium-high heat. While it's warming up, mix together the balsamic vinegar and the black pepper in o a small grill-safe pot, and then place it on the grill. Close the lid and bring it to a simmer.

You're going to want to cook your dressing until it is reduced by half and syrupy, making a balsamic reduction. This should take 12 to 15 minutes, but you should check the pot at 10 minutes and watch it carefully. It will reduce very quickly once it starts to thicken.

Prepare your red onion

While the balsamic vinegar mixture is reducing, peel and thinly slice the red onion. If you want to reduce the onion's sharpness, Rapone recommends soaking it in some water while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Just remember not to get too distracted by the onions. You really need to keep an eye on the balsamic reduction because, as Rapone explains, "it can burn as it has natural sugars in it."

If you're not sure if you've overcooked your dressing, Rapone recommends tasting a little of it. "You can tell if it's burnt [if] it has that 'burnt' flavor like a marshmallow that catches on fire!" she says. And if it's too thick, she recommends adding a small amount of balsamic vinegar that has not been reduced to loosen up the texture and bring it back to a more sauce-like consistency.

Slicing and preparing your watermelon

Once the balsamic vinegar is reduced, remove it from the grill, pour it into a heat-safe bowl or small container, and set it aside. While it's cooling cut your watermelon into ½-inch to ¾-inch slices, then brush them with olive oil on both sides and season evenly with salt (use ⅛ teaspoon on each side). Remember, take your time and make sure you coat and season both sides completely before you move onto the next step.

Grill your watermelon

Before you begin cooking your watermelon, make sure to scrape your grill with a grill cleaner to get off any loose bits. Rapone also recommends using tongs to dip a wadded paper towel in vegetable or canola oil and using that to wipe down the grill's grates.

Once your grill is ready, place the watermelon on the grate and cook on both sides until you get nice grill marks. This should take about 3 to 4 minutes for each side. Afterward, set your watermelon slices aside to cool.

Chop your herbs and cube your watermelon

Before you begin assembling your salad, you need to wash and finely chop your mint and basil. Once your watermelon slices have cooled, remove the watermelon from the rind and cut it into bite-sized cubes.

If you're unsure about chopping herbs with a knife, Rapone said a mezzaluna (like what some people use to cut pizza) or kitchen shears will also work to finely snip the herbs, as long as you're careful. And if you do decide to use a blade for this step, remember that there is a difference between sharpening and honing your knives, so make sure you've properly prepared whatever cutting tool you choose.

It's time to build your salad

Make a bed with the baby spinach, which, as Rapone explains "is more tender and mild, so it does a better job taking a back seat to the watermelon and fresh herbs." In addition, "it's usually already washed and dried and ready to enjoy," making it easier to work with than other varieties of spinach or heartier greens.

Add about half of the watermelon and toss it with your baby spinach to combine before topping the mixture with the remaining watermelon. Dry the red onion slices and add them to the salad. Finally, add the cotija and the fresh herbs, then drizzle the whole thing with the balsamic reduction.

Grilled Watermelon Salad Recipe
4.9 from 30 ratings
In just a short time, you can have a truly unique salad that combines the familiar sweetness of watermelon with surprisingly complex flavors of herbs and cheese
Prep Time
Cook Time
A metal fork on top of a white plate filled with grilled watermelon salad
Total time: 35 minutes
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ⅛ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • ¼ red onion
  • ½ baby watermelon (or ¼ regular watermelon)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
  • ¼ cup fresh mint (about 5-7 sprigs)
  • ¼ cup fresh basil (about 5-7 sprigs)
  • 5 ounces baby spinach
  • ¼ cup crumbled cotija cheese
  1. Heat grill on medium-high heat. While heating, add balsamic vinegar and black pepper to a small grill-safe pot. Place on the grill and close the lid. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half and syrupy, about 12-15 minutes. Check it after 10 minutes, as it will reduce very quickly once it starts to thicken.
  2. While the balsamic is reducing, peel and thinly slice the red onion. You can soak the onion slices in water to reduce their sharpness.
  3. Once the balsamic is reduced, remove it from the grill and pour it into a bowl or small container to cool. Set aside.
  4. Slice the watermelon into ½-inch to ¾-inch slices. Brush olive oil on both sides of the slices and season evenly with salt, about ⅛ teaspoon on each side.
  5. Scrape the grill with a grill cleaner to get off any loose bits. Using tongs, dip a wadded paper towel in the vegetable or canola oil, then wipe down the grill grates.
  6. Grill watermelon on both sides until you get grill marks, 3-4 minutes per side. Set aside to cool.
  7. Wash and finely chop the mint and basil. Remove the watermelon from the rind and cut it into bite-sized cubes.
  8. Make a bed with the baby spinach. Add half the watermelon and toss to combine. Top with the remaining watermelon.
  9. Dry the red onion and add to the salad. Add the cotija cheese and fresh herbs, then drizzle with the balsamic reduction.
Calories per Serving 253
Total Fat 16.6 g
Saturated Fat 2.9 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 7.5 mg
Total Carbohydrates 23.5 g
Dietary Fiber 2.9 g
Total Sugars 16.9 g
Sodium 265.5 mg
Protein 4.6 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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