Newsletter Up In Smoke

Get Raichlen's Burgers! plus weekly recipes and tips straight from Steven Raichlen!



Grilled Watermelon Salad with Arugula and Queso Fresco

Watermelon has long brought a barbecue to a joyful conclusion. You’re about to integrate it into your meal more fully: by turning it into a grilled salad. Picture the same moist crunch, the same refreshing sweetness. But grilling adds caramel (burnt sugar) overtones and a smoky element—especially when done over a wood or wood-enhanced fire. Queso fresco brings in a salty note that has an uncanny way of heightening a watermelon’s sweetness. More riotous flavor comes from a ginger-lime dressing, fresh mint, and candied nuts.


Grilled Watermelon Salad with Arugula and Queso Fresco

Recipe Notes

  • Advance Prep: 12 minutes
  • Grill Time: 8 minutes (4 minutes if everything is grilled together)
  • Yield: Serves 4
  • Method: Direct grilling
  • Equipment: Can be grilled over charcoal, wood, or gas. You also need 2 hardwood chunks or 1½ cups unsoaked wood chips (optional).


For the grill

  • Vegetable oil for oiling the grill grate and basting the cheese
  • 4 slices (each 1 inch thick) fresh red or yellow watermelon (preferably seedless)
  • 1 chunk (8 ounces) queso fresco, blotted dry

For the Ginger-Lime Dressing

  • 2 limes, halved crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons minced candied ginger
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Coarse salt (sea or kosher) and freshly ground black pepper

To finish the salad

  • 1 bunch baby arugula, rinsed and spun dry
  • 1/4 cup thinly slivered fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup chopped candied pecans or walnuts

Recipe Steps

Step 1: Set up your grill for direct grilling and heat to high. Ideally, you’ll be working over a wood or wood-enhanced fire. If using a charcoal grill, add the wood chunks or chips to the fire. If using a gas grill, place wood chunks under the grate directly over one of the burners to generate wood smoke. Brush or scrape the grill grate clean and oil it well.

Step 2: Arrange the watermelon slices on the grill and grill until singed and grill-marked on both sides, but still raw in the center, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Use a large spatula and tongs to turn. Lightly brush the cheese with vegetable oil on both sides and grill until browned, 1 to 2 minutes per side. While you’re at it, grill the lime halves for the dressing, cut sides down, until darkly browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer the watermelon, cheese, and limes to a wire rack to cool.

Step 3: Make the dressing: Squeeze the juice from the grilled limes into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the honey, candied ginger, vegetable oil, and salt and pepper; the dressing should be highly seasoned.

Step 4: Cut the watermelon into 1-inch squares (discard the rind and any seeds) and add it to the bowl with the salad dressing. Add the arugula and mint. Crumble in the grilled cheese. Gently toss the ingredients to mix. Sprinkle the candied nuts on top and serve at once.

Recipe Tips

When shopping: Queso fresco (“fresh cheese” literally) is a mild sweet-salty cheese from Mexico and Central America; look for it in the dairy section of most supermarkets. Other options include halloumi or feta. As for the watermelon, how do you select a sweet one? I could tell you to lift and shake it (it should feel heavy) or thump it with your knuckles (it should sound hollow). The field spot (the part that rested on the ground while the melon was ripening) should be a dark yellow. But the best way is to buy it from a store that has one cut open for sampling.