ARTICLE / KITCHEN TIPS

How to Pick the Perfect Avocado

Bravo, avo! Here's the lowdown on how to select, ripen, store, and — most important of all — EAT your avocados like a boss.

When I was in grade school, my parents moved us out into the avocado groves of Ventura County, California. You’d think living among acres of avocado trees would make me some kind of expert, but to the contrary! Pickers took the best, most market-worthy fruit. I was used to grabbing “drops” — especially after a bout of Santa Ana winds knocked a bunch off — and waiting for them to ripen on the counter. If they were a little discolored inside upon being cut open, the dog got to eat them.

It wasn’t until I had to start buying my own avocados that I started to pay better attention. (At $2 a pop, you have to.) One friend showed me how to apply gentle pressure near the top of the avocado, to feel if it gives a little near the stem. If it’s too soft, invariably, the avocado is going into the trash once you cut it open — even if the rest of the fruit seems okay. Another friend has her children flick the stem off the top of the avocado to see if it’s green underneath — lest they be stuck with that depressing grey-brown avocado flesh. It the stem doesn’t budge, it’s still too hard to eat.

Picking the perfect avocado is a lesson in two things: patience and paying attention. Here’s what you need to know.

When is avocado season?

Great question! Avocados are almost always in stock these days, so it’s hard to tell. In Southern California Hass avocado groves, it was more or less June to November. Avocados from our neighbor to the south, Mexico, help fill in the seasonal gaps, since they grow year-round there.

How do I pick the perfect avocado at the grocery store?

If the moon is in Taurus and the stars align, you might find a handful of perfectly ripe avocados the very day that you need them. Amen! You can tell because, as I mentioned before, the top will give gently and the stem will come off to reveal a beautiful, buttery green color. If you’re looking at Hass avocados, the skin color will be dark green, not yet black. And the sides will also give ever-so-slightly (but try not to push too hard to avoid bruising the produce).

That said, I almost never count on this happening. I usually buy a bag of hard, green unripe avocados a couple of days to a week before I’m going to need them. And then I watch them like a hawk while they ripen at room temperature on the counter.

How do I pick the perfect avocado off the tree?

You don’t! Avocados don’t ripen on the tree; the ripening process starts after they've been picked.

Are certain types of avocados better than others?

Them’s fighting words! I will say, having grown up with both Hass and Bacon varieties, I prefer Hass — for size, texture and taste. (Most of America would agree — Hass comprise some 97 percent of the avocado market). The watery green-skinned “alligator pears” I would get when I lived in New York, mostly from Florida, do not do it for me. But there are those who feel 100% the opposite. Other varieties of avocados to check out are Fuerte, Pinkerton or Zutano.

How can I ripen an avocado — fast?

It depends on what you mean by "fast." You can coax normal ripening along by putting avocados in a brown paper bag, even adding a ripe apple or banana to speed things up. “The avocado will bathe in its own natural ethylene gas, the chemical that causes it to ripen,” explains Today.

Allegedly, if you’re in a pinch, you can microwave or bake a borderline avocado. Either wrap your avocado halves in plastic wrap and microwave on high for two minutes, or bake (unwrapped!) avocado halves for 10 or 15 minutes at 200 degrees.

Can you refrigerate avocados?

Yes! It’s a great way to extend the life of an avocado that is perfectly ripe for eating later. But note: They can still go bad in the fridge. Watch them!

Can you freeze avocados?

I can’t imagine anyone having this issue. When would you have avocados that go uneaten?

But, since the question has been asked, an answer: just don’t. If you must freeze for some reason, be sure to give them a good squeeze of lemon juice after you’ve halved them or mashed them up, then wrap them well in plastic. And don’t expect the texture to be right when they thaw. You're in smoothie territory now.

Can you eat brown avocados?

In my quest to waste less food, I’ve been trying to find uses for that middling, grey-brown avocado flesh that my dog used to get. Sometimes, all you have to do is trim the parts that have oxidized, and you’re totally fine — as long as the rest of the flesh isn’t too mushy. Mash it into avocado toast or guacamole and no one will be any the wiser, especially if you sprinkle something distracting on top of it.

If your avo is both off-color and mushy, your options narrow considerably — but not completely. Consider all the ways that color doesn’t really matter: Avocado dressing! Avocado sauce! Avocado smoothies! Just give it a whiff to make sure the smell isn’t off as well.

What’s the best way to eat an avocado?

Sometimes I just halve one, sprinkle it with salt and lime, and eat it right out of the skin. But there are almost too many ways to enjoy a good avocado.

Here are five.

Guacamole

I would never dare tell another person how to make their guacamole — it’s a highly personal thing. That said, this recipe, from Smitten Kitchen, is pretty close to what I do (I also skip the tomatoes and double down on the lime, salt, and cilantro).

Guacamole

Everything Bagel Avocado Toast

Again, the world of avocado toast is so wide, so varied, so delicious, I hesitate to put just one recipe out there. (Also ... recipe? We need a recipe for this?).

One of the first avocado toasts I ever had, waaaaaay back in the early 2000s, was from the now-defunct St. Helen Cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — thick, hearty whole-grain toast, sliced avocados, paper-thin cucumber, and a sprinkling of cumin, salt, and lemon. It’s still a go-to. But now that I obsessively put Everything Bagel seasoning on everything I eat, this take, from Eating Well, is it.

Everything Bagel Avocado Toast

Citrus Shrimp and Avocado Salad

A lovely way to show off that perfectly perfect avocado you’ve been lovingly watching on the countertop for days. I usually swap in pepitas for the sliced almonds (you need something seed-like for the crunch).

Citrus Shrimp and Avocado Salad

Smoked Salmon Egg Stuffed Avocados

You can stuff half an avocado with just about anything — but eggs, smoked salmon, dill, and red pepper are particularly nice.

Smoked Salmon Egg Stuffed Avocados

Creamy Avocado Salad Dressing

When the avocado gods are not shining their light down upon you, can you transform subpar fruit into a really delicious salad dressing.

Creamy Avocado Salad Dressing

Find even more avocado recipes with one of these searches!

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