By Elizabeth Laseter

Storing and caring for fresh tomatoes

Summer brings a bounty of fresh tomatoes, from the garden or market (or neighbor's garden if you're lucky). We want to share tips for selecting, storing, and even ripening fresh tomatoes.

Fresh tomatoes -- sweet, juicy, and bursting with flavor -- are summer's highlight. Whether they're from your local farmers market or your backyard garden, tomatoes are delicious sliced for sandwiches, diced for salsa, chopped for salads, and so much more.

However, perfectly ripe tomatoes can quickly go bad if you don't store them properly. But you can take several steps to ensure that they last as long as possible. Here, we'll show you how to select, store, and ripen tomatoes so that you get the most out of them.

Read More: 19 Ways to Win Tomato Season

How to Choose Perfect Tomatoes

First things first: Start with quality tomatoes. Color and feel are the two best indicators of a good tomato. These signs can vary slightly across different tomato varieties, so we've broken it all down for you.

Roma and Beefsteak Tomatoes

Beefsteak tomatoes are big and plump, while Roma (or plum) tomatoes are smaller and oval-shaped. Both should have a vibrant red color and a smooth, shiny skin that's free of blemishes. They should feel firm, but also slightly soft to the touch.

Photo by Punjachoke Jittrapirom/EyeEm/Getty Images

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes are the colorful, wacky-shaped tomatoes you often see at farmers markets. When picking them, you can follow the same guidelines you'd use for Beefsteak and Roma tomatoes. However, some farmers may not be exactly thrilled to see you poking and prodding their precious tomatoes, so it's probably best to ask them to choose for you.

Photo by Kristin Duvall

Cherry and Grape Tomatoes

Grape tomatoes are small and oblong, while cherry tomatoes are round and a touch larger. Due to their small size, these tomatoes are commonly sold in containers or packages for protective purposes. They tend to be firmer than larger tomatoes, but they should still give a little when pressed. Look for a uniform red or yellow color and smooth skin that does not contain mold spots.

Photo by billnoll/Getty Images

Green Tomatoes

Green tomatoes are simply under-ripe tomatoes. They should be very firm to the touch and the skin should be a uniform light green color. Green tomatoes with an orangish tint are on their way to becoming ripe and will eventually turn fully red. If you're making fried green tomatoes, avoid these—and stick to fully green ones.

Photo by PoppyB/Getty Images

How to Store Fresh Tomatoes

Here's a good rule of thumb: Store whole tomatoes at room temperature or above 60 degrees. This applies to all types of tomatoes: beefsteak, Roma, cherry, grape, and green tomatoes.

But what about the fridge? Is it okay to store your tomatoes in the refrigerator?

Allrecipes test kitchen professional Julia Levy strongly advises against it. "Whole tomatoes (i.e. uncut) should NEVER be stored in the fridge. Temperatures below 60 degrees cause the flesh to turn mealy and mushy, rather than maintaining their beautiful juiciness," she says.

Here's the other thing: Tomatoes are fragile. (So be nice to them!) They can bruise easily, so storing them in an organized manner will help protect them. Levy recommends storing ripe tomatoes upside down (stem-side down) on paper towels in an open container such as Tupperware, a shoe box, or a cardboard flat. Ripe tomatoes should last for a few days, but we recommend eating them as soon as possible.

Ready to store your fresh tomatoes? Here's how to do it.

What you'll need:

  • Tomatoes
  • Storage container (Tupperware, shoe box, or cardboard flat)
  • Paper towels

1. Place container on countertop away from direct sunlight. Line with paper towels.

2. Arrange tomatoes upside-down (stem-side down) in a single layer. They can touch, but they should not be overcrowded or piled on top of each other.

3. Check tomatoes daily, discarding any that are leaking liquid or have mold spots.

If your tomatoes are ripe, but you aren't sure when you'll eat them, there are other ways to make them last longer. Learn how to can, freeze, and preserve fresh tomatoes.

Photo by Elizabeth Laseter

Read More: How to Peel Tomatoes

How to Store Cut Tomatoes

If you're slicing a tomato for a sandwich, and you aren't going to use the entire fruit, can it be salvaged? Absolutely. Whether they're sliced, diced, or chopped, store cut tomatoes in the refrigerator.

Wait, what? Didn't we just say not to refrigerate tomatoes? It turns out there is a very good reason behind this. "Cut tomatoes need to be stored in the fridge in order to prevent bacterial growth," says Levy. Simply place your cut tomatoes in a food storage container, cover, refrigerate, and try to use as soon as possible for optimal flavor and texture.

How to Ripen Tomatoes

Ripe tomatoes aren't always an option—and sometimes you're stuck with ones that feel like rocks. Luckily, there's an easy way to ripen tomatoes at home. This trick works for both red and green tomatoes. Here's what you'll need:

  • Under-ripe tomato(oes)
  • Banana
  • Brown paper bag

1. Place tomato and banana in paper bag. If you're ripening several tomatoes and need more space, you can use a cardboard box with a lid.

2. Roll up ends up of bag to loosely seal.

3. Place on countertop or in a warmer part of your home and let sit until tomatoes have reached desired ripeness. Check tomatoes daily to ensure they don't over-ripen.

Photo by Elizabeth Laseter

Read More: How to Seed Tomatoes

Yes, this all sounds a bit odd, but there's a scientific reason behind it. As tomatoes ripen, they release a gas called ethylene. Other fruits, like bananas and apples, also produce this gas during ripening. Placing two ethylene-producing fruits in an enclosed container (like a paper bag or shoe box) will actually boost the ripening process.

If you don't have a banana or apple, no problem. You can still ripen the tomato in a paper bag or container, but it will take longer.

Fresh Tomatoes Recipes & Ideas

Now that you know how to store your gorgeous tomatoes, how are you going to use them? Here's a few of our favorite fresh tomato recipes to get you started:

Chef John's Gazpacho

"Only try this recipe if you're going to use some killer, end-of-summer, super-sweet tomatoes," says Chef John. "There just isn't any substitute, so happy hunting, and I hope you find some so you give this a try."

Fresh Tomato Salsa

A delicious, authentic homemade Mexican salsa. Once you're done chopping the ingredients, it's practically made. Enjoy with tortilla chips or your favorite Mexican recipes.

Perfect Fried Green Tomatoes

"I have been making fried green tomatoes for over 35 years," says Crystal Bodyroc McGlown. "This is the recipe that is perfect. Cajun ranch sauce goes perfect with this crispy on the outside but smooth and creamy on the inside tomato."

Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction

Tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil drizzled with a sweet balsamic reduction and olive oil makes an easy, impressive and delicious summer salad. For an impressive presentation, try using different color heirloom tomatoes.

Chrissy's Sweet 'n' Sour Tomato Salad

"An easy-to-prepare, delicious sweet and sour tomato salad just right to complement any meal--or eat alone," says Christine.

Green Tomato Relish

"This delicious, tangy relish of green tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and spices, is perfect with sandwiches, potatoes, cheese, and lots of other entrees," says Linda McDaniel. "A jar of this makes a great gift, too!"

Marinated Cherry Tomato Salad | Photo by Allrecipes Magazine