How to Pick Tomatoes

Whether you're a backyard gardener or a supermarket shopper, here's what you need to know about picking the best tomatoes from the vine and shelf.

Grow your own tomatoes, and you'll reap the reward of garden-fresh salads, gazpacho, and tomato sauce all season. But knowing how and when to pick tomatoes can mean the difference between a juicy or mealy crop.

Our guide includes how to pick a good tomato, how to know when tomatoes are ready to pick, and where to cut tomatoes off the vine. Plus, learn how to select the best tomatoes at the farmers' market or grocery store if you're not the DIY type but still value a delicious tomato.

When to Pick Tomatoes

Because most tomato varieties change from green to red, with the exception of green tomatoes and some heirlooms, the fruit's color will tell you whether it's ripened. When tomatoes begin to appear somewhat pink but partly pale green, they reach the breaker stage. At this stage, tomatoes don't need to remain on the vine to finish ripening; the fruit will still reach its full potential in terms of flavor and nutrition off the vine.

Many consider the breaker stage the right time to pick tomatoes, one reason being that tomatoes picked this early will hold up when shipped. But you can pick tomatoes at this stage even if your harvest goes no further than your kitchen. One benefit is that you'll spare your tomatoes from pests and, in the event of a rainstorm, cracking.

Others recommend waiting a few days after this turning point to pick them. The fruit will continue to ripen so that it's essentially ready to eat off the vine. Check your tomatoes every day or two, as the fruit ripens fast. Just don't wait till the tomatoes turn deep red to pick them — over-ripened fruit can end up mushy or bruised, and bruising can be a sign of rot.

red and green tomatoes growing on the vine
Rob Cardillo

What Month Do Tomatoes Ripen?

A warm-weather crop, tomatoes ripen during the summer. Technically, tomato season only lasts two months, July through August.

Of course, they're available in supermarkets year round. Tomatoes can also grow in the fall and winter inside green houses and in regions with hot summers and mild winters. The ideal temperatures for the fruit to ripen range from 68 to 77 degrees F (20 to 25 degrees C).

You can anticipate your tomatoes reaching full size about 20 to 30 days after the plant blossoms. The tomatoes will still be green and will need about the same amount of time to ripen and turn pink.

Is There a Best Time of Day to Pick Tomatoes?

Overnight, tomatoes replenish moisture lost during the day and convert starches into sugars. So, for crisp, sweet tomatoes, pick the fruit while it's still wet with morning dew, before 9 a.m.

hand holding tomatoes on the vine in red and green shades
Kindra Clineff

How to Pick a Tomato Off the Vine

To remove a tomato from the vine, gently hold the fruit in one hand and twist it till the vine snaps. The leaf at the top (the calyx) as well as a bit of the stalk (the peduncle) should remain attached.

If you're working with a thicker vine, you can use garden scissors to snip tomatoes at this same point, working one by one.

How to Choose a Ripe Tomato at the Market or Store

You don't have to grow tomatoes at home to enjoy this fruit at its finest. Keep the following marks of good tomatoes in mind when you're browsing your farmers' market or grocery store.


Pass up tomatoes with bruises, blemishes, and wrinkled skin. Even a tomato's stem and leaves can indicate how fresh it is, so if these look discolored or dried up on a tomato, move on to the next.


The best tomatoes feel firm and give when you press into them. You can pick up several tomatoes around the same size and notice which feel heavier than the rest, as the weight indicates juiciness.


Finally, notice the scent of the tomatoes. They should smell floral, fruity, and grassy — like tomatoes! If a tomato has gone bad, it will smell musty or bitter. That said, its appearance and feel should tell you it's spoiled before you even smell it.

rows of tomatoes
Charles R. Whitman

How to Store Fresh Tomatoes

Tomatoes will continue to ripen off the vine at room temperature, between 70 degrees F to 75 degrees F (21 degrees C to 24 degrees C). You can keep tomatoes on the kitchen counter till you're ready to eat them.

If, however, the fruit starts to becomes overripe, preserve it in the fridge before it starts to rot. No one but you will know if it's soft and squishy once it's cooked.


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