Look for firm, brightly colored tomatoes without bruises, cracks, or wrinkles. Resist the urge to squeeze before you buy; it can damage the delicate fruit. Instead, take a whiff: It should exude an intense tomato aroma. Refrigeration will dull their bright flavor and create a mealy texture, so store ripe tomatoes at room temperature, then wash and use as soon as possible. If they need a bit more ripening, place them in a brown paper bag.
Most tomatoes at the supermarket are high-yield varieties from Florida, Mexico, or California. They’re cultivated for easy transport and favorable appearance, not for flavor. Locally grown tomatoes are tastier and more nutritious — and they’re usually cheaper when they’re in season. Look for them at your grocery store or head to the farmers’ market to get the goods straight from the source.
Different types of tomatoes shine under different culinary circumstances. Choose small cherry and grape tomatoes for snacking or tossing in a salad; slice meaty beefsteaks for burgers or sandwiches. Firm Roma or plum tomatoes contain fewer seeds and less water than most other cultivars, making them ideal for canning or cooking into a sauce.
Peak tomato season is a fleeting window — mid-July to mid-September, depending on your locale — so you’ll want to be ready when they are. Heirlooms can be dazzling with just salt, pepper, and olive oil, or with fresh basil and mozzarella in a summer caprese. Gently stew diced Roma or plum tomatoes and enjoy them with poached eggs and fresh herbs. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself with a whole bushel of ripe tomatoes, try our favorite quick-preserving method here.