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NYC’s Newest Viral Food Is the $75 Smoked Watermelon ‘Ham’

Will Horowitz of Ducks Eatery says he can only make two a night

Smoked watermelon at Ducks Eatery
Smoked watermelon at Ducks Eatery
Photo by Jake Cohen

The latest viral food to hit NYC has a lot in common with ones of the past: The smoked watermelon “ham” at Duck’s Eatery is one thing (a fruit), but when it’s sliced, dramatically looks like another (meat). Chef and co-owner Will Horowitz says that after videos from several food sites collectively racked up nearly 100 million views, the $75 product is sold out until November. “We’re getting a request every minute or two,” Horowitz says. “I had to set up an auto-reply on our email.”

But unlike other Instagram stunt foods — often put out by restaurants trying to play the viral game in hopes of overnight popularity, like the Black Tap milkshake — Horowitz didn’t make the smoked watermelon “ham” for bulk sales. In fact, although he is happy for the attention, the watermelon isn’t even easy to monetize at scale. One reason it’s sold out until November is because it’s such a time-intensive process to make it. It’s cured for four to six days, dried, smoked for eight hours, and then finished in a pan — ultimately taking around a week to make in the tiny, 600-square-square foot restaurant. Horowitz says he can’t produce more than two per night.

“We want to sell it, and we’re going to keep selling it,” he says. “But do we want to open a fucking watermelon stand next year? Definitely not.”

Smoked watermelon, Ducks Eatery
Smoked watermelon, unsliced
Will Horowitz/Ducks Eatery [Official Photo]

Horowitz seems frustrated with the obsession with the specific dish. The chef, who opened Ducks in 2012 with his sister Julie, has become known for smoked foods, and the watermelon was an experiment in hopes of changing the whole playing field of how people view meat, not for people to gawk at a fun-looking watermelon. It’s a sustainability play, he says. Besides Ducks and East Village sandwich shop Harry and Ida’s, Horowitz is also the chef behind a food startup manufacturing kelp jerky, a way to think about non-traditional proteins.

“We don’t want to rely so much on a bunch of giant shitty fucking farms that are serving most of the restaurants in New York City their fucking meat, but at the same time we don’t want to rely on a bunch of crazy weird lab processed, burgers and shit that are far off from working with a farmer as possible,” Horowitz says. Treating fruits and vegetables with the same care as meat is a logical step. The watermelon came into play because it can be “big and meaty and crazy looking in centerpiece, like a big roast,” he says.

In theory, anybody walking into the door — because of a viral video or not — can be exposed to these ideas. And they are; Instagram is still a net positive, he says. He ends up feeling bad selling a $75 watermelon if it’s just two people and instead recommends a smoked cantaloupe burger, a $16 sandwich where the melon is smoked in the same process as the watermelon. People occasionally take him up on it.

But others aren’t so keen on exploring the rest of the menu. “Half people will be like, ‘Oh no, I saw the watermelon [on Instagram], that’s obviously the only thing that you know how to make any fucking good,’” Horowitz says. And maybe it seems unrealistic that someone who’s waited weeks for an Instagram sensation would pivot to a sandwich that’s an Instagram unknown.

The watermelon ham has ultimately been a win, bringing eyes to the restaurant, but with all the labor (and a lack of interest from the chef opening a dedicated watermelon stand), this is one Instagram famous food that is unlikely to become a global phenomenon. “We want to keep pushing these ideas and figuring out new and creative, innovative ways to eat and smoke non-meat things,” he says.

Ducks Eatery

351 E 12th St, New York, NY 10003 (212) 432-2835 Visit Website