What Lettuce to Buy
You can learn about specific varieties with this Guide to Lettuce Varieties, but remember that the best lettuce is whole-head or cutting lettuces that are harvested and sold as-is with as little processing as possible.
If you're tempted by the "pre-washed" or "triple-washed" claims on bagged lettuce, read this 2005 test done in Minnesota, where the lettuce variety with the least bacteria was the plain, unwashed head of lettuce. Bagged lettuce is often rinsed in a chlorine wash and handled by many people before being sealed. This 2010 test by Consumer Reports found levels of bacteria in "pre-washed" and "triple-washed"bagged lettuce that most of us would want to avoid.
When to Buy LettuceLettuce in general is a cool weather crop that bolts and turns bitter when faced with harsh heat. We've become used to eating lettuce year-round because it can be cultivated somewhere all year, but local harvests are seasonal. Look for lettuce all year-round in the most temperate regions, in spring and fall in warmer areas, and in late spring through summer in cooler climates. Tougher, pleasantly bitter chicories are available in the fall and early winter. See your regional season guide for specifics.
What to Look ForYou want lettuce picked as recently as possible. Look for clean, fresh looking cut ends. You don't want anything that looks rusty, dried-out, or wilted. Crisp, bright looking leaves are good too. Remember, though, that some spotting or holes is common, especially in crops raised without sprays. Ask the grower if you have any questions about how the lettuce looks.
How to Store Lettuce
How to Use Lettuce
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, maybe. There is an art to making a great salad: Use fresh greens, toss them lightly but thoroughly, make a great dressing.