There are dozens of cucumber varieties, all of which can be used pretty much interchangeably. Here are some of the most common types available:
Picklers: Picklers (leftmost cucumber in photo) are short and blocky, with blunt ends and bumpy skins. Their firm texture makes them perfect for pickling, but you can use them raw as well.
Slicers: Slicers (middle cucumber in photo) are your basic, all-purpose cucumbers. They’re about 8 inches long with round ends and smooth to slightly knobby dark-green skin. The ones you buy at the supermarket are often waxed to protect them during shipping and to extend their shelf life. Scrub them well or peel before using.
English: Also known as greenhouse, European, or seedless cucumbers, English cucumbers (rightmost cucumber in photo) are 10 to 12 inches long and slender and are usually sold in plastic sleeves. With their thin skins, undeveloped seeds, and uniform shape, they are ideal for slicing into salads and garnishing appetizers.
Cucumbers’ mild, sweet flavor makes them a good match for almost anything. They're great paired with onions, tomatoes, peppers, and any summery herb, as well as with fish and shellfish, chicken, pork, and lamb. Creamy dairy products like yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, feta, and goat cheese give them richness and a welcome tang, while aromatics like capers, olives, garlic, lemon, and lime add a little punch.
Firmness is your best clue to freshness when shopping for cucumbers. Avoid limp or shriveled ones. Keep an eye out for fruits that seem slender for their size. This means they’re younger, so chances are they’ll have either undeveloped or fewer seeds.
Peeling and seeding are not always necessary. When prepping cucumbers, some cooks remove the seeds as a matter of course. But if they’re tiny and cling tight to the flesh, you can leave them. It’s only when they’re fully developed that they become intrusive and unpleasant to eat and should be removed. To do this, cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon or a melon baller.
Whether to peel cucumbers or not depends on how you intend to cut them. Most cucumbers have thick, tough skins, so if you’re cutting them in big chunks, it’s best to peel them. If you’re slicing them thinly, the skins are more palatable—and prettier—so you can leave them on. Cucumbers with naturally thin, tender skins, like the English variety, don’t need peeling.
Store cucumbers in the crisper drawer, loose or in an open plastic bag, and use them within three or four days of buying. Kept longer, they’ll get slimy on the outside and mushy inside.