These Are the Best Potatoes for Mashing

There are two categories of potatoes. Make sure you reach for the right one to avoid lumpy results.

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Photo by: Anjelika Gretskaia/Getty Images

Anjelika Gretskaia/Getty Images

By Lesley Porcelli for Food Network Kitchen

Lesley Porcelli is an editor and recipe developer based in Syracuse, New York.

Mashed potatoes seem like one of those no-brainer dishes: potatoes, butter, cream – how could you go wrong? Of course they’ll be good, but the variety of spuds you choose will determine if your mashed potatoes will be the stuff of legends or, well, if they’ll need to rely on their life partner gravy in or order to satisfy.

Types of Potatoes

There are a few hundred varieties of potatoes sold in the United States, and the International Potato Center estimates that there are more than 4,000 native varieties found just in the Andes, where the crop originated. But for our purposes, let’s say that potatoes fall into two categories: waxy or starchy. As their names suggest, waxy potatoes have less starch than starchy potatoes. Common waxy potatoes include red bliss potatoes, new potatoes and fingerling potatoes; common starchy potatoes include russet potatoes, Idaho potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes.

The Best Mashed Potatoes

This is our go-to recipe for classic mashed potatoes, made with plenty of butter and cream. To make them fluffy and flavorful, be sure to simmer them slowly and add plenty of salt to the cooking water. And don't skip the step of steaming the excess water off; leaving too much moisture in the potatoes causes them to be loose and gluey.

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What’s the Best Potato for Mashed Potatoes?

Although waxy potatoes hold their shape well when they’re boiled – a plus for dishes like potato salad, where you don’t want them to go to mush – they tend to make lumpy mashed potatoes. For smooth and light mashed potatoes, you’ll want to reach for starchy potatoes. The same qualities that make starchy potatoes fabulous baking potatoes – namely, that they have a fluffy, almost airy texture – make them the best variety for mashing. The most ubiquitous variety, russets, will mash smoothly and readily absorb whatever delicious additions you incorporate, whether you go with the classic butter and cream combination or mix things up with sour cream or even roasted garlic and olive oil. Yukon golds, just slightly less starchy, work beautifully too, boasting a deep earthy flavor and a hue that brings butter to mind – which is never a bad thing with the dish in question.

How to Prevent Soupy Mashed Potatoes

High-starch potatoes will absorb seemingly as much liquid as they encounter, which can be a drawback, as nobody loves watery mashed potatoes. But there’s a simple trick to correct for that: once you’ve drained your fully cooked potatoes, put them right back in the pot and back on the heat for a few minutes to evaporate any excess water. This will dry them out—and prime them to absorb as much butter and cream as you can handle.

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