How to Make Potato Salad
Here's precisely how to boil the potatoes and how to make every style of potato salad dressing.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
Because potato salad is a simple dish with minimal ingredients, the difference between good results and great results come down to technique. It’s easy to make potato salad that’s mushy, water-logged or just plain flavorless. Luckily, we have tons of tips and tricks, including answers to the most common potato salad questions.
What Is Potato Salad Made Of?
There are many iterations of potato salad, including ones with creamy dressing or tangy dressing. Below, we outline the common ingredients most potato salads share.
- Potatoes: waxy or starchy potatoes
- Dressing: creamy or oil-and-vinegar
- Acid: a splash of white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar intensifies the flavors of the potato salad
- Crunchy vegetables: celery and onion are the most common
- Protein: hard cooked eggs and ham or bacon are popular, but not necessary add-ins
- Extra flavors: mustards, herbs and spices and hot peppers are frequently used
- Salt and pepper: potatoes are starchy, so you need salt in the cooking water and in the salad
What Potatoes to Use for Potato Salad
There are two main types of potatoes: waxy and starchy. Waxy potatoes include red potatoes, firm all-purpose whites or Yukon Gold. Starchy potatoes include Russets, which are typically used for baking and can become mushy if not properly boiled.
People fall into two groups when it comes to which potatoes should be used for potato salad. We think both kinds of potatoes can work, preferring red potatoes for some recipes and russets for others. For more info, check out The Best Potatoes for Potato Salad.
How to Boil Potatoes for Potato Salad
Waxy potatoes can be cooked whole or cut, with or without the skin.
Starchy potatoes should be cooked whole with the skin on, then peeled and cut after they’re cooked. Select medium Russet potatoes, not large ones, to ensure the skin doesn't split while cooking. Peel them when they're hot (wearing disposable gloves to protect your hands from the heat), then cut them into cubes.
For both waxy and starchy potatoes, always start by adding cold water to a pot. Then add a generous pinch of salt and the potatoes. Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are just tender enough to easily yield when pierced with a knife.
For even more details on how to boil potatoes, head over to our story How to Boil Potatoes.
How Long to Cook Potatoes for Potato Salad
Whole, medium potatoes will take 20 to 25 minutes to cook.
It's safest to test whole potatoes after 20 minutes of cooking to ensure you aren't overcooking them. Using tongs, take one out of the simmering water and slide the tip of a knife into the potato; it should just yield.
If you are cooking cut waxy potatoes, you should check them as soon as the water comes to a boil.
Add Acid to Bring Out the Best Potato Flavor
There’s one simple step that will guarantee your potato salad is better than anyone else’s at a potluck. No matter which type of potato you choose, tossing them with a splash of vinegar or vinegar and oil will give the potatoes a pop of brightness that brings out the pure potato flavor. You should add the acid right after you cut the potatoes so it penetrates them.
How to Make Potato Salad with Mayonnaise
Looking for a great step-by-step? Head over to Ina Garten's Potato Salad recipe, which is the quintissential version of potato salad with mayo dressing. It's so darn good, thanks to buttermilk and two mustards: Dijon and whole grain.
Potato salad with mayonnaise is creamy, usually has crunchy ingredients and mustard, and is an American standard. You’ll find it at every supermarket deli counter in the U.S.
After you've cooked the potatoes and cut them into bite-sized pieces, toss them with a splash of acid of your choice (like white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar).
Make the dressing by combining mayonnaise, mustard, buttermilk. yogurt or sour cream and salt and pepper. Add any mix-ins you'd like, such as celery, onion, ham or fresh herbs like dill.
Toss the potato salad with the dressing and let it refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to meld.
How to Make Potato Salad without Mayonnaise
Herb-Vinegar Potato Salad
For full instructions, head over to this classic recipe from Food Network Magazine. It's short and simple: just two sentences long.
Potato salad without mayonnaise is oil- and vinegar-based. The dressing can be hot or cold, and herbs are a big factor. The herby-oil-and-vinegar potato salads often lean towards the flavors of French food, where you might find shallots in place of onion, and the mustard, if in the recipe, would be Dijon instead of yellow.
To make it, tossed boiled and cut potatoes with fresh chopped herbs and equal parts olive oil and white wine or apple cider vinegar. Season the potato salad to taste.
How to Make German Potato Salad
German Potato Salad
Bobby Flay's famous recipe gives you instructions on how to cook everything on the grill, in case you're whipping this up as a BBQ side. But you can just as easily cook the potatoes, onion and bacon on the burner of the stove. Regardless, his ingredients and ratios are a great place to start.
German potato salad is probably the potato salad that comes to mind when you think of warm potato salad.
You'll make it by tossing cooked potatoes in an irresistible hot dressing made from bacon fat-cooked onions, bacon, vinegar, mustard, sugar, parsley, salt and pepper. Check out Bobby Flay's popular recipe for the full how-to.
How to Make Southern Potato Salad
Southern potato salad is pretty similar to classic American potato salad, with the addition of chopped sweet pickles or pickle relish, giving it a sweet-tart flavor and a bright yellow color. Simply follow the instructions for making classic American potato salad, then add relish or chopped sweet pickle relish to taste.
Potato Salad Recipes
Made with starchy russet potatoes and yellow mustard, American Potato Salad is what you’re going to get at a BBQ shack or at a diner paired with a ham and cheese sandwich.
Adding sour cream, cheese, green onion and bacon to mayo dressing gives you a loaded baked potato salad.
This Potato Salad is everything you'd want in a Southern potato salad: creamy and flavored with sweet pickle relish.
When bacon, bacon fat, shallots and herbs are part of the dressing, you’re on your way to the warm German potato salad of your dreams.
You’ll be boiling the potatoes for this potato salad whole, so be sure to pick potatoes that are all about the same size to ensure even cooking.
Red Potato Salad brings a bit of France to the table: the potatoes are cooked in white wine with herbs before they’re tossed with a vinaigrette, shallots and more herbs.