- The right potato for a potato salad depends on your personal textural preferences.
- Starchy potatoes are best for mayo-based salads and waxy potatoes go well in vinegar-based salads.
- If you haven’t decided which dressing to use for your potato salad, go with in-between potatoes.
Potato salad is a cookout classic for excellent reason. It’s a creamy, tangy, and flavorful side dish that brings a refreshing balance to a grilled feast. While potato salad isn’t a complicated dish to make, it does rely on choosing the right potatoes to provide the perfect texture and flavor.
To help you find the ideal potatoes and to properly cook them for potato salad, we’re bringing you this potato salad guide filled with expert advice.
Choose your preferred texture
Starchier potatoes work for creamy potato salads, whereas waxy potatoes are classic for vinegar-based potato salads.
When deciding which potatoes to use for potato salad, it’s important to remember that different potato varieties have different textures, and the “best” one for salad really depends on your personal preferences.
Starchy potatoes tend to work well for traditional Southern-style potato salad served cold with mayonnaise, according to chef and cookbook author Erica Barrett of SOCU Southern Kitchen and Oyster Bar in Alabama.
Mayo-based Southern potato salad is well-known for a softer texture, and starchier potatoes achieve that. “The insides of these potatoes keep their form really well and mix nicely with other ingredients,” Barrett says.
Lead chef for online culinary arts and food operations Shawn Matijevich of the Institute of Culinary Education noted that most prepared potato salads in grocery stores and delis use starchy potatoes, so if that’s the type of potato salad you’re craving, then these are the potatoes to buy.
If you’re making a vinegar-based potato salad like a German potato salad, then waxy potatoes will hold up better. “Waxy potatoes absorb less water during boiling. This helps them hold their shape,” explains Idaho-based private chef Christina Bailey of Edible Times Culinary Services. While starchy potatoes are easier to infuse with flavors, waxy potatoes maintain more structural integrity when mixed with acidic dressings.
“In between” potatoes, which have more moisture than starchy potatoes but less than waxy potatoes, are an excellent middle ground for either mayo-based or vinegar-based potato salad. If you’re not sure whether you want waxy or starchy potatoes or which type of potato salad to make when you go shopping, go for an in-between potato.
The best potatoes to buy for each texture
It’s very difficult to tell the difference between a “starchy” potato and a “waxy” potato when you’re browsing at the grocery store or farmer’s market. That’s why we’re breaking down these categories for you:
- Waxy: Red Bliss potatoes, fingerling potatoes, new/baby potatoes.
- Starchy: Russet potatoes, Idaho potato varieties.
- In between: Yukon Gold potatoes, white potatoes, purple potatoes.
The best way to cook your potatoes for potato salad
Depending on the style of potato salad you want to make, you can choose to either roast or boil your potatoes.
Elena Botta/Getty Images
The potato-cooking process for potato salad varies depending on which type of salad you’re hoping to make.
“Boiling is the most traditional and works best for potatoes destined for a classic, mayonnaise-based dressing. Roasting potatoes for potato salad brings out deeper flavors, especially if the skins are left on. And roasted potatoes are wonderful when served warm with a vinegar or mustard-based dressing and fresh herbs,” says Bailey.
How to boil potatoes for potato salad
1. Wash and cut the potatoes. Rinse your potatoes under cold water to scrub off any dirt and peel the potatoes if desired. Then, cut small potatoes in half and larger potatoes into quarters. “Aim for one-to-two-inch pieces that are all about the same size. If they look the same, they’ll cook the same,” Bailey explains.
2. Boil the potatoes. Place the potatoes in a large pot (like a stock pot), then fill it with enough cold water to fully cover the potatoes with a few inches of water, and season the water with salt, says Matijevich. Bring the water to a boil over a low heat, then reduce the heat and simmer the potatoes.
3. Test the potatoes. Cook the potatoes until a fork slides into the potato, but they still have their texture and aren’t mushy. After about 5 minutes of cooking, check one potato for doneness by removing it from the boiling water and checking with the fork. If the sample potato still isn’t tender, continue boiling. Remove and taste one every minute or so until you reach the desired tenderness, says Bailey.
4. Drain the potatoes. Once the potatoes reach your preferred texture, drain them in a colander. Let the potatoes cool slightly, then mix them with dressing and other potato salad accoutrements.
How to roast potatoes for potato salad
1. Preheat the oven and wash the potatoes. If you decide to roast potatoes instead, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, rinse and cut the potatoes. Smaller potatoes should be halved, and larger potatoes should be quartered or cut into eighths.
2. Season the potatoes. Toss the potatoes in a high heat oil of your choice, like olive or avocado, and season them well with salt and any other herbs or spices desired, Bailey says. Be sure they’re evenly coated.
3. Roast the potatoes. Spread the potatoes on one or more baking sheets, making sure they have plenty of room and don’t overlap. Roast the potatoes until they are tender, about 30 to 45 minutes, flipping once or twice along the way, Bailey says. Allow them to cool slightly before mixing with dressing and other ingredients.
Picking the right potatoes will make the difference between a so-so potato salad and a memorable one. If you’re using a mayo-based dressing, go with a starchier potato for maximum flavor quality. For a vinegar-based salad, pick waxier potatoes that can uphold their texture even as the acidic dressing works its way into the taters.