Mistakes to Avoid When Making Mashed Potatoes

updated May 1, 2019
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No Thanksgiving spread is complete without a bowl of buttery, fluffy mashed potatoes. It’s a simple dish with few ingredients, but it’s the details that can make or break this classic side dish. This is the time to make sure you’re doing them right. These are the common mistakes to avoid to ensure success.

1. Using the wrong type of potato.

Choosing the right potato variety for mashed potatoes is key. Avoid waxy varieties like Red Bliss and fingerling when making mashed potatoes. Because these varieties have a low starch content, they don’t break down or absorb dairy as well as other starchier varieties, and often result in a gluey or gummy texture when mashed.

Follow this tip: For fluffy mashed potatoes, use starchy potatoes, like Russets or Yukon Golds. Or better yet, use a combination of both.

While red potatoes aren’t the best choice for fluffy mashed potatoes, they can be used for a rustic thick-and-chunky mash.

2. Not salting the water.

Like pasta, potatoes absorb the water they’re cooked in. Leaving it out means you’re starting off with bland potatoes.

Follow this tip: Begin the process of seasoning your mashed potatoes by adding salt to the water when cooking the potatoes. You won’t have to add as much salt later and, most importantly, you won’t find yourself with bland potatoes.

3. Starting with hot water.

Adding potatoes to already-hot water increases the chances of uneven cooking. The outside of the potato will end up overcooked, while the inside will remain firm and underdone.

Follow this tip: For even cooking, place the potatoes in a large pot and add cold water to about an inch above the potatoes. Then place the pot on the stove and begin cooking.

4. Adding cold butter and cream.

Butter and cream are critical for great mashed potatoes. When added straight from the fridge, not only do they cool everything down, but they also don’t get absorbed into the potatoes very well.

Follow this tip: Bring the butter and cream at least to room temperature, or gently heat them on the stovetop, before adding them to potatoes. Not only will the potatoes absorb the warm dairy much easier, but you also won’t have to work them as much to mix in the butter and cream. Less agitation means creamier mashed potatoes.

5. Overworking the potatoes.

When potatoes are mashed, starch is released. The more you work the potatoes, the more starch gets released. When too much starch gets released, the potatoes become gummy, gluey, and unappetizing.

Overworking the potatoes can happen in a couple ways: either by simply handling them too much, or by using a food processor, blender, or similar tool, which mixes the potatoes too aggressively.

Follow this tip: Limit the amount you handle the potatoes. We also suggest using a ricer or food mill for fluffy, lump-free mashed potatoes.

Try Our Favorite Mashed Potato Recipes

Your turn! What are your best tips for making mashed potatoes?