We Tried 6 Methods for Mashed Potatoes and Found a Clear Winner
There are few simple foods as complex as mashed potatoes. The process (boil, mash, and stir) seems straightforward enough, but there are so many variations — leaving the peel on or taking it off, deciding what dairy to add, choosing whether to mash by hand or with an electric mixer or potato ricer, to name just a few — that weighing all the possibilities against one another could take a book.
Plus, the only thing mashed potatoes are more steeped in besides butter is tradition. Whether you’re a sour cream devotee or worship at the altar of garlic, you likely have a beloved recipe and wouldn’t make your potatoes any other way. But what if your basic cooking method could improve the taste or texture of your potatoes, or make cooking them easier or faster?
That was what I wanted to investigate. There are more ways to cook potatoes than ever, from the ubiquitous Instant Pot to a Bluetooth-enabled sous-vide machine. I wanted to see how that alone affected the texture and flavor of the resulting mash, all other factors being equal (or as equal as I could make them). Here are the results I whipped up.
A Few Notes About Methodology
For testing purposes, I exclusively used Yukon Gold potatoes, which I consider the perfect base for mashing because of their inherently buttery flavor (they’re sometimes called butter potatoes) and lower starch content. Starch absorbs liquid, and so boiling a starchy potato can result in a mash with diluted flavor and a gluey, gummy texture. This is less likely with Yukon Golds.
In each section below, I followed the original method for cooking the potatoes, minus any added ingredients or seasonings. After cooking, I followed a basic recipe of two tablespoons of melted butter, a quarter-cup of whole milk, and one teaspoon of kosher salt to the potatoes during mashing, to keep things consistent. Based on a tip from cookbook author Diane Morgan, I added the butter first, followed by the milk. All potatoes were hand-mashed with an OXO Smooth Potato Masher unless otherwise specified.
Times below do not include potato peeling or cutting, only cook and mashing time.
Method: Slow Cooker
Time: 3 hours, 35 minutes
About this method: There’s no beating the set-it-and-forget-it ease of this method. I followed the Food Network‘s instructions here, which has you toss a cup of water and cut potatoes into a slow cooker, then doing other stuff until your kitchen smells great.
The recipe called for four hours, but mine felt overcooked at three-and-a-half on the high setting, and the bottom began to lightly brown. Surprisingly, that didn’t improve the flavor, which was more starch-forward and less concentrated than other methods.
Method: Steamed and Riced
Time: 25 minutes
About this method: I generally reserve steaming for more delicate vegetables, but it is a surprisingly fast way to cook potatoes. I followed instructions from Cook’s Illustrated, one of my most trusted resources, which you can find here (it’s a PDF link). Cutting the potatoes small and using a pot with a tight-fitting lid are key. It’s a fast method, and as with many Cook’s Illustrated recipes, there’s an extra step or two that does a lot. Here, after 10 minutes of steaming, you remove the potatoes and run them under cold water to wash away excess starch, then return them to the pot and steam for another 10 minutes. (It took me slightly less time than that for the potatoes to be cooked through.) Then, instead of hand mashing, I used an OXO potato ricer before stirring in milk, butter, and salt.
The texture was spot-on. Thanks to the ricer, the potatoes were creamy, smooth, and chunk-free — but the flavor was still lacking. It tasted nondescript and bland to me even after adding the seasonings. I’d have liked more potato essence. Plus, it required a lot more attention and dirtied a few more a dishes than other methods.
Rating: 6/10 (7/10 if you love a smooth mashed potato)
Method: Sous Vide
Time: 40 minutes
About this method: Sous vide is a method for cooking food in a sealed plastic bag using precisely controlled water temperatures, so nothing can overcook. I used a Joule sous vide, which sticks to the bottom of your pot with a magnet (or clips on the side) and lets you control the water temperature via an app on your phone, and I used the app’s recipe for pommes purée. For me, the exciting prospect was cooking the potatoes (sliced instead of cubed) directly in a butter-milk mixture instead of water, which I imagined would make the potatoes taste infinitely richer.
Devotees of sous vide always point to its precision in cooking meat to exact temperatures, so I was surprised that the potatoes needed an additional five minutes to get fork-tender. I mashed the contents of the bag and there was a noticeable concentration of flavor, but also (maybe unsurprisingly) a lack of moisture. Going up on the quantity of butter and milk may help this, and it’s a nice cleanup trick to mash everything in the bag it cooks in, but the method’s real limitation is the quantity you can make at one time.
Method: No Boil
Time: 85+ minutes
About this method: If you don’t have any burners to spare, roasting the potatoes you want to mash is totally acceptable — and, maybe best of all, this technique (I used Bon Appetit’s method) spares you the tedious peeling. Just plop whole potatoes (pricked with a fork to release pressure) on a baking sheet and roast at 425° F until tender, about an hour. After cooling, squeeze the potato flesh out of the jackets and mash. The baking reduces the water content and doesn’t activate the starch quite so much compared with boiling.
These spuds definitely had more intense potato flavor from baking, but squeezing them out of the jackets was messy and inefficient — it left a lot of flesh behind. Because of that and the time involved, this wouldn’t be my go-to technique, but it’s a solid backup if you’ve already got the oven on.
Method: Instant Pot
Time: 18 minutes (4 to pressurize, 8 to cook, 1 to vent, 5 to mash)
About: Pressure cooking is like steaming on steroids. It works best for any food you’d normally cook in a “wet” method like boiling or poaching — and that includes potatoes. I chose a highly rated recipe from the specialty site Pressure Cook Recipes, as I knew it would be well-tested. According to the recipe, you just pour one cup of water in the pot, set the steamer rack in it, and pile the quartered potatoes on top. The increased pressure forces that moisture into the food, resulting in super-supple spuds.
Not only was this the fastest way to prep potatoes for mashing, but it also yielded the softest, smoothest results. I was transferring the cooked potatoes to another bowl for mashing (which is totally optional — you can do this step right in the cooking pot), and one dropped to the floor. It literally mashed itself, it was so tender. If you like a few lumps, this method lends itself well to manual mashing, but an electric mixer would give you an almost purée-like texture. I’d like to try a version using the sauté function after the initial cook but before mashing to get that extra layer of flavor, which was the only thing missing.
Method: Boiled, Hand-Mashed
Time: 38 minutes
About: Tossing cut-up potatoes into a pot of boiling water and cooking them until they’re soft enough to mash is probably the most basic method, and the one I imagine is most familiar to home cooks. The recipe I used, from Serious Eats, did have two deviations from tradition. The first was to cut the potatoes into 3-inch pieces, a feat I simply gave up on as many of my potatoes were too small and I felt boiling them whole would skew my results. The second, which I embraced, and credit with the success of this method, was returning the drained spuds to the pot for another minute or two to cook off excess moisture.
Cooking the softened potatoes generated an aroma like french fries and removed excess moisture (some even got a little brown), so the result was a dry mash with a mildly toasty flavor. In my opinion, this was the perfect complement to butter and whole milk. Hand mashing left a few small lumps, but I like mine to have some texture and body and not be the consistency of sweet potato pie. If you’re a fan of ultra-creamy potatoes, though, I recommend the Instant Pot method.