How to Boil Potatoes

updated Nov 20, 2023
thanksgiving

This step-by-step guide guarantees success for every type of potato.

Serves4 to 6

Prep5 minutes to 10 minutes

Cook10 minutes to 20 minutes

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Boiling potatoes is neither exciting nor particularly sexy, as far as cooking skills go, but it is quite handy! All our favorite dishes from potato salad for a summer cookout to mashed potatoes for the Thanksgiving table start with — oh yes! — boiling a pot of potatoes.

Whether you’re boiling your first potato tonight or wonder if you’ve been doing it right, here’s a step-by-step guide showing you exactly how to boil potatoes.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Ben Weiner

How Long to Boil Potatoes?

Generally, you want to boil potatoes for 10 to 20 minutes. That’s how long it takes to cook them evenly all the way through. Here’s how long to boil potatoes specifically for mashed potatoes.

Whole potatoes will take longer than cut-up or cubed potatoes, so it’s important to test your potatoes for doneness. When they are ready you should be able to easily pierce them with a fork all the way through.

You’ll want to boil potatoes any time you don’t want them to dry out (as they can when baked in the oven). So it’s a cooking method ideal for mashed potatoes or potato salad. Boiled potatoes on their own can also make a quick side dish.

Credit: Photos: Alex Lepe, Joe Lingeman, Shutterstock; Design: The Kitchn

The Best Potatoes to Boil: Waxy or All Purpose

Waxy or all-purpose potatoes are the best candidates for boiling. They hold their shape when boiled and have a nice creamy texture once cooked.

They are also usually smaller — usually no bigger than your fist — and thin-skinned, so they cook more quickly. Waxy and all-purpose potatoes might be red or golden or purple; take a look at this guide to sixteen kinds of potatoes to see what kind you’re dealing with.

You can also boil starchy potatoes like Russets — I have friends who swear by mashed potatoes made with Russets! Starchy potatoes tend to fall apart or become water-logged when boiled, so I recommend boiling them whole instead of cubed.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Ben Weiner

Whole Potatoes or Cubed? Skins On or Peeled?

You can boil potatoes either whole or cubed — both ways work fine. In either case, the key is to make sure the whole potatoes or cubed potatoes are roughly the same size. This way, they will all cook at the same rate.

If you’re boiling whole potatoes, you might need to remove small potatoes from the water a little sooner and let larger potatoes cook a little longer.

Recipes with Boiled Potatoes

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Ben Weiner

How to Boil Potatoes Recipe

This step-by-step guide guarantees success for every type of potato.

Prep time 5 minutes to 10 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes to 20 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds

    waxy or all-purpose potatoes

  • 1 teaspoon

    salt

Equipment

  • Chef's knife (optional)
  • Saucepan or pot
  • Slotted spoon

Instructions

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  1. Prepare the potatoes. Scrub 3 pounds waxy or all-purpose potatoes clean. If desired, cut the potatoes into large, evenly-sized cubes.

  2. Transfer the potatoes to a saucepan and cover with cold water. Transfer the potatoes to a saucepan or pot large enough to hold all the potatoes with some room on top. Cover the potatoes with an inch or two of cold water. Starting the potatoes in cold water helps them cook more evenly.

  3. Stir in the salt. Stir 1 teaspoon of salt into the water until dissolved.

  4. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Do not cover. (Covering changes the environment in the pot and can make the potatoes turn mushy.)

  5. Check the potatoes after 5 minutes. Cubed potatoes will cook more quickly than whole potatoes; smaller potatoes will cook more quickly than larger potatoes. Begin checking the potatoes after around 5 minutes of simmering; most potatoes will be done in 10 to 20 minutes.

  6. The potatoes are done when tender. The potatoes are done when they are tender all the way through. You can test this by poking the potato with a fork, paring knife, or skewer. If the utensil slides easily all the way to the center, the potatoes are done.

  7. Drain the potatoes. Drain cubed potatoes in a strainer or lift whole potatoes out with a slotted spoon. If your recipe calls for cold potatoes, you can run the potatoes under cold water or dunk them in an ice water bath to cool them down more quickly.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Cooked potatoes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.