3 Rules for Making the Absolute Best Mashed Potatoes

published Nov 19, 2023
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Overhead view of mashed potatoes in a grey bowl, topped with chives, a pat of butter and a spoon in the bowl.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Stylist: Brett Regot

As a recipe developer, I use testing and precision to . However, I return to an early cooking lesson from my mother for help achieving perfect mashed potatoes time after time. I don’t remember the exact measurements she used, but I do remember how she taught me it’s the perfect dish to make when you need a bowl of comfort. And who couldn’t use a little extra comfort now and again? This cozy side dish is also uncomplicated, made with just potatoes, butter, cream, and plenty of salt. In fact, I never use a recipe for mashed potatoes, but I swear by a few essential tips every time I pull out my potato masher.

1. Pick the right potato.

You generally make mashed potatoes with Russet potatoes or Yukon Golds. Both are delicious, but you may end up a little disappointed with your dinner if you mistakenly make the “wrong” choice. Before you start cooking, decide if you want fluffy or creamy potatoes. Russet potatoes will give you cloud-like mounds to pile onto your plate, while Yukon Golds will produce a creamier, buttery-smooth side dish. 

2. Dry the cooked potatoes very well.

Once you fully cook the potatoes, drain them completely. Next, add them back to the hot pot and place it on the still-warm burner. Let it sit for a minute or two to allow any additional water still clinging to the potatoes to evaporate. The edges of the potatoes should turn white when they’re thoroughly dried. If there isn’t enough residual heat from the pot and burner, turn the stove on low and stir the potatoes for a few minutes until dry.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

3. Add the butter before any liquid dairy. 

Different people have varying opinions about how to add butter to mashed potatoes — whether to melt the butter, whisk in room-temperature pats, or melt butter into your cream. There are pros and cons to all the different methods. (I melt first for ease, but some say to go with cold pats to keep things light and fluffy, while others say you can incorporate room-temp pats more easily.) However, I believe when you add the two forms of dairy is the real game-changer: Adding butter to the potatoes first is essential. The fat from the butter coats the potatoes, helping to prevent a gluey texture. Then, add the slowly, stirring and adding more until it reaches your preferred consistency. 

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