How To Make Perfect Mashed Potatoes for Thanksgiving

updated Nov 15, 2023
thanksgiving

Here's our recipe for how to make the best classic mashed potatoes, with recommendations for potato type, dairy additions, and mashing methods.

Serves8 to 10

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Is there nothing more comforting and delicious than mashed potatoes? This warm, creamy, dairy-laden starch might be more of an indulgence than everyday fare these days, but even if you only have them once a year (Thanksgiving!), I say go all out and do it right. Read on for a recipe for classic mashed potatoes, with recommendations for potato type, dairy additions, and mashing methods.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Ingredients in Mashed Potatoes

  • Potatoes. The best potatoes for mashed potatoes are Russets and Yukon Golds. Russets will give you the creamiest mash, but many prefer the flavor and golden color of Yukon Golds. Avoid waxy, red potatoes for mashed potatoes, which won’t break down enough (read: lumps) and don’t absorb dairy well.
  • Half-and-half. Half-and-half is richer than milk, but not as rich as heavy cream. Use cream if you want over the top, decadent results, whether you’re making Instant Pot mashed potatoes, slow cooker mashed potatoes, or even mashed sweet potatoes.
  • Butter. Butter is one of the primary flavors in mashed potatoes, so use the best quality you can. Using unsalted lets you control the salt, but if you want to use salted, skip the additional salt in step 2 and simply taste and add salt as needed in the final seasoning.
  • Salt. Even the creamiest mashed potatoes can be bland without the proper amount of salt. In this recipe, you’ll add the salt in stages — first to the water for boiling the potatoes, and then to the half-and-half as you’re heating it up. While the amount may feel generous, you shouldn’t need to add additional salt once your mashed potatoes are ready.
Credit: Joe Lingeman

How to Make Mashed Potatoes

  1. Boil the potatoes. Cover the potatoes with cold water, cover, and bring to a gentle boil. Uncover and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until knife tender.
  2. Heat the butter and half-and-half and add salt. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Heat the half-and-half and salt in another small saucepan. Keep both warm.
  3. Drain the potatoes. Drain in a colander and remove the butter and half-and-half from the heat.
  4. Mash the potatoes. Mash, rice, or process the potatoes back into the pot they were cooked in. I used a ricer for testing this recipe, and while I feel it results in great potatoes (less lumps, more fluff), I prefer a food mill for mashed potatoes. Besides also producing less lumps and more fluff, a food mill separates the skins so no peeling is necessary. I also find it easier to use than the ricer, which is really a two-person process: one to peel, another to rice.
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Common Mashed Potato Issues

If you’ve run into mashed potato problems in the past, don’t fret: we’ve got solutions to the most common issues.

1. Your mashed potatoes are gluey.

There are a few ways to prevent gluey mashed potatoes. First, never use a blender or food processor to whip them! Second, add the butter before the half-and-half. The amount of water in the half-and-half combines with the starch molecules, which makes the potatoes gluey. When you add the butter first, it coats the starch and results in silkier potatoes.

2. Your mashed potatoes are runny.

Peeled potatoes absorb more water when boiled, so keep the peels on when boiling. (Plus, the peels contribute to the overall potato flavor, and taking them off after cooking is quicker and easier). Leaving the potatoes whole rather than cutting them also prevents them from absorbing too much water.

3. Your mashed potatoes are lumpy.

Lumpy mashed potatoes are likely a result of undercooking. Starting the potatoes in cold water will help (adding potatoes to hot water can cause the outsides to cook more quickly than the insides) and wait to drain the potatoes until a sharp knife slides through easily. If you do undercook them, add some milk and warm them over low heat until they soften.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How To Make the Best Mashed Potatoes

Here's our recipe for how to make the best classic mashed potatoes, with recommendations for potato type, dairy additions, and mashing methods.

Serves 8 to 10

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 5 pounds

    Yukon Gold or russet potatoes, well-scrubbed

  • 3 tablespoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 2 sticks

    (8 ounces) unsalted butter

  • 2 cups

    half-and-half

  • Finely chopped fresh chives (optional)

  • Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

  • Additonal pat of butter (optional)

Equipment

  • Large pot

  • Colander

  • Food mill, ricer, or potato masher

  • Two smaller saucepans for heating butter and half-and-half

  • Spatula or wooden spoon

Instructions

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  1. Boil the potatoes. Place the potatoes in a large pot and add cold water to cover by about 1 inch. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the salt. Cover and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Uncover and reduce the heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until knife tender, testing for doneness at 30 minutes. A sharp knife should easily go through the potato. Larger potatoes may take longer, up to 45 or 50 minutes total.

  2. Heat the butter and half-and-half and add salt. About 20 minutes into the potato cooking time, melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan. Heat the half-and-half and remaining 1 tablespoon salt over low heat in another small saucepan. Keep both warm.

  3. Drain the potatoes. When the potatoes are ready, drain them in a colander. Turn off the heat on the butter and half-and-half.

  4. Mash the potatoes. If using a potato masher or ricer, peel the potatoes — you can pick each one up with a pot holder and peel with a paring knife. If using a food mill, don't peel the potatoes. In either case, mash, rice, or process the potatoes back into the pot they were cooked in. This will cut down on extra dishes and help the potatoes stay warm from the pot's residual heat.

  5. Add the dairy. Add the hot butter to the potatoes, gently stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula to incorporate. When all the butter is absorbed, add the hot half-and-half. It will seem soupy at first, but the potatoes will gradually absorb the liquid and turn into a creamy mixture.

  6. Taste, garnish, and serve. Taste and season with more salt as needed. This is also a good time to add pepper if using. Spoon into your serving dish and top with optional garnishes, such as a pat of butter or some chopped chives.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: You can make your potatoes in advance of serving. If it's just an hour or so, leave them in the pot you mashed them in and don't garnish yet. Place the pot in a large pan of gently simmering water to keep warm. If they've been refrigerated, the best way to reheat them is to place them in a low oven, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes. Reheated mashed potatoes are often drier and may need additional (warmed!) dairy to bring them back to their creaminess. This post has some great tips on reheating mashed potatoes.

Reheating: Leftover mashed potatoes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. To reheat, we recommend transferring them to a baking dish, adding cream, broth, or half and half along with butter, covering them, and heating at 350°F until warmed through.

Freezing: You can absolutely freeze mashed potatoes, either in a large freezer bag or food container or portioned into one-cup mounds. This time-saving trick can help you get ahead on Thanksgiving prep or ensure you have leftovers to enjoy for weeks afterwards. Mashed potatoes can last up to one month in the freezer.

What to Do with Leftover Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potato Variations