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Credit: Image: Amelia Rampe; Design: The Kitchn
Recipe Review

We Tested 4 Popular Potato Salad Recipes and All of Them Were Winners

published Jun 26, 2020
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It’s officially summer, which is — without a doubt — potato salad season. The classic side is a must for beach trips, picnics and BBQs. Thankfully, we can enjoy potato salad whether we’re attending socially distant gatherings or staying inside in the safety of our homes.

Potato salad isn’t a dish that triggers nostalgic food memories for me. In fact, my memories of potato salad are of it being bland and under-seasoned — certainly nothing that stands out as being great. So I walked into this showdown without any preconceived notions of what I wanted in a perfect version, or what I thought was “right.”

Prior to doing research for this showdown, I had no idea how many different ways potato salad can be prepared. Some recipes have pickles, while others have celery or onion; some use a mayo base, while others go heavy on vinegar; some are ingredient-heavy, while others keep it simple. For this battle, I chose four that each have a distinct point of view.

Credit: Amelia Rampe

How I Chose My 4 Potato Salad Contenders

I started my search by looking at the most popular recipes on the internet, then narrowed it down to four that each took a unique approach. Ina Garten’s potato salad recipe is by far the most searched for. It’s classic yet fresh, dressed with a creamy mixture of mayo, buttermilk, mustard, and dill. Hers was the only recipe to steam the potatoes after boiling them.

The Pioneer Woman’s potato salad is also incredibly popular, and her method immediately intrigued me: She mashes her potatoes before folding in mayo, mustard, green onions, hard-boiled eggs, and pickles. Carla Hall also opts for pickles, which is why I included her recipe; she goes all-in on pickle flavor by boiling her potatoes in a mixture of water and pickle brine, adding pickle brine to the dressing, and stirring chopped pickles into the salad.

My final pick was Julia Child’s American-style potato salad. Julia calls for marinating the sliced and boiled potatoes in vinegar and the salty, starchy potato cooking liquid. She also called for an abundance of add-ins, including hard-boiled eggs and bacon.

When I sat back and looked at the four beloved food mavens I had narrowed it down to, I realized that this is a LADY BATTLE!

How I Tested the Potato Salads

I tested all four salads on the same day. If the recipe required mayonnaise, I used Hellman’s. To keep an even playing field, I kept optional garnishes to a minimum. I tested these with my two daughters, ages 21 and 9, and my mayo-free husband.

The Surprising Results

This potato salad showdown was my most challenging showdown to date. Imagine never really having a memorable version, and then bam! All of a sudden you have four really great ones. Although we almost always pick a clear winner for these showdowns, I found myself loving every single recipe for different reasons. Just like all my friends, they each have their unique traits that make them special and lovable, and I went back for second bites of every one. Ultimately, I decided to make them all winners, because real queens don’t battle — they lift each other up and celebrate their differences. Here’s how to pick the best one for you.

Credit: Amelia Rampe

1. The Best Potato Salad If You Want an Easy Classic: Ina Garten’s Potato Salad

Of course Ina is going to be a contender in a potato salad showdown. She certainly knows her way around a potato, and she likely sold potato salad at her beloved gourmet foods store. Her technique of boiling and then steaming the potatoes makes for the fluffiest, most tender insides, and her classic mayo and buttermilk dressing is delightfully tangy. She adds just the right amount of crunchy bits, and instead of pickles she stirs in fresh dill.

Credit: Amelia Rampe

2. The Best Potato Salad If You Like a Mix of Creamy-Crunchy: Julia Child’s American-Style Potato Salad

Julia’s potato salad stuck out to me for a few reasons. She slices the potatoes before she boils them (making for an extra-quick cooking time), and then marinates the cooked potatoes in a mixture of apple cider vinegar and the potato cooking liquid. The addition of this starchy, salty liquid gave this salad’s dressing an incredibly luscious texture, which is perfectly balanced by an abundance of crunchy mix-ins (including bacon!).

Credit: Amelia Rampe

3. The Best Potato Salad for Pickle-Lovers: Carla Hall’s Pickled Potato Salad

This recipe was the only vegan version of the bunch — but don’t let that deter you. What might look like a pretty bare-bones recipe is packed with spicy, briny flavor. Carla’s use of pickle brine in the cooking process and in the dressing, as well as dilly hot pickles directly added to the salad, gives it a distinct pickle-y freshness that’s suitable for a variety of diets.

Credit: Amelia Rampe

4. The Best Potato Salad for the Mashed Potato Obsessed: The Pioneer Woman’s Perfect Potato Salad

When I read that the Pioneer Woman boils and then mashes her potatoes, I was curious — and a little skeptical. But this rule-breaking salad is honestly delicious. The chopped hard-boiled eggs and sweet pickles lend crunch to the creamy potato base.

Do you have a favorite potato salad recipe? Let us know in the comments!