The Best Potatoes for Potato Salad

updated Sep 13, 2022
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Potato salad is one of those reliable must-haves for any barbecue, picnic, or summer al fresco meal, usually getting a place of honor next to the hot dogs or burgers. Whether you’re firmly in the creamy mayonnaise camp or ardently swing toward the warm, mustard-y versions instead, a scoop of potato salad is such a great partner to grilled foods. Plus, it’s easy to make ahead and eat outside. For those who like to cook without recipes, it’s also a dish that’s easy to riff on with your favorite condiments, bulk up with veggies, or make decadent with a big handful of crispy bacon and cheese.

No matter what flavor profile you’re going for, the start of any good potato salad begins at the grocery store. With hundreds of varieties of potatoes to choose from, it can be a bit daunting to figure out which one to use for potato salad. Should you get the biggest russets you can find so that they’re easier and quicker to peel? Does it matter if it’s red or yellow skinned? As it appears, the type of potato matters and that the waxy variety is better than starchy.

Here are a few basic things to keep in mind when you’re browsing the root vegetable aisle at the store so that you leave with the best possible potatoes to turn into potato salad.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

The Type of Potato Matters: Waxy Is Better than Starchy

Potatoes are generally divided into three categories based on texture.

  • Waxy: These thin-skinned potatoes have the least amount of starch and retain their shape well when boiled, making them our favorite for potato salad. Thin skins also mean that peeling is optional if you’re short on time or like a more rustic salad. What to look for: Red, new, or fingerling potatoes are the most common varieties.
  • In-between: Also known as all-purpose potatoes, these have more starch than waxy potatoes, but will generally work well in most potato dishes, including potato salad. What to look for: White and Yukon Golds are reliable in-between potatoes to always have around.
  • Starchy: For potato salad, you’ll want to stay away from starchy, thick-skinned potatoes like russets, which will fall apart during the cooking process. What to look for: Russets.

So the shortcut tip is this: Look for waxy potatoes for potato salad. Tiny red potatoes from the farmers market or the Teeny-Tiny Potatoes at Trader Joe’s are some of our favorites for potato salad.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

How to Buy and Store Potatoes for Potato Salad

Now that you know what kind of potatoes to get, here are things to keep in mind when buying and storing them.

  • Choose small potatoes for the best flavor, and try to find ones that are all about the same size if you like to boil your potatoes whole so that they all cook evenly in the same amount of time.
  • Don’t choose potatoes that have sprouted, are wrinkly and seem dried out, or have lots of blemishes. Stay away from any potatoes that have a greenish tone to them- they’ve been exposed to too much light and will taste bitter.
  • Once you get the potatoes home, make sure they’re completely dry, then store them in a brown paper bag in a cool, dark, place for up to a few weeks.

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