how to make the best potato salad: rules, tips, tricks, and recipes
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Potato salad is not a particularly demanding dish, yet it is surprisingly easy to mess up. So much of it is bland, mushy, gloppy, or (ew) watery. Follow these rules for the best potato salad and yours will never be any of those unfortunate things.

Some of these commandments are indeed guidelines you should always follow, while others are more like ways to perk up a basic bowl once you have the finer points perfected—but all of the potato salad recipes below are delicious, whether packed for picnics, served as BBQ sides, or eaten straight out of the fridge.

1. Thou Shalt Use Waxy Potatoes, Not Starchy Potatoes

basic potato salad recipe waxy potatoes

Chowhound

Using waxy potatoes, like red skinned, new, or Yukon Gold potatoes helps the potatoes retain their shape after they are boiled. Russets or other starchy potatoes may fall apart into a pile of mush, which is not what you’re after in a classic potato salad—although they do have their adherents. Whichever type you pick, though shalt not over-boil them either! Get our Basic Potato Salad recipe.

2. Thou Shalt Not Go Straight to Hellman’s

Japanese Potato Salad recipe

Hana Asbrink

As you’ll see, you don’t need any mayo in your potato salad, but even if you do stick with the classic creamy base, try branching out to other kinds. Kewpie mayo, a Japanese classic, lends an extra tang to potato salad, whatever the other mix-ins you use (here, there’s cucumber, onion, and carrot). Get the Japanese Potato Salad recipe.

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Related Reading: How Long Can Potato Salad Stay at Room Temperature?

3. Thou Shalt Drop It Like It’s Hot

warm German potato salad with bacon and caramelized onions

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Because why should cold potatoes get all of the love? Try our Warm German Potato Salad recipe for a hearty side that almost makes a main course on its own, with freshly grilled or roasted potatoes tossed in a dressing made from warm bacon, green peppers, brown sugar, and other ingredients.

Pro-tip: Even if you’re serving a cold potato salad, tossing the just-cooked tubers with some salt and vinegar (or even pickle brine) while they’re still hot helps them absorb more flavor—just hold off on the mayo until they’re cooled down or it will melt.

4. Thou Shalt Embrace the Herb Garden

Herbed Potato Salad recipe

Chowhound

Why stick with plain old celery salt as the only seasoning other than salt and pepper? Fresh herbs like tarragon, parsley, and dill add an earthy, elegant flair to any potato salad, whether mayo-based or something like our oil-and-vinegar-based Herbed Potato Salad recipe. Even mint can work, as you’ll see in the next example…

5. Thou Shalt Get Your Kids to Eat Their Vegetables

potato salad tips waxy or starchy potatoes

Chowhound

Instead of serving peas with mashed potatoes, how about mixing them into potato salad? Some sweet peas, some crispy bacon, and a touch of cream make our Potato Salad with Peas and Mint recipe bound to please everyone—just leave out the bacon if there are vegetarians at the table. Peas can work in lots of other potato salad recipes too; they’re sweet yet mostly unobtrusive, and their bright pops of color liven up what’s often a very pale dish.

6. Thou Shalt Taste the Rainbow

Purple Potato Salad recipe

Chowhound

Purple potatoes are not just beautiful, they are a perfect counterpart to a spicy, garlicky marinade. If you can’t find chile caribe, or if it’s too hot for you, feel free to substitute habaneros, jalapenos, or any zesty spice that adds the kick that you prefer. Don’t forget the queso fresco for a hint of richness. Get our Marinated Purple Potato recipe. And try mixing in orange sweet potatoes for an even more colorful treat, or let them star in their own salad.

7. Thou Shalt Put on Fancy Pants

marinated potato salad with fennel and onion

Chowhound

Who says that potato salad must be relegated to blue jeans affairs?  This potato salad, made with thin slices of potato rather than the usual chunks, gets tons of crunch and flavor from licoricey fennel and sweet onions, and is an elegant side dish for any upscale soiree. It pairs especially well with salmon, but will work with ribs too. Get our Marinated Potatoes and Fennel recipe.

8. Thou Shalt Get Spicy

Korean Potato Salad recipe

Chowhound

A dash of cayenne is not uncommon in potato salads, but if that’s not enough of a kick for you, embrace bolder flavors like kimchi and gochujang (which add tons of flavor to our Kimchi Potato Salad recipe). Or go with diced pickled jalapenos, or even a little chili crisp. Maybe not the best for kids, but the adults sure will appreciate it.

Related Reading: 11 International Potato Salad Recipes

9. Thou Shalt Shred It

Chinese potato salad potato stir fry Beijing

BJI / Blue Jean Images / Getty Images

Looking for a change from chunky or fluffy (or even thinly sliced) potato salad? Try this refreshing Beijing-Style Potato Salad recipe: Shredded potatoes are stir-fried until al dente and dressed with vinegar and other ingredients. It’s great cold or at room temp, so you can still make it ahead of time. And it’s perfect for mayo-haters.

10. Thou Shalt Think Outside the Tuber

mock potato salad with kohlrabi

Chowhound

OK, so it’s not potato salad, but it looks, acts, and tastes a lot like the real thing. Kohlrabi, a relative of cabbage, takes the place of spuds; it tastes like turnip-meets-jicama and becomes wonderfully creamy when boiled. Dress it in a classic mayonnaise, mustard, and red wine vinegar dressing for our Mock Potato Salad recipe and be sure to refrigerate it for at least 2 hours so the flavors have a chance to meld. Bonus: This one is easily made keto-friendly if you swap out the honey for another sweetener and use a sugar-free mayo.

Related Video: Overachievers Shalt Make Their Own Mayonnaise


Sarah Spigelman Richter is a New York City–based writer, blogger, and social media manager. She has developed recipes for Tabasco, blogs about her favorite restaurants and recipes at Fritos and Foie Gras, and can be found, most Friday nights, watching “Arrested Development” reruns.
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