Mashed potatoes are glorious in all their permutations—except when they’re lumpy, watery, gluey, or grainy. Luckily, making perfect mashed potatoes isn’t hard, as long as you follow a few simple tips.
How to Make the Best Mashed Potatoes
Here are pointers for perfect mash every step of the way.
Pick Your Potato: Go for the Gold
While we like different types of spuds in potato salad, when it comes to mashed potatoes, Yukon Golds are definitely the best. They’re smooth, dense (in a good way), and have an inherently buttery flavor. Russets can work just fine (though we still prefer the flavor of Yukon Golds), but waxy potatoes are best avoided.
Slice and Dice: Even It Out
Make sure you cut your potatoes into evenly sized pieces so they all cook at the same rate. You’ll want to peel them first unless you like to leave the skins on or are using a ricer, which will remove them for you.
How to Cook Them
The classic way to cook potatoes before mashing is to cut them into chunks and boil in salted water. You can boil them in broth for a richer flavor (though be careful about adding too much salt in that case).
Start them in cold liquid (and if you’re using a stainless steel pot, don’t salt the water until after it starts to boil), then let them cook until they’re almost falling apart, about 25 minutes. If they’re still too firm in the center, they won’t mash as well or become as creamy.
If your stovetop is fully booked or you just want to spend less time cooking, you can make Instant Pot mashed potatoes, which cook for 12 minutes (plus the time it takes for the pot to come to pressure).
You can even steam or bake your potatoes so they’re drier, but if you boil, don’t skip the next two-part step.
Drain & Dry
Drain your potatoes when they’re done—if you’re not using dairy, reserve a little of the starchy cooking liquid to add back later.
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A built-in strainer is nice to have, but a colander or hand-held strainer will also work.
And then, instead of immediately tossing in the butter (regular or vegan), return the pot to low heat and gently stir the potatoes for a few minutes so they start to dry out and break apart.
Tools of the Trade: Potato Masher vs Ricer
Lump-free mashed potatoes are guaranteed if you use a potato ricer.
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A food mill will also work, but the results won’t be quite as silky.
And a potato masher is just fine if you like (or at least don’t mind) some lumpiness, but we don’t recommend a food processor, which is likely to give you potato paste. An electric mixer is also tempting, but can lead to gluey spuds as well.
Get Rich (and Hot)
Now you can add your butter and milk or cream; don’t skimp on either, and don’t add them cold or they’ll bring down the temperature of your mash. Warm the milk or heavy cream with the butter in a small saucepan while the potatoes cook and mix them into your mashed or riced potatoes with a wooden spoon. Don’t over-mix!
Related Reading: Which Utensil to Use with Every Type of Cookware
Some recipes add other forms of dairy either instead of or in addition to one or both of the above—cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt. You can warm them too, but that’s especially important with cream cheese, which will disperse in lots of tiny lumps if cold when stirred in.
Dairy Free Diversions
If you don’t do dairy, you can use olive oil, non-dairy milk, vegan butter, and other alternative ingredients (including some of the potato cooking water or broth, just like pasta sauce often uses a bit of the starchy cooking water to make it richer and silkier). See our guide to non-dairy and vegan mashed potatoes for more ideas and recipes.
How Much Butter and Cream Should You Use?
That depends on personal taste and how many calories you’re willing to overlook. We regularly use about a stick of butter and a cup of cream for anywhere between 3 and 5 pounds of potatoes. Yes, that’s a lot, but that’s why they taste so good. Cut back as you see fit. And check out some of our mashed potato recipes below for specific ratios and variations.
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If you want to take a cue from molecular gastronomy, you can skip butter and cream completely for diastatic malt powder (you’ll also need a sous vide set-up). The result will be so smooth it’s more of a sauce/KFC mashed potato texture, but check it out if you’re interested in how it works:
A Word on Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Garlic mashed potatoes are a popular upgrade, but opinions vary on the best way to prepare the garlic. Roasted garlic is a classic, but some Chowhounds prefer to boil the cloves along with the potatoes; RealMenJulienne believes that mellows the sharpness and makes it easier to mash into the spuds, which themselves are fully infused with the gentler garlic flavor from the cooking process. Other options: noodlepoodle briefly sautes grated garlic in melted butter before mixing it in (and you could do the same with olive oil), while esquimeaux just mashes in raw, minced garlic.
A Word on Gravy
You want it, you need it, you should make extra, no matter how perfect your potatoes are. Our Make Ahead Turkey Gravy is a good way to ensure you’re stocked up. And see how to fix lumpy gravy if you find yourself with that particular dilemma.
Can You Make Mashed Potatoes Ahead of Time?
Yes, with some caveats. Check out some tips on making mashed potatoes ahead of time, and see our guide to Thanksgiving recipes you can make ahead to see what else you can get a jump on before the big day.
Mashed Potato Recipes
Now that you know the way to perfect potatoes, peruse some of our favorite takes on the classic comfort food side dish.
Just what you’d expect: Yukon Golds, cooked, drained, and dried, then mixed with warmed cream and butter—we do call for mashing these in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, which will be fine as long you keep it on low speed and don’t let it run too long. If you have a ricer, use that instead, and a wooden spoon to gently fold in the fats. Get our Classic Mashed Potatoes recipe.
These are more roughly smashed than mashed, but they’re still rich with butter and cream—and then they get a kiss of white truffle oil for a deep, earthy flavor. Just be sure to use a high-quality brand or they’ll likely have a chemical note. This may be the only time we wouldn’t recommend pouring on the gravy. Get our Truffled Fingerling Mashed Potatoes recipe.
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You can also add sour cream for a bit of tang. This recipe does, and swaps heavy cream for whole milk, but still uses a full stick of butter. Get our Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes recipe.
Butter is the name of the game here too, but instead of cream or milk, we mix in warmed chicken broth. Make it veggie broth and use vegan butter if you don’t eat dairy. Get our Buttery Mashed Potatoes recipe.
This recipe calls for russets, but Yukon Golds will be even better. It adds rich, tangy buttermilk to the usual butter and cream. It also calls for the buttermilk to be at room temp, but you can gently warm it instead if you want to make sure your mash stays hot for longer. Get our Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes recipe.
Yes, we said waxy potatoes tend to get gluey, but that’s mostly because they take longer to mash to a truly smooth texture. Therefore, this recipe intentionally leaves them a bit lumpy (and also leaves the skins on), but thanks to a stick of butter and plenty of heavy cream, they’re still creamy too. Parsley and chives freshen it up a bit. Get our Mashed Red Potatoes recipe.