How to Boil Potatoes Perfectly Every Time
Cooking potatoes in boiling water is one of the first steps in making mashed potatoes, potato salad, and many simple side dishes. We'll show you how to prep your potatoes for cooking and how long to boil potatoes for perfect spuds every time.
There’s nothing complicated about boiling potatoes, but as basic cooking skills go, mastering boiled potatoes is a good one to have in your arsenal because there are so many chances to use the skill. Potatoes are one of the most versatile and widely loved foods out there, largely because you can turn them into so many delicious dishes. Whether you’re planning to boil potatoes for mashed potatoes or for a potato salad, there are a few tips and tricks that will ensure you’re happy with the finished results no matter how you plan to use your taters. Check out our Test Kitchen’s best advice.
How to Boil Potatoes on the Stove
The most common way to boil potatoes is on the stove in a pot of water. However, if you want more flavorful potatoes, consider boiling them in broth or a mixture of broth and water.
Prep Your Potatoes
Start by scrubbing the potatoes with a clean produce brush ($6, Bed Bath & Beyond) to remove any dirt, then rinse. If desired, peel the potatoes with a vegetable peeler ($9, Target) or paring knife, cutting away from your hand. Remove any sprouts and any green areas with the tip of a potato peeler.
There’s a lot of debate about whether you should peel potatoes before boiling them but neither way is wrong. While leaving the peel on during the boiling process can help the potato hold on to some of the vitamins and nutrients found in the peel, it really comes down to personal preference.
Cut into Smaller Pieces
Cut the potatoes into quarters or cubes to speed up cooking time. Leave small new potatoes whole and halve larger ones. To cube potatoes, slice them to the desired thickness, then stack several slices and cut crosswise several times in both directions. No matter the size you cut the potatoes, keep pieces similar size so they finish cooking at the same time.
Test Kitchen Tip: If you’re doing your prep in advance and won’t be cooking for a while, submerge the peeled and cut potatoes in water and store in the refrigerator. Potatoes left out at room temperature and uncovered will brown. You can keep them in water up to 24 hours before you cook them.
Place Potatoes in a Large Saucepan
Put cut up potatoes onto a saucepan or Dutch oven ($70, Target). Add enough cold water to cover the tops of the potatoes. Add ½ to 1 teaspoon salt to the water. Turn the burner on high and bring water to boiling. Reduce the heat to medium low or low. Cover the pot with a lid. Cook the potatoes in gently boiling water until tender, about 15 minutes for small Red Potatoes, New Potatoes or cubed large potatoes, and 20 to 25 minutes for quartered potatoes. You can use a fork to test to see if they are tender enough. Your fork should easily slide through the potato when they're properly cooked.
Pour cubed potatoes into a colander ($25, Bed Bath & Beyond) or use a slotted spoon to remove large pieces of potato from the hot water and place in bowl. If your recipe calls for cooled potatoes, run them under cold water or submerge in an ice bath to speed the cooling process.
Test Kitchen Tip: You can boil potatoes ahead of time for use later as long as you cover and refrigerate them. They’ll last for up to three days in the fridge.
How to Boil Potatoes in the Microwave
If you want to boil potatoes quickly, try using your microwave. It’s a great solution for small batches of spuds.
- Prep potatoes per the directions above.
- Place the cut potatoes in a microwave-safe bowl. Add enough water to cover the potatoes and a dash of salt. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, poking holes in the wrap to vent.
- Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Stir; cover again with the plastic wrap and cook for 5 more minutes or until tender.
- Drain in a colander.
How to Boil Potatoes in a Slow Cooker
For the ultimate in easy solutions, use your slow cooker to boil potatoes. It’s perfect for times when you want to be able to work on other dishes that require the stove. Your slow cooker doesn’t actually “boil” the liquid, but the effect is the same, and if you’re planning to use the cooked spuds for mashed potatoes, you can mash and even serve right from your slow cooker.
- Place your cut potatoes in your slow cooker. Add a cup of cooking liquid like water or broth. Most of the liquid will cook off or be absorbed by the potatoes during the cooking process, making draining unnecessary.
- Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or until tender.
How to Serve Boiled Potatoes
There are tons of ways you can use cooked potatoes. Whip up a Classic Potato Salad for your next potluck or family grill out or try our popular Fried Smashed Potatoes, which is a rustic take on a mashed potato with the skins on. If mashed potatoes are your favorite, you can't go wrong with our Classic Mashed Potatoes, but for a delicious twist on the traditional, try our Gruyere-Garlic Mashed Potatoes. And, for a fancy way to serve mashed potatoes, try these Duchess Potatoes.
What are the Best Potatoes for Boiling?
Because the starch content in potatoes differs from type to type, some are better for boiling than others depending on what you plan to make with them. The amount of starch in the potato can affect the texture, so use the right type of potato for the dish you’re making.
- High-starch Potatoes: Potatoes such as the Russet or Idaho, have a light, mealy texture. Once boiled, they are ideal for mashing.
- Medium-starch Potatoes: Varieties such as the Yellow Finn and Yukon Gold, contain more moisture so they don't fall apart quite as easily as high-starch tubers. They work well for mashing, adding to soups or casseroles, and serving as a side dish. They can also be used for potato salad.
- Low-starch Potatoes: Potatoes such as the Round Red, Round White, and New Potatoes, are often called waxy potatoes. They hold their shape better than other potatoes when boiled, making them perfect for potato salads or tossing with seasoned butter as a side dish.
Test Kitchen Tip: Many people like to substitute sweet potatoes for standard spuds in their favorite recipes. Learn the best way to boil sweet potatoes to make the swap.
How to Buy Good Potatoes & Keep Them from Rotting
One of the things that makes potatoes such a popular food is that they are relatively inexpensive and available year-round. When you’re choosing potatoes at the store, look for clean ones with smooth, unblemished skins. They should be firm and have a shape that is typical for the variety. Avoid potatoes with green spots or ones that are soft, moldy, or shriveled.
Store potatoes in a dark, cool, well-ventilated place for up to several weeks. Do not store them in the refrigerator.