How to Cook Potatoes

Potatoes are the ultimate comfort food, starring in favorite recipes such as creamy mashed potatoes, saucy scalloped potatoes, fluffy baked potatoes, and more. Start by picking a potato that is right for the recipe. There are three categories of potatoes: waxy (such as round white potatoes), high-starch (such as russet potatoes), and medium-starch (such as Yukon gold potatoes). Learn all about cooking potatoes with these tips.

Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped Russet and Sweet Potatoes

For the best scalloped potatoes, select a waxy or medium-starch variety such as Yukon gold, red, yellow, or white potatoes. Slices of these potato varieties tend to hold their shape better during baking than higher-starch potatoes. Because these potatoes have thin peels (unlike russets), you can leave the peels on the potatoes for extra color and texture. Here are some other tips for making homemade scalloped potatoes:

Slicing Potatoes

Slice potatoes to similar thickness for scalloped potatoes that cook evenly.

The thickness of your potato slices is key; typically 1/8 inch is recommended. Because you'll want the thickness of all the slices to be consistent for even baking (to avoid over- or underbaked areas), your best bet is to use a mandoline. If you don't have access to a mandoline, use a sharp chef's knife to cut thin, even slices.

Make a Roux

Making a roux of flour and butter
Whisk together the melted butter and flour to create the roux.

To ensure the white sauce for your scalloped potatoes is smooth and rich, always thicken it with a roux. A roux is a mixture of equal parts melted butter (or any fat) and flour that is whisked into the milk. The roux doesn't leave lumps in the sauce like a thickening mixture of flour and water, because the butter coats the starch molecules of the flour and prevents them from clumping. In addition, the butter adds a rich flavor to the sauce.

  • Make cheesy scalloped potatoes by gradually adding shredded cheddar, Gruyere, or Swiss cheese to the thickened sauce (about 1-1/2 cups cheese per 2-1/2 to 2-3/4 cups sauce).
  • For evenly coated potato slices, arrange half of the potatoes in the greased casserole dish. Coat with half of the sauce. Repeat these layers. This will ensure that all the potatoes are covered with sauce and will help the potatoes bake evenly.
  • When the scalloped potatoes are bubbly around the edges, check the doneness by removing the baking dish from the oven and inserting the tip of a sharp paring knife into the center of the potatoes. The potatoes are done when the knife slides into the potatoes easily without resistance.

Get our classic Scalloped Potatoes Recipe.

Mashed Potatoes

Yukon gold, russet, and red potatoes
Yukon gold (left), russet (middle), and red potato (right)

Mashed potatoes are a delicious side for almost any kind of main dish. Start by selecting potatoes that are either high-starch or medium-starch varieties. Russets (high-starch) will give you light, fluffy mashed potatoes, while medium-starch varieties such as Yukon gold and red potatoes will give you a creamier texture. Follow these essential steps for amazing mashed potatoes:

  • Place quartered potatoes in a large pot, and add enough water to cover the tops of the potatoes. If desired, lightly salt the water to add flavor (1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt should be plenty).
  • Heat the pot over high heat until the water begins to boil. Reduce heat to low and cover the potatoes. Cook potatoes for 20 to 25 minutes or until tender (potatoes should be soft but not waterlogged or shaggy around the edges).
  • Drain potatoes thoroughly. Return potatoes to the hot pot, add desired amount of butter, and place back on the warm burner. Let stand for 3 minutes, uncovered, until moisture is evaporated (this will create fluffier mashed potatoes).
  • Mash potatoes using one of the methods listed below.
  • Stir in enough warm milk to reach desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and ground black pepper.

How to Mash Potatoes

Mashing potatoes with a masher
Traditional potato masher

Handheld Potato Masher Mash potatoes with a potato masher or electric mixer, or press through a ricer.

Mashing potatoes with a ricer
A potato ricer will produce fluffy mashed potatoes.

Potato Ricer A potato ricer will create the fluffiest mashed potatoes. To use this method, you will need to peel all of your pototoes before boiling.

Mashing potatoes with a mixer
Mashing potatoes with a mixer

Electric Mixer If using an electric mixer to mash potatoes, only beat until potatoes are light and fluffy. Beating too long will break the starch molecules, giving the potatoes an undesireable gluey texture.

Mashed Potato Recipes

Rustic Mashed Potatoes from the slow cooker

Baked Potatoes

Scrubbing the potatoes to clean

Popularized as the perfect side for a juicy steak, baked potatoes are among the easiest potato recipes to make. Always use high-starch potatoes, such as the russet. Here's the best no-hassle way to make baked potatoes for dinner:

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Scrub each russet potato well under running water with a produce brush. (Potatoes are grown underground, and the skin often has residual soil on it.) Pat the potatoes dry.
  • Prick the potato all over with a fork. This allows steam to escape while the potato is baking and prevents ruptures.
  • If desired, for soft potato skins, lightly rub each potato with shortening or olive oil; sprinkle with salt.
  • Wrap each potato separately in foil.
Checking potato for doneness
  • Bake the potatoes for 40 to 60 minutes or until tender. Remove potatoes from oven. Carefully open foil, keeping your fingers clear in case steam escapes from the foil packet. (You can test the doneness of the potato by inserting a fork into the flesh; the tines of the fork should slide in easily with no resistance.)
Loaded Baked Potato
  • To serve, roll each potato gently under a towel. Using a knife, cut an X in the top of each potato. Press in and up on the ends of the potato to open it up.
  • Add fun toppings to your potato to complement the rest of your meal. Here are some ideas to get you started:
    • Warmed chili, shredded cheese, and sliced green onion
    • Crumbled blue cheese, sour cream, snipped chives, and crumbled cooked bacon
    • Chopped cooked ham, steamed broccoli, and shredded Gouda cheese
    • Sauteed sliced onion, sweet pepper strips, halved mushrooms, and sliced zucchini
    • Sour cream, salsa, and snipped cilantro

Baked Potatoes recipe 

Twice-Baked Potatoes recipe

Hasselback Potatoes with Seasoned Bread Crumbs recipe

Roasted Poblano Twice-Baked Potatoes recipe


Be the first to comment!

Better Homes & Gardens may receive compensation when you click through and purchase from links contained on this website.