How to Cook Potatoes

Once you know how to cook potatoes (and how to cook sweet potatoes), you'll always be able to whip up an easy, tasty side dish for dinner and special occasions. We'll teach you all about cooking potatoes in a variety of ways, including how to boil potatoes, how to bake potatoes, and how to make fried potatoes. Prepare to become a spud superhero!

Potatoes are the ultimate comfort food, starring in favorite recipes like creamy mashed potatoes, saucy scalloped potatoes, fluffy baked potatoes, and more. Start by picking a potato that is right for your 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). Waxy potatoes hold their shape well after cooking, making them great for casseroles and potato salads. High-starch potatoes don't hold their shape well after cooking, so they're not a great choice for casseroles and gratins, but they're delicious when boiled, baked, or fried. Like their name suggests, medium-starch potatoes fall in between the two—because of this, they're great in almost any recipe.

How to Bake Potatoes

Making baked potatoes is easy—just four simple steps. A baked potato is a classic dinner side dish (steak and baked potatoes, here we come!), or it can also be a great lunch or light dinner depending on the toppings you add. Here are the basic steps for cooking baked potatoes:

  1. Start by choosing the right potato for the job. Russet potatoes are ideal for baking.
  2. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F, and while you wait, use a stiff produce brush to wash your potatoes thoroughly under cool running water to remove any dirt.
  3. Prick the potatoes on all sides with a fork and bake until tender (this will take about 40 to 60 minutes for 6- to 8-ounce potatoes).
  4. Let the potatoes cool for about 15 minutes, then use a sharp knife to cut an X into the top of each potato. With your fingers, press in and up on the ends of each potato to open. Top as desired and dig in!

How to Make Fried Potatoes

Call them what you like—fried potatoes, home fries, cottage fries—they're delicious no matter the name! Similar to French fries, fried potatoes are thinly sliced potatoes or wedges that are cooked in butter or oil. You can easily cook them on your stovetop or in the oven.

Follow these instructions for cooking them in a skillet:

  1. For about four servings of fried potatoes, start with three washed medium potatoes, and thinly slice them crosswise so that each slice is about 1/8 inch thick.
  2. In a large skillet, melt butter or margarine (using about 1 tablespoon for each medium potato) over medium heat.
  3. Add potato slices and cook, covered, for 8 minutes, turning occasionally.
  4. Uncover and cook for 12 to 15 minutes more, or until the potatoes are tender and light brown, turning occasionally. If necessary, you might have to add additional butter while the potatoes are cooking.

How to Boil Potatoes

Boiled potatoes can be used in so many different ways: potato salad, mashed potatoes, and even as a side dish on their own (simply top with fresh herbs). If you need tender potatoes in a hurry, boiling is the way to go. Here is what to do:

  1. Start by scrubbing the potatoes, then cut into quarters or cubes.
  2. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan or pot, and add enough cold water to cover the tops of the potatoes. Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt to the water.
  3. Turn the burner on high and bring the water to boiling. Reduce heat to medium or low. Cover the pan with the lid, and cook the potatoes in gently boiling water until they're tender (about 15 minutes for cubed potatoes and new potatoes, and 20 to 25 minutes for quartered potatoes).
  4. Drain the potatoes in a colander, and serve as desired.

How to Boil Sweet Potatoes

Boiling sweet potatoes is about the same as boiling regular potatoes, and it's just as delicious and easy. Boil sweet potatoes to make mashed potatoes, or for use in a casserole or other dish. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Scrub and rinse the potatoes, then peel them with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Cut off the ends and any woody portions, and cut the potatoes into bite-size cubes.
  2. Choose a saucepan that will be able to hold the potatoes without crowding them, and fill the pot about halfway full. Add a dash of salt, then bring to boiling.
  3. Add the sweet potatoes, then cover and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes or until just tender on the outside. For super tender sweet potatoes, cook for about 25 to 30 minutes.
  4. Use a colander to drain the potatoes, then allow them to cool. You can also run the potatoes under cold water to speed up the process.

How to Make Scalloped 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:

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.

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 combined before being 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, Gruyère, 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 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.

How to Make Mashed Potatoes

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 like 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

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

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

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

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