Follow this detailed tutorial for how to make classic, easy potato salad. All your burning potato salad questions answered!
Ah, the classic potato salad. It seems like everybody has their own way of making it. Growing up, potato salad was a staple for Sunday dinners. My mom never measured anything, which is the beauty with potato salads. You can totally get away with just throwing stuff in the bowl. However, I have learned that there are a few tricks to making a great potato salad. Read on to find out what they are! You’ll also find out the answer to everybody’s burning question at a barbecue: Is this potato salad safe to eat?
Which Potatoes are Best for Potato Salad?
All the gurus tell you to use waxy potatoes, like red, Yukon gold, or fingerling potatoes. These will hold their shape better than the standard russet potato, which tends to fall apart a little bit. HOWEVER, since my mom always used russets, that’s what I like to use as well. I’m o.k. with a few of my potato cubes falling apart.
Do You Cut the Potatoes Before Boiling Them for Potato Salad?
Yes! You will want to cut them into about half-inch cubes. If you try boiling a whole potato and then cutting it, you will have crumble city, especially if you use russets.
How Long do you Boil Potatoes for Potato Salad?
There is a very specific method for boiling potatoes here.
- Cut up all your potatoes first and add them to a pot of cold water.
- Put the pot on the stove and turn the burner to “high.” Bring to a boil.
- When the water starts boiling, add one teaspoon of salt for every quart (four cups) of water. I actually measured my water when I made the salad this time. I used twelve cups of water for eight cups of cubed potatoes. So I added three teaspoons of salt to the water. It’s super important to add the salt to the boiling water rather than waiting to add salt to the salad later. You need the potatoes to soak up that salt. Otherwise, they’ll just be bland, even if you add a lot of salt to the sauce.
- After you’ve added the salt, turn the burner down and simmer the potatoes. Stay close by, because lots of froth can build up and overflow if you leave the heat on too high! Sometimes I take a large spoon or ladle and scoop the froth off the top of the water.
- Boil for 8-12 minutes, depending on which type of potato you are using and how firm you want them to be. The easiest way to test your potatoes to see if they’ve reached your desired consistency is to use a ladle to lift some up out of the pan, and then use a fork to test them.
How to Make Potato Salad
Once your potatoes have reached your desired level of softness, drain them and let them cool off for at least a half an hour before you add the sauce and other add-ins. While they are cooling, I use a large spoon to gently fold them in the strainer to allow more steam to escape.
While the potatoes are cooling, you can prepare your sauce and add-ins. Lots of people like to use celery in their potato salad, but I don’t like it. I always avoid the celery and other crunchy things in potato salad. Mine has three simple add-ins: hard boiled eggs, green onions, and olives. (O.K. I know that technically green onions are crunchy. But not as crunchy as celery. They just add a nice flavor without affecting the texture too much).
(If you have an Instant Pot, you MUST follow this tutorial on Cooking With Curls to learn how to make hard-boiled eggs. Life-changing. The peels come off perfectly!)
To slice the olives and the eggs, I use my Norpro Mushroom Egg Slicer. I love this thing! So much better than the slicers with wires! This one has blades and is easy to hold over the top of your bowl.
For your sauce, you are going to use some simple ingredients, including the secret weapon here–dill pickle juice.
You really just need mayonnaise, mustard, and dill pickle juice, with salt and pepper to taste. You are totally free to experiment with the ratios of the three main ingredients here. I used a cup of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of mustard, and 2 tablespoons of pickle juice. My husband loves mustard and would probably love it if I doubled the amount. (He usually douses his portion of potato salad with more mustard).
I mix the dressing in a separate small bowl and pour it over the top of the cooled potatoes. The potatoes don’t need to be chilled–just not super hot. Otherwise, they will absorb the mayonnaise, or the mayo will separate. As mentioned before, if your potatoes have been out of the boiling water for at least half an hour and are not longer steaming, they are probably o.k.
Once you gently fold in the dressing, add your diced hard-boiled eggs, sliced olives, and sliced green onions and fold them in. Taste your salad and see if it needs more salt. Here’s where you can also add pepper if you like. I am in love with my McCormick Black Peppercorn Grinder. I did not know what I was missing out on my entire life by not having freshly ground black pepper! It’s amazing! (Try it in my Black Pepper Biscuits. Best biscuits ever!)
Cover and chill the salad for at least an hour–more if possible. Stir it again before serving.
Can Potato Salad be Made Ahead of Time?
Yes, but I recommend not making it more than a day ahead of when you plan to serve it. The longer it waits, the more apt the dressing is to separate and for water to leak out of the potatoes.
Can Potato Salad be Frozen?
Not recommended. When thawing, there will be great water separation, and your potatoes will become mealy and mushy.
How Long Does Potato Salad Last?
If stored in the refrigerator, I would say potato salad is safe to eat up to four days.
Can Potato Salad Make Me Sick?
We’ve all been there. At the family reunion or picnic where the potato salad has been sitting in the hot sun. Do we dare eat it?
The “danger zone” for food (where bacteria can easily grow) is between 41 degrees F. and 135 degrees F. Food that remains in this temperature range for more than four hours should be thrown out. I would say that eating the potato salad within two hours of its debut on the picnic table would be safe. But after that, you may be sorry!
How to Keep Potato Salad Cold
If you are in charge of the potato salad and don’t want to potentially poison any relatives or party-goers, here’s a great tip. Set the bowl inside another bowl filled with ice. This should help keep the potato salad safe for consumption.
Now that all your burning potato salad questions have been answered, it’s time to make it! Follow the simple recipe below for classic, easy potato salad!
For all other potato-related questions, you can visit Ask Dr. Potato, part of the Idaho Potato Commission website.
Classic, easy potato salad with simple ingredients. Make sure to scroll up and read the post for lots of essential tips to make the best potato salad ever!
- 8 cups peeled, diced potatoes (cut into half-inch cubes)
- 3 quarts water (12 cups)
- 3 teaspoons salt (plus extra to taste)
- 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and diced
- 3-4 green onions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup sliced black olives
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons yellow mustard (not mustard powder)
- 2 tablespoons dill pickle juice
- salt and pepper to taste
Fill a large pot with 3 quarts of cold water. Add the eight cups of diced potatoes.
Place the pot on the stove and bring to a boil. When boiling, add the three teaspoons of salt and reduce the heat so that the potatoes simmer and so that the water does not boil over.
After eight minutes, check the potatoes by piercing with a fork to see if they are done. They should easily be pierced, but not be too soft. Continue simmering if necessary until desired level of softness is reached.
Drain the potatoes and allow to cool at room temperature for at least thirty minutes.
In a separate small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, yellow mustard, and dill pickle juice.
Transfer the potatoes to a large serving bowl. Pour the sauce over the top and gently fold in.
Add the diced hard-boiled eggs, sliced green onions and sliced olives and fold in.
Taste the salad and add more salt and pepper as desired.
Cover and chill for several hours before serving.