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How to Make Potato Salad

Updated March 20, 2020
One of the unsung heroes of summer potlucks and picnics, a good potato salad is always a crowd-pleaser. Everyone seems to have their own way of making it, and we’ve got all those tried-and-true methods right here: the classics—plus all the creative ways to mix it up!
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Best Potatoes for Potato Salad

The preferred spuds for the perfect potato salad are the ones that can hold their shape after cooking—that’s why you’ll want to stay away from the otherwise reliable Russet potato, which is starchy and more likely to fall apart during the cooking process (this is precisely why they make an excellent choice for mashed potatoes). Instead, you’ll want to reach for potatoes that hold their shape after boiling; small red potatoes or Yukon gold potatoes are your best bets. They also have thin skin, which you can peel off or keep on depending on your preference. When selecting potatoes at the grocery store, pick ones that are firm and smooth, avoiding any with bruises or discoloration.

Potato Salad Dressing

There are mostly two camps when it comes to the potato salad dressing: mayo-based and vinegar-based. Which camp you belong in may depend on where you live, or what you grew up with, but one thing is for certain: both options (and their variations) are delicious!

Mayo-Based Potato Salad Dressing

Considered by many to be the “all-American” way to make potato salad, mayo-based potato salad is served cold and made with mostly—you guessed it—mayonnaise. Other ingredients typical of a mayo-based dressing include a bit of yellow mustard, seasonings like salt and pepper, onion, celery and sometimes even chunks of hard-boiled eggs.

Vinegar-Based Potato Salad Dressing

Potato salad is thought to have been brought to America through German immigrants; it has evolved considerably since. You may have heard of “German potato salad,” which is quite different from its mayo cousin, though still a popular way of preparing the dish in both Germany and the United States. German potato salad is often served warm and served with a vinegar-based dressing accompanied by various herbs, bacon and sometimes mustard.

Greek Yogurt-Based Potato Salad Dressing

Looking for a lighter version of potato salad? You can make a Greek yogurt-based potato salad dressing which is similar to the mayo-based version. You can still get the creamy texture you’ve come to love about your mayo potato salad, minus all of the fat and added calories.

How to Make Potato Salad

One of our favorite potato salad recipes is our Loaded Baked Potato Salad, a mayo-based potato salad loaded up with green onions, bacon and shredded cheese. One bite, and you won’t want to make potato salad any other way ever again!

What You’ll Need

  • Large saucepan
  • Large bowl
  • Whisk
  • Mixing spoon

Ingredients

  • 3 lb red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup sliced green onions
  • 8 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Step 1

Place cut potatoes in a large saucepan; fill with water until potatoes are just covered. Add a tablespoon of salt to water, if desired. Bring to a boil; simmer 7 to 9 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender.

Step 2

Drain potatoes; rinse with cold water until fully cooled. Set aside.

Red potatoes cut into 1/2 inch pieces

Step 3

In a large bowl, beat mayonnaise, sour cream, salt and pepper to taste with a whisk until smooth.

Mix mayonnaise, sour cream, salt and pepper with a whisk.

Step 4

Add cooled potatoes; stir to coat. Add green onions, crumbled bacon and cheese. Stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Red potatoes, mayo, green onions, bacon

Types of Potato Salad

Now that you’ve mastered the classic creamy potato salad recipe, try your hand at some other potato salad variations like German potato salad, tangy potato salad and more.

German Potato Salad

German Potato Salad

As explained above, German potato salad made with a vinegar-based dressing and is served warm and with additional ingredients like herbs, onions and bacon. This basic German potato salad recipe hits on all of those flavors.

What You’ll Need

  • 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven 
  • 10-inch skillet 
  • Slotted spoon 
  • Paper towels 
  • Large bowl

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs small red potatoes, quartered 
  • 8 slices of bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar 
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 
  • 3 tablespoons sugar 
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt 
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper 
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions

Step 1

In 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven, place potatoes. Add water to cover potatoes. Salt water generously. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cook potatoes for about 15 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork; drain.

Boil potatoes

Step 2

Meanwhile, in 10-inch skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet with slotted spoon; drain on paper towels. Set aside. Add vinegar, oil, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper to bacon drippings. Cook over low heat 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved.

Step 3

Add vinegar, oil, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper to bacon drippings. Cook over low heat 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved.

Add vinegar, oil, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper to bacon drippings.

Step 4

In large bowl, mix potatoes, bacon, green onions and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Pour oil mixture over potatoes; toss to coat. Serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers.

Mix potatoes, bacon, and green onions.

Red Potato Salad

Red potato salad is a broad characterization for any potato salad that uses red potatoes, and as we mentioned above, red potatoes are the perfect spud for potato salad, no matter what dressing you use! If you’re looking to try something that goes beyond the standard creamy potato salad and German potato salad, try this tangy potato salad starring red potatoes.

Tangy Potato Salad with Bacon

How to Store Leftover Potato Salad

Careful! Potato salad is a delicious side dish, but can be the sneaky culprit of food poisoning if it sits out for too long at potlucks. A lot of people attribute this to the dressing, but you actually need to watch out for the potatoes. Potatoes that sit out too long are the perfect bed for bacteria growth, so don’t let the dish sit out for long!

Ideally, potato salad should be served the day you make it, but if you have any leftovers (and you didn’t leave it out for too long!), you can cover and store in the refrigerator for up to three days.

More Potato Salad Recipes

Can’t get enough of your new favorite side dish? Try these twists on potato salad at your next party or potluck!

From breakfast to dessert, browse all of our essential how-to articles for classic recipes like pie, doughnuts, pizza and more!


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