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How to Boil Potatoes

Created May 31, 2018
White, red and yellow potatoes.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to boil a potato? Believe it or not, enjoying a perfectly cooked potato starts with the pot of water. Improve the nutrients, the texture and the flavor of your potatoes with these expert tips to boiling a potato the right way.

How to Boil Potatoes

Boiling is one of the easiest methods when cooking potatoes. And while it may not sound difficult (and it’s really not!), there are certain steps to take for the best way to boil potatoes to ensure the best flavor and texture every time.

For example, do you leave the skins on or off? The experts at the Idaho Potato Commission — people who know their potatoes — recommend boiling potatoes with the skin on. This keeps the nutrients inside the potato during the cooking process and adds a bit of flavor and texture to the finished product as well. But if you really can’t stand eating potato skins, you can certainly peel them after they’re boiled. Just make sure to let them cool down first.

Regardless of what you’ve chosen to do with the peel, your potatoes will cook more quickly if you cut them up into chunks before boiling. They don’t have to be super small, especially if you are going to be mashing them, but know that the smaller you cut the potatoes, the faster they will cook. Also, try to keep the chunks relatively the same size so that they cook at the same time. Of course, if you do decide to peel them after boiling, it's best to keep the pieces fairly large. You can also leave the potatoes whole; this is best for when you are boiling a starchy potato that can become mushy during the cooking process.

Potatoes soak up a lot of flavor, so salting the water prior to cooking is a good idea for the best taste. And you aren’t limited to plain salted water for boiling your potatoes, either. You can add herbs like rosemary and parsley, or spices and seasonings like a Cajun mix or black pepper to the pot to enhance the taste of your final product. Some cooks boil their potatoes in vegetable or chicken broth, while others add butter, cloves of garlic or pieces of onion or celery to really ramp up the flavor.

Once you’ve prepped your potatoes, it’s time to get them in the pot. It’s important to remember to put the potatoes in the cooking liquid before bringing it to a boil — not the other way around. This allows the potatoes and the liquid to heat at the same time for even cooking. It’s also important to make sure the cooking liquid completely covers the potatoes and that you keep an eye on the pot during the cooking process, adding liquid if it gets too low. And finally, keep the boil to a gentle simmer.

Whether it’s the side dish or the main attraction, these easy boiled potato tips and a step-by-step breakdown on how to boil potatoes will wow your dinner guests by cooking them to perfection every time. Here’s how it’s done:

What You Need

  • A cutting knife
  • Large pot
  • Vegetable scrubber


  • Potatoes
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Herbs, spices or other seasonings (optional)
  • Butter (optional)
  • Broth (optional)

Step 1: Clean potatoes well with a vegetable scrub brush.

Step 2: Cut the potatoes into chunks. Remember, the smaller the chunks the faster they will cook.

Cut the potatoes into chunks.

Step 3: Put the potatoes in the pot and add enough cold water to completely cover them. Add in salt. If using broth, herbs or seasoning, add these to the pot as well.

Put the potatoes in the pot and add enough cold water to completely cover them.

Step 4: Bring to a boil then reduce heat and gently simmer potatoes uncovered for about 15 to 20 minutes or until tender. Drain immediately.

Bring the water to a boil.

Be careful to not overcook your potatoes or you’ll end up with a soggy mess and little flavor. Your potatoes are done when you can slide the tip of a knife all the way through without resistance. When boiling whole potatoes, such as red potatoes, you may want to drain when when they are slightly undercooked because they will continue to cook after being removed from the heat. If you do this, they’ll be perfect by the time they make it to the table.

It’s important to drain the potatoes immediately after cooking. Don’t leave them to sit in the liquid while you finish preparing the rest of the meal. Potatoes retain their heat quite well, so putting them back in the pot after draining and putting a lid on them will keep them warm until you’re ready to serve.

Best Potatoes to Boil

Choosing the best potato to boil is just as important to how you boil them. A good rule of thumb is to start with the most wholesome ingredients for the best results. Select a tuber that has a smooth, relatively unblemished skin, free of any dark spots, sprouting “eyes,” or a shade of green on the peel — these are all signs of vegetables not in their prime. You also want a potato that is firm to the touch, not soft when you press on it.

White, red and yellow potatoes.

So, now that you know what to look for, which kind do you buy? There are many different kinds of potatoes out there and they all have their pros and cons. The best potatoes to boil are typically thin-skinned, low-starch, waxy varieties like red potatoes, purple or fingerling potatoes. These types of potatoes are best since they are firmer, hold their shape well and have a creamier texture after cooking.

Starchy potatoes like Yukon Golds or Russet potatoes can be boiled as well, but they have a much softer, heartier texture making them best for mashing, frying or baking. Pro-tip: because these kinds of potatoes tend to fall apart easier, it’s best to boil them either in very large chunks or even whole, otherwise you could have a mess on your hands.

What to Make with Boiled Potatoes

You’ve chosen your spuds, you’ve cleaned, seasoned and boiled them; now what to make with your boiled potatoes? There are a variety of dishes you can make using boiled potatoes. The firmer, waxy types that hold their shape are perfect for potato salads, casserole dishes and gratins, while the softer, starchy potatoes make wonderfully fluffy mashed potatoes.

Here are a few recipes that use the boiling method to make potatoes:

How to Store Boiled Potatoes

If you aren’t able to use your potatoes up right away, there are a few options for how to store boiled potatoes. If you plan to use them right away but are finishing up with other dishes, simply drain the potatoes after cooking and keep them warm in the pot with the lid on.

If you plan to use them the same day, but not until later, leave the water and potatoes in the pot with the lid on. Allow them to cool on the stove or counter. Once cooled, place the entire pot in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use the potatoes.

For longer storage, you can store the potatoes (without water) in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days. For long-term storage, allow the boiled potatoes to cool down and air dry, then place in a plastic freezer bag, removing as much excess air as you can, and store in the freezer. Then the next time you want to make a casserole, soup or salad, just grab a bag from the freezer and you’re ready to go!