Do You Cover Potatoes When Boiling? | What You Should Know

All cooks have their own specific method of boiling potatoes. No matter how many cooks you ask the question, you will get that many different responses. In fact, I’ve probably tried them all. 

But after about 65 years of trial and error, I’ve developed my own methods of boiling potatoes for mashing and for making potato salad, the two methods varying slightly. Both methods, however, involve boiling potatoes uncovered.

Here are my detailed step-by-step methods of boiling potatoes for mashing and for making potato salad.

Boiling Potatoes For Mashing

Cooked-potato-cubes-for-mashed-potatoes-draining
  1. Wash the potatoes thoroughly. I keep an extra Teflon scrubber handy that I use only for cleaning vegetables.
  2. Peel the potatoes, rinse them again, and cut them into one-half inch slices.
  3. Put the potato slices into a pot large enough to cook at a full rolling boil without boiling over, add water to cover them completely, usually with at least 1 inch above the top of the potatoes.
  4. At this point, you can add salt so that it cooks into the potatoes, or you can wait and salt them when you are mashing them. There is no taste difference in the finished product whether you salt them when cooking or wait until mashing.
  5. Bring them to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium to prevent them from boiling over.
  6. Stir occasionally to prevent the potatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  7. Start checking for doneness after 8 to 10 minutes and check often. It shouldn’t take more than 10 to 15 minutes for them to cook. I use a fork to check them. They are done when the fork will easily pierce the potatoes. Use a taste test to make sure the potatoes are completely done before draining them.
  8. Remove the pot of potatoes from the heat and drain completely by pouring them through a colander.
  9. Put the drained potatoes back into the pot or into a mixing bowl and add butter. 
  10. Give the butter a couple of minutes to melt, then mash the potatoes with a hand potato masher or fork. 
  11. Add milk, about a half cup at the time while stirring by hand until the desired consistency is reached.
  12. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  13. Then use a hand or stand mixer to whip the potatoes for just a short time, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Overbeating with a mixer can cause the potatoes to be gummy and have a glue-like texture.

For a look at how I make mashed potatoes, here’s a short YouTube video.

Boiling Potatoes For Potato Salad

Peeled potatoes on a plate

There are many different ways of making potato salad, all of them good. This version is the one my family likes and is demonstrated in this video. I use my homemade pickles in it and often add a little juice from the homemade pickle jar to spice it up.

My Directions For Boiling Potatoes For Potato Salad:

  1. Peel the potatoes, wash them thoroughly, and cut them into one-half inch to one inch chunks.
  2. Put the potato chunks into a pot large enough to cook at a full rolling boil without boiling over, and add water to cover them with at least 1 inch above the top of the potatoes.
  3. Add salt to the pot so that the potatoes can absorb the salt as they cook. This is an important step in making potato salad, because there is a definite taste change when the potatoes are cooked unsalted.
  4. Bring the potatoes to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium to prevent them from boiling over. Stir occasionally to prevent the potatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  5. Start checking for doneness after 6 to 8 minutes and check often. It shouldn’t take more than 8 to 10 minutes for them to cook. Cut this small, you can tell by looking at them whether they still have a section in the center that isn’t done. The best way to test for doneness when cut in chunks is by using a taste test to make sure the potatoes are completely done. There is nothing worse than biting into potato salad made with not-quite-done potatoes.
  6. Remove the pot of potatoes from the heat and drain completely by pouring them through a colander.
  7. Put the drained potatoes back into the pot or into a mixing bowl and give them a little time to cool. In fact, I like to cook the potatoes the day before making the salad so that they can cool overnight in the refrigerator.
  8. Once the potatoes are cool, make your favorite potato salad recipe.

This is a 4-ingredient potato salad recipe that is my favorite.

  • 6 White Potatoes, medium
  • 6 Large Eggs, hard-boiled
  • 1 cup chopped Pickles or Relish
  • ½ cup Mayonnaise
  • Paprika
  • Optional: 
  • ¼ cup Sweet Onion, diced
  • ½ Apple, peeled and diced
  • 1 teaspoon Yellow Mustard
  1. Peel, wash, and cube the potatoes, pour them into a large saucepan or Dutch oven, cover the potatoes with water, and cook them just until tender.
  2. Boil the eggs to hard-boiled.
  3. Let the potatoes and eggs cool for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  4. Pour the potatoes into a large mixing bowl.
  5. Coarsely chop the boiled eggs and add them to the potatoes.
  6. Chop the pickles and add them to the potato mixture.
  7. Add the mayonnaise and any optional ingredients you are using, and combine all ingredients well.
  8. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and sprinkle with paprika. If desired, garnish the salad with halved stuffed olives for a nice, colorful presentation.

Boiling Potatoes Unpeeled Or In Their Jackets

There are some recipes like smashed potatoes that require the potatoes to be boiled whole without peeling them. For this process, I usually simmer the potatoes covered. 

The length of time it takes to boil whole potatoes depends on the size of the potatoes and can take up to 30 or 40 minutes. Simmering them covered will allow them to get done all the way through without tearing them apart which can happen if cooked at a full rolling boil. 

NOTE: When serving potatoes, estimate 2 average size potatoes for each person you are serving.

Potato Varieties Best For Mashing And Salad

3-Bags-of-Different-Kinds-of-Potatoes

Although you can make any potato dish with any kind of potatoes, each potato variety is better suited to cooking in certain ways because of the starch content. For example, russets and Yukon golds are high in starch and make lighter and fluffier mashed potatoes.

Waxy potatoes such as reds and the fingerling potatoes are best suited for making potato salad, but I have often used russets for salad that worked very well.

Final Thoughts

When I was just learning to cook, we made potato salad that was mashed instead of in chunks. As soon as the potatoes were done, we mashed them and added the boiled eggs, pickles, and mayonnaise, and it was delicious. This is the only kind of potato salad my mother ever made. 

It wasn’t until much later when I had a home of my own that I discovered that most people make their potato salad differently. The potatoes were cut into chunks and were not mashed when putting the salad together.

I’ve often wondered if mashed potato salad is a Southern thing, maybe a country thing, or even regional? Made either way, potato salad is good and is an excellent side dish with almost any meal.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Anne James

Anne James has a wealth of experience in a wide array of interests and is an expert in quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, mixing drinks (bartending), and making jelly. Anne has a professional canning business, has been featured in the local newspaper as well as on the Hershey website, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is. With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass. Amazingly, she doesn’t need to reference many resources due to her vast wealth of experience. She IS the source. Anne wants nothing more than to pass on her extensive knowledge to the next generations, whether that be family or anyone visiting her website, her YouTube channel, or survivalfreedom.com.

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