How to Boil Potatoes

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Learn how to boil potatoes for all of your potato recipes that call for boiled potatoes. This is one of the most basic ways to cook potatoes.

Many potato recipes include instructions to boil the potatoes as the first step. You may have questions that are not answered in your recipe. Here are tips for successfully boiling potatoes.

Should you boil potatoes whole or cut them in pieces?

The answer to this question depends on the type of potato you are using and the potato recipe for which you will use the boiled potatoes. Here are some tips:

  • New potatoes should be boiled whole as they are usually quite small and tender.
  • For general purposes such as mashed potatoes or potato stews and soups, cut large potatoes into halves, quarters or even smaller. Smaller potato pieces will cook in less time.
  • If you peel lots of potatoes, consider purchasing an Electric Potato Peeler

Tip: Try to cut the pieces into consistent sizes so they will cook evenly.

Potato salad recipes, potato soup recipes, and your favorite mashed potato recipe to name just a few of the potato recipes that start with "boil the potatoes." In each case you will either cut the potatoes or leave them whole according to the specific recipe

By the way, we get so many questions about how to make mashed potatoes and how to make make ahead mashed potatoes that we have created pages for each.

Here are answers to more questions you may have about boiling potatoes:

  • What types of potatoes are best for boiling?
  • Should I always peel the potatoes before boiling?
  • Should I cut the potatoes or leave them whole?
  • How long does it take to boil potatoes?

Types of potatoes that are best for boiling:

Low-starch, high-moisture potatoes, such as round reds, are some of the best for boiling. They remain firm-textured when sliced or diced (before or after cooking), and are a good choice for stews, casseroles, salads or other potato recipes in which you want the potato pieces to hold their shape.

Starchy potatoes, like russets, have a drier flesh. They will be fluffy when mashed but may fall apart if cut into chunks or slices after cooking. They are good boiling potatoes to use in potato soups and stews when you want the potatoes to break up and thicken the cooking liquid.

To peel or not to peel?

Many potato recipes, even mashed potatoes, can benefit from boiling potatoes with the skins intact. Thin-skinned potatoes are especially good when used with their skins on. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to peel your potatoes before boiling.

Some reasons not to peel potatoes before boiling:

  • The potato skins help prevent the flesh from absorbing too much cooking water.
  • Many vitamins are concentrated in, or just below, the potato skin.

A really efficient way to cook potatoes is with a Instant Pot Programmable Pressure Cooker.

Some reasons to peel potatoes before boiling:

  • Commercially grown potatoes are usually treated with sprout inhibiting, and other, chemicals which can be concentrated in the potato peels.
  • If the potatoes have thick skins, many 'eyes,' dark spots or are very dirty, it is best to peel them.

How long does it take to boil potatoes?

A large pot full of potatoes (4-quart size or so), should boil potatoes to a "ready-to-eat" tenderness in about 25 minutes. You will want to check the potatoes every 5 minutes or so after the first 15 minutes to see if they are "fork-tender." If you pierce one of the potatoes in the cooking pot with the tines of a fork, it will easily go into the potato.

Here are basic "how to boil potatoes" instructions:

  • Put your potatoes, peeled or unpeeled, cut or whole, into a cooking pot and completely cover them with cold water.
  • Add 1 or 2 teaspoons of salt to the water before starting to cook.
  • Bring the water and potatoes to a boil then reduce heat to low.
  • Cover, and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes or until fork-tender.
  • Check at 5 minute intervals since cooking time will vary according to the type, size and quantity of potatoes being cooked.
  • Potatoes are done when a fork can be inserted into a potato and removed without resistance.
  • When done, drain potatoes, return them to the pot, and toss gently over the still-warm burner to dry them.

Tip: Overcooking will cause potatoes to fall apart and undercooking will result in raw centers.

Tips on How to Boil Potatoes for Mashed Potato Recipes:

Yukon Gold or russets are the best choices for smooth, fluffy mashed potatoes. Yellow-fleshed Yukon Gold provide a buttery color.

If the potatoes have tender peels, you may want to simply scrub them and either leave the peels on or remove them after boiling.

If you intend to run the boiled potatoes through a 'ricer', then it's best to peel the potatoes before cooking.

Tips on How to Boil Potatoes for Potato Salad Recipes:

  • Slice peeled or unpeeled potatoes into 1/2-inch thick slices.
  • Undercook the potatoes slightly. The heat retained in the potatoes will finish cooking them as they drain and cool.
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar, to the boiling water. Adding an acid helps to keep the potato pieces intact.

Tips on How to Boil Potatoes for Potato Soup Recipes:

  • If you will be making cream of potato soup, you can peel, then grate, the potatoes before boiling. This will save the step of putting the potatoes through a food processor once they are boiled.
  • If you want your potato soup recipe to include larger pieces of potato, consider using new potatoes which only need to be washed before boiling. If they are tiny new potatoes they will not need to be cut.

How to boil potatoes

Related pages:

How to Peel Potatoes

How to Bake Potatoes

How to Roast Potatoes

How to Microwave Potatoes

How to Rice Potatoes

How to Freeze Potatoes

How to Cook Sweet Potatoes

Back to Ways to Cook Potatoes


300 Best Potato Recipes: A Complete Cook's Guide: Potatoes are just about everyone’s favorite side dish. This book includes dozens of recipes, and ways to cook potatoes, for every part of a meal from breakfast through appetizer, main course, and even dessert.

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