For The Best Potato Salad, Make Sure You're Picking The Right Potatoes

Few side dishes are as commonplace at summer potlucks and barbecues as potato salad. With so many variations to choose from and the ability to tweak and add ingredients to one's liking, it's no surprise the dish is so popular. Add to that its ability to be served cold straight from the fridge, and it's a great summertime dish to make ahead and serve guests.

For all its merits, however, it can be difficult to make a great potato salad. One of the harder parts of the recipe to nail down is the texture of the potatoes. While you certainly don't want them to be undercooked and stiff, it's all too easy to end up with a crumbly potato salad that falls apart when you mix in the dressing. There's a simple way to avoid a mushy potato salad: choose waxy potatoes. Waxy potatoes hold their shape after cooking, ensuring a well-cooked potato salad that won't be destroyed by the touch of a spoon.

Waxy potatoes are the key to perfectly cubed potato salad

There are three categories of potatoes: waxy, starchy, and in between. The reason waxy potatoes work best in potato salad is that they hold their shape better than other varieties after cooking. As explained by America's Test Kitchen, waxy potatoes have a higher concentration of a starch called "amylopectin" than is found in softer potatoes. This particular type of starch sticks together, even while cooking. As a result, waxy potatoes can hold their shape throughout the cooking process, even if they are cubed before they are boiled.

For potato pieces that hold their shape throughout cooking and adding the dressing, look for waxy potato varieties. These include Red Bliss, fingerlings, and new potatoes. Steer clear of starchy varieties, such as russet potatoes, unless you want to risk your side dish resembling mashed potatoes. In-between potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, can also be used. These types can hold their shape well enough throughout the cooking process, despite also working well for mashing.

More considerations when choosing and preparing potatoes

There is one instance in which waxy potatoes may not be the answer. You may prefer a softer texture if you're making a Southern-style potato salad with mayonnaise. One merit of starchy potatoes is that when mixed with mayonnaise, potato particles can come loose and mix in with the sauce, creating a richer, softer, and more blended texture. Starchy potatoes are the way to obtain this texture. For vinegar-based potato salads, waxy is best.

Choosing the correct potato is one part of the process. In order to ensure the texture of the salad is uniform, it's important to cut the potato cubes to the same size so that they are evenly cooked. In addition, be sure to cook the potatoes well enough before removing them from the pot: Waxy potatoes can hold their shape well enough if they are overcooked, but undercooked potatoes make for a poor dish. The forgiveness of waxy potatoes when overcooking is another merit of this category. Save yourself some headaches this summer and look for waxy potatoes to ensure your potato salad holds its shape.