From start to finish, here are the keys to a fabulous picnic side dish.

When planning a menu for a backyard cookout or a church social, you have to include certain dishes. Deviled eggs and baked beans are picnic favorites, and don't forget the big bowl of potato salad. A flavorful companion to main dishes such as fried chicken, grilled hamburgers, and bar-be-cue, potato salad is easy to make and the flavor can be adjusted with the addition of stir-ins like boiled eggs, olives, dill pickle relish, or fresh vegetables. Once you understand the basics of making a potato salad, everything else is easy.

Choose the Right Potato

Don't be overwhelmed by the many varieties of potatoes at the grocery store. Potatoes can be divided into three categories - starchy, waxy, and all-purpose. Once you understand the difference in the three categories, you will be able to choose the perfect potato for your dish every time. Starchy potatoes, like Russets, don't hold their shape as well during cooking, sometimes even falling apart. This makes them ideal for mashed potatoes but not potato salad. Waxy potatoes, such as Red Bliss, New, or Fingerling, have the least amount of starch and will retain their shape while boiling, which means you will get a pretty bowl of potato salad. All-purpose potatoes like Yukon Gold can be substituted for both starchy and waxy varieties. Tip to remember: choose a waxy potato.

Start With Cold Water

Fully submerge your diced potatoes in a pot of cold water, then place the pot on the stovetop and bring the water to a boil. If you add potatoes to already boiling water, the outside of the potatoes will get overdone and too soft while the inside will still be undercooked. So while it is fine to add pasta and frozen vegetables to boiling water, always start with cold water when boiling potatoes. Tip to remember: Put potatoes in cold water.

Season The Water

A plain potato can be somewhat bland, so it is a good idea to add seasoning during the cooking process – a hot potato absorbs flavor easier than a cold potato. Add a pinch or two of salt to the boiling water; the potatoes will soak up some of the saltiness while they cook, becoming thoroughly seasoned from the inside out. Tip to remember: Salt the water

Dress The Potatoes At The Right Temp

Think before you dollop a mayonnaise-based dressing over your potatoes. If they are still hot, the mayonnaise will become an oily mess. Let the potatoes cool 20 to 30 minutes and then add the mayonnaise and other ingredients. If you are using a vinaigrette dressing, however, dress the potatoes while they are still hot. They will absorb some of the vinaigrette and be even more flavorful. Tip to remember: Put mayonnaise dressing on cold potatoes, put vinaigrette dressing on hot potatoes.