How to Boil Potatoes

Whether you're prepping potato salad or pierogi, perfectly boiled potatoes will make your dish shine.

boiled potatoes in a colander overhead
Photo: Emily Laurae/Southern Living
Cook Time:
20 mins
Active Time:
5 mins
Total Time:
25 mins
Servings:
4

There's nothing like a heaping plate of fluffy, buttered mashed potatoes being passed around at a family dinner or a potluck. Whether you're whipping up a batch of mashed potatoes or assembling a punchy potato salad with sweet pickles, it's essential to know how to best boil your spuds.

Fear not: Boiling potatoes couldn't be easier. It just takes potatoes, water, and lots of salt. It's as easy as making pasta and loaded with possibilities.

While a pot of boiled potatoes isn't, on its own, a very appetizing or exciting prospect, those softened spuds can become the star of many main meals and side dishes, from garlic mashed potatoes to potato salad, to fillings for knishes and pierogi. You can even use them to make potato chips!

How to Prep Potatoes

You'll of course want to start by cleaning the potatoes. Give the potatoes a good rinse to get rid of any dirt or pesticides they came in contact with before arriving in your home. If you have a vegetable brush, now is its time to shine. Even if you plan to peel the potatoes, it's still important to scrub them clean before proceeding.

From an aerial view, a colander full of russet potatoes sits to the left of a person's hands holding a potato and scrubbing it with a green vegetable brush.
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

How to Peel Potatoes

Whether you peel or not is up to personal preference, but if you do prefer peeled potatoes it's best to remove the skin after cleaning but before boiling. The easiest way to peel potatoes is with a classic vegetable peeler. Hold the potato steady with your free hand or stab a fork into one end and peel away from your body.

If you wait until after boiling the potatoes to remove their skin, allow them to cool to a safe temperature to handle. You may decide to leave that peel on; it adds a little texture!

From an aerial view, a colander of cleaned russet potatoes sits to the left of hands holding and peeling a potato with a vegetable peeler. A bowl of potato scraps sits to the right.
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

Do You Cut Potatoes Before Boiling?

You don't have to cut potatoes to boil them, but smaller pieces of potato will boil faster than larger pieces. It will also be easier to work with smaller pieces if they will later become mashed potatoes.

Of course, the size of the cut potatoes will depend on the variety, but generally go for quartering with varieties such as a Russet potato. Smaller potatoes, like new potatoes, may just be halved.

It's important though that no matter what size you chop your potatoes, they are all around the shape and size so that all the potato pieces in the pot cook evenly.

An aerial view of a wood cutting board shows peeled russet potatoes in varying states of diced; a chef's knife and vegetable peeler lay next to the potatoes.
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

How to Boil Potatoes

You really can't find a recipe more simple than boiled potatoes.

Step 1. Fill and season a pot of water

Add water and a few big pinches of salt to a pot. Make sure you fill the pot with enough water to completely cover the potatoes. Never skip the salt—it's a big part of flavoring the potatoes and won't cause them to taste too salty.

Step 2. Add the potatoes to the cold water

Add in your cleaned, peeled, and halved or quartered potatoes. While you can wait for the water to boil before adding in the potatoes, they will cook more evenly if you add them to the pot while the water is cold. Potatoes added to boiling water can turn out mushy on the outside and tough on the inside. When the water reaches a boil, reduce it to a simmer and cover.

An aerial view shows a white cast iron pot on a hot plate, filled with diced russet potatoes in still, cold water.
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

Step 3. Boil the potatoes until soft

This should take about 20 minutes but will vary depending on the size and variety of potato you are using. Check the potatoes periodically by jabbing one with a fork; if you get resistance, the potatoes aren't quite ready. But if they get too soft, they might develop a mushy or grainy consistency and crumble when touched with a fork.

When you are satisfied with the tenderness of your boiled spuds, drain them and proceed with your recipe.

A close-up image of diced russet potatoes gently boiling in a white cast iron pot.

How Do You Know When Potatoes Are Boiled?

A good indicator of when a potato is done boiling is if you can pierce it with a fork. You want the potatoes to be tender all the way through, with a fork easily sliding through to the center. If you get resistance, boil for another few minutes and check again.

A fork reaches into a colander of peeled, diced, and boiled potatoes, piercing the center of a cube to show doneness.
Emily Laurae/Southern Living

How Long to Boil Potatoes

Exactly how long you should boil potatoes will depend on the type of potato you're using and how small you cut the pieces. Also, consider what the final texture will be. For a dish like mashed potatoes, more tender potatoes will work. But for something like potato salad, you may want the potatoes to be a little more firm.

Start checking the boiling potato pieces at the 10-minute mark; check whole potatoes after 15 minutes. They will help you gauge how quickly they're cooking.

Boiled Potatoes Time Guide

Peeled, cubed potatoes cut into small, one-inch pieces should cook in 10 to 12 minutes, once the water reaches a boil.

Larger pieces (about 2 inches across) may need longer, around 15 minutes.

Medium whole potatoes should boil 20 minutes before they'll be tender. Even larger potatoes, such as those that are baking potato size, may need 25 to 30 minutes.

How to Serve Boiled Potatoes

After you drain the potatoes, your next step depends on if you are serving the potatoes in a hot or cold recipe. If you intend to enjoy them cold in a potato salad, rinse them with cold water or add them to an ice bath before proceeding to stop them from carryover cooking.

Otherwise, for hot dishes, proceed with your recipe. For example, if you're making mashed potatoes, grab that butter, cream, and your favorite herbs or spices and get to mashing.

An aerial shot of a blue and white dish full of mashed potatoes with melted butter and fresh herbs on top.
Southern Living

How To Store Boiled Potatoes

When you are done boiling potatoes, add them to an airtight container. They will keep in the refrigerator for a few days and in the freezer for up to a few months.

Ingredients

  • 4 russet potatoes

  • Pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Using your hands or a vegetable brush, clean dirt off of the potatoes in the sink. Optional: Use a vegetable peeler to remove the potato skins. Chop the potatoes into equally-sized pieces.

  2. Add chopped potatoes to a large cooking pot, and fill with cold water until the water line is 1 inch over the potatoes. Add a big pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil, and cook for 10-12 minutes. (Larger pieces will require longer cooking times.)

  3. After 10 minutes, check the potatoes for doneness by piercing one piece with a fork. If the fork easily pierces the center of the potato, they are done. If it meets resistance, boil for another 2 minutes, and check again.

  4. Drain boiled potatoes in a colander.