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Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes should be so good they don’t even need gravy! That means they need to be light and fluffy, creamy and rich, and buttery. So how do you master the mash? Here’s everything you need to know to achieve amazing, mashed potatoes.

The Potatoes

Select the right potato. Choosing the proper potatoes is crucial! There are three types of potatoes: starchy like brown russets, waxy like red, and in-between like yellow.

The first rule is don’t use the waxy, red potatoes for your mash. They won’t break down enough, so there are lumps, nor do they absorb the dairy very well.

Starchy russet potatoes are the best choice for mashed potatoes because they fall apart easily when cooked, but also absorb cream and butter well. Mashed potatoes made with these kinds of potatoes mash up the lightest and fluffiest. Use russet or yellow, such as Yukon Gold potatoes. For the best texture and flavor, go 50-50.

Plan on a 1/2 pound of potatoes per person. That means if you are planning on 10 people, use 5 pounds of potatoes, or for 4 people, use 2 pounds of potatoes.

The Dairy

The dairy you use is equally as important as the potatoes. Purchase good-quality unsalted butter. The benefit of using unsalted butter instead of salted butter is so you control the amount of salt. Since butter is a predominant flavor in a great mash, use the best quality you can afford. Skip the whole milk and go for half-and-half or cream. The final dish will thank you.

Another key tip is to warm the dairy before adding it to the potatoes! Cold butter and half-and-half or cream won’t absorb properly into the potatoes, plus they will also cool them down. Gently heat the dairy products before adding them to the potatoes.

As long as you’re going to the trouble of heating the liquid before adding it to the potatoes, why not take the opportunity to amp up the flavor? By infusing the liquid, you will add another flavor dimension to the final dish. Try crushed raw garlic or chopped shallot, herbs like rosemary, thyme, a bay leaf, or whole spices such as peppercorns. Strain the liquid, then add it to the potatoes.

The Process

Potatoes are dirty. Avoid getting dirt in the potatoes by thoroughly rinsing in cold water and scrubbing them first.

I don’t peel or slice my potatoes before cooking them. The reasons: 1) Unpeeled and unsliced potatoes will absorb less water while being boiled. 2) Less absorbed moisture allows the potatoes to absorb the dairy. 3) Taking the peels off after cooking is easy and quick.

Start by boiling unpeeled, uncut potatoes in cold, salted water, broth, or milk. Using broth or milk instead of water imparts more flavor in the potatoes. If you add potatoes to already-boiling liquid, the outside will overcook, and the inside won’t cook enough. You want everything in the pot to come to temperature at the same time. Instead, place them in the pot, add cold water and salt, and bring everything to a boil together. Potatoes can quickly fall apart in a pot of aggressively bubbling water. Simmer them instead so they’ll stay intact and cook more evenly.

Be sure to use potatoes of similar size. If you’re boiling whole potatoes, you might need to remove small potatoes from the water a little sooner and let larger potatoes cook a little longer. Cook the potatoes 20-60 minutes depending on size, or until knife tender! The tip of a knife should go in effortlessly, and the potato should slide off the tip. Drain the potatoes in a colander. Pick up each potato, hold it in a clean dishcloth-covered hand, and use a paring knife to peel off the skins.

For potatoes to mash up light and fluffy, you need to work them as little as possible. Over-mashing your potatoes will result in gluey and gummy potatoes, so do not put them in the food processor or blender. Instead, invest in a ricer or a food mill, which won’t overwork the potatoes. Or, if you like a few lumps for texture, use a regular potato masher.

Add the melted butter first for silkier potatoes. When you add the butter first, it coats the starch and results in silkier potatoes. Next, add the warm liquid. Not only will the potatoes absorb the warm dairy products much easier, but you also won’t have to work them as much to mix in the butter and cream. Less agitation means creamier mashed potatoes.

Keep Warm

No one likes to eat a serving of cold potatoes. Keep mashed potatoes warm, either by covering them with a lid or dishtowel, placing them over a pot of simmering water, or transferring them to a slow cooker.

Make Ahead

You can make the potatoes in advance and refrigerate them overnight. To reheat, place them in the oven, slow cooker, microwave, or on the stovetop. To avoid sticking and burning, stir the mashed potatoes frequently and add more liquid if they are dry.


Leftover mashed potatoes can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days. Label and date your container.

Homemade mashed potatoes are easy to make and the above techniques can take them from average to fantastic!


Mashed potatoes in a bowl on a table next to whole raw potatoes

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Extension Educator:
Vicki Hayman – (307) 746-3531

University of Wyoming Extension

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Extension Educator:
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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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