This classic potato salad recipe, handed down from my grandma to my mom and then to me, has their secret tips that makes it the very best every single time.
It may be a pretty bold to claim, but saying this potato salad recipe is the best is a statement I’ll totally stand behind.
I’ve shared several variations of potato salad recipes here on the blog including my German potato salad, a creamy dill potato salad, my no-mayo potato salad with herbs, a bacon and sour cream loaded baked potato salad, and even more. But this salad is the one that readers have made a top recipe here on the blog, and definitely ranks as my personal childhood favorite.
This classic potato salad is the one I grew up on. It’s the recipe my Grandma Mary Jane originally made, then passed down my mom, aunts, and cousins, and me and my sister. It’s accompanied burgers, grilled ribs, and every other favorite summer dinner recipes under the sun.
As favorite family recipes do, it’s a food memory none of us can, or want to, forget. It shows up at nearly every BBQ, picnic or good old fashioned supper soirée at my house, and it’s one I’m proud as punch to share when I go to other’s homes as well. And it’s extremely popular with readers who love it all year round, at Thanksgiving and Christmas too. Who knew? Looks like this recipe has found it’s Southern potato salad roots.
So now it’s your turn to give it a try. Here’s how to make the best potato salad ever. Let’s get started…
I spent many a summer afternoon making and taste testing this salad alongside my amazing mama, just like she did with hers. In fact, I’ve made it so many times I don’t even need the recipe. You know a recipe is that good when you know it by heart.
Here’s the ingredients you’ll need for this classic potato salad:
- Yukon gold potatoes (see below why they’re the best)
- white vinegar
- hard boiled eggs
- green onion
- Miracle Whip—it’s the secret sauce to this potato salad dressing
- yellow mustard
- celery seed
- kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
What Type of Potato Is Best for Potato Salad
We use white potatoes, or Yukon Golds, in our family’s recipe. White potatoes are a little creamier, a little sweet and hold their shape well after cooking. And because they have a thinner skin, they’re really easy to peel after boiling. Avoid using starchier potatoes like russets that too easily turn to mush in salads like this.
Choose potatoes of the same size for the most consistent cooking.
How to Keep Potato Salad from Getting Watery
There are a couple of reasons potato salad can become runny. Here’s how to troubleshoot the problem.
- Use the right potato. Yukon golds are our go-to and absorb the dressing well.
- Be sure to add the dressing to cool potatoes before adding the creamy mayo dressing. Potatoes will sweat water as they cool, and that can contribute watery potato salad.
- And then, reader Vicki sent in an email with her suggestion to avoid watery potato salad:
“I asked a renowned chef what I was doing wrong, and he told me NEVER to salt the potatoes either during cooking or preparing the salad. The salt makes the potatoes seep water. Ever since I took his suggestion, I have never had a problem with watery salad. You can season the salad with salt, pepper, and other seasonings just before serving and it won’t affect the potatoes once they have been mixed with the mayo. Just an FYI.” Thanks Vicki!
How to Cook Potatoes for Potato Salad
One of the biggest potato salad controversies is do you cut potatoes before boiling for potato salad? My mom says, no.
My mom cooks her potatoes whole with the skin on. I follow her lead, or will quarter them before cooking. The other method to cooking the potatoes is peeling and cutting the potatoes before cooking as suggested in the comments below. But, my mom says that method allows the potatoes to absorb more water, and so I do what mama says.
To cook the potatoes, add them to cold water and bring to a boil and reduce to medium heat, rather than adding the potatoes to hot, boiling water. Boil the potatoes until fork tender and the skin just begins to crack, about 20-25 minutes.
Contrary to Vicki’s advice above to avoid adding salt to the water, I do. Like pasta, the salt flavors the potatoes. I add about 1 tablespoon of salt once the water begins to bubble so it doesn’t sit on the bottom of my pan and pit the pan. He’s totally right.
Another cooking method a reader suggests is steaming the potatoes in 1 inch of water for 30 minutes, which works too. Just be sure to watch you don’t boil your water away and burn the pan.
My Mom’s Secret Tips
One of the biggest flavoring secrets to the success of this recipe is white vinegar. Adding a few hearty splashes of white vinegar to the cooked potatoes gives the salad it’s secret and subtle flavor punch. The key is to add the vinegar while still the potatoes are still warm, and allowing them rest and absorb the vinegar’s zing as the potatoes cool.
My mom’s next key ingredient is Miracle Whip. Now, there is much debate in the comments about using Miracle Whip over traditional mayonnaise. But I’ve found that MW adds a sweet creamy flavor mayo just doesn’t have. I’ve tried both, and time and again I’ve returned to my roots and back to the Miracle Whip because that’s what mom uses and so it’s the classic flavor I can’t get otherwise. If you’re a mayo fan, by all means, make the move. But maybe, just maybe, give the old Whip a try.
My mom’s original recipe calls for just three eggs, but since I’m a super fan of eggs in potato salad, I’ve added two more. It probably stems from my adoration of egg salad. Feel free to adapt to your own taste.
Everyone has an opinion on what to add and what not to add to potato salad. For our family recipe, chunks of celery and bites of green onion add the needed crunch to classic potato salads. I’ve added diced pickles before because everything tastes better with pickles. Except this version of potato salad. I’m saving the pickles for my tuna fish sandwiches.
Let’s talk celery seed. This is probably the only recipe besides a bloody mary (find my favorite bloody mary recipe here) that I use celery seed. But it’s an integral part of the flavor profile, so don’t skip it.
In the realms of the mustard world, we don’t even dream about getting fancy schmancy with German browns, hearty seeded or Frenchy dijon mustards. I save that for my German potato salad. Because just like on my hot dogs, plain old yellow mustard is the best.
Give this salad time. Allowing the potato salad flavors to meld is important here. If I’m planning on eating the salad on the day I make it, I’ll prepare it at lunch so it can sit and build the flavors, or make it a day ahead. Potato salad will stay good in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. If it doesn’t get eaten up before then.
Hail to mom mom’s best potato salad. Enjoy!
Everyone has their favorite ingredients that make up a pasta salad, just check out the comments below. Here are a few additions and variations you may be craving now.
- The most requested/commented variation is to use mayo instead of Miracle Whip. If you prefer to, go for it. Personally, the sweetness in Miracle Whip is what I have the most fondness for.
- Or, try a half and half situation by subbing in half sour cream or Greek yogurt for any part of the mayo/Miracle Whip combo.
- Add pickles. Diced sweet pickles, dill pickles or pickle relish will give this salad another layer of zing.
- Chopped red onion or radishes will add a bit more heat.
- Add bacon for an earthy bite (or just make my Baked Potato Salad with bacon, sour cream and cheddar cheese instead.)
- Try red potatoes instead of Yukon gold, and leave their jacket skins on for a more colorful potato look.
Recipes That Go With Potato Salad
- How to Make the Best Grilled Salmon
- The Best BBQ Chicken
- The Best Garlic Burgers EVER
- Bacon Double Cheddar Cheeseburger With Caramelized Onions
- The Best Greek Chicken
How to Make the Best Potato Salad
This potato salad recipe was handed down from my grandma to my mom and now to me and it is definitely the best. Use waxy Yukon gold potatoes for the base of this salad then while still warm, drizzle with white vinegar for zing and be sure to cool before adding the dressing.
- 6 medium white potatoes or Yukon golds about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, skin on and quartered
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar
- 2 celery stalks (ribs) diced
- 6 green onions diced
- 5 hard boiled eggs peeled
- 1 1/2 cups Miracle Whip or mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- paprika for garnish
Bring a large pot of cold water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and the potatoes, and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to a lightly rolling boil over medium heat. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork or pairing knife. Drain and allow to cool until just able to handle.
Peel the skins from the potatoes and cut into 1/2" to 3/4" square pieces. Transfer the warm potatoes to a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with the white vinegar. Toss the potatoes with the vinegar and set the potatoes aside to cool, about 15-20 minutes.
Add the celery and the green onions to the potato mixture. Chop 4 of the hard boiled eggs and add to the potato mixture.
In a medium bowl, mix the Miracle Whip or mayonnaise, yellow mustard, celery seed and salt and pepper. Fold into the potato mixture and season with more salt and pepper to taste. Slice the last egg into thin slices and place the slices on top of the salad. Sprinkle with paprika if desired. Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight before serving.
If you prefer, substitute the Miracle Whip with mayonnaise. Or, use half mayonnaise and half Greek yogurt or sour cream for more tang.
More Classic Potluck Recipe Ideas
- The Best Homemade Mac and Cheese
- How to Make Classic Macaroni Salad
- How To Make The Best Creamy Coleslaw
- Fresh and Easy Vietnamese Noodle Salad
- The Best BBQ Baked Beans
- 20 Potluck Side Dishes For The Classic Summer BBQ
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