Classic Potato Salad

A good potato salad recipe, like family heirlooms, is passed from generation to generation.

Classic Potato Salad Southern Living
Photo:

Fred Hardy; Food Stylist: Margaret Monroe Dickey; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

Active Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 45 mins
Servings:
4 to 6

This classic potato salad recipe is a Southern staple. We consider this recipe for classic potato salad to be just that—classic, timeless, old-fashioned. But we also know that the "perfect" potato salad differs from family to family—heck, even person to person.

That's what is so great about this particular potato salad recipe. It's easily adaptable. Make this potato salad yours by adding chopped pickles for extra crunch or garnishing with fresh dill or parsley for a bite of freshness. You can use yellow mustard in place of Dijon or swap mayonnaise for Greek yogurt.

No matter what you do, if you follow this recipe, you'll have a side that goes with just about anything at a picnic, potluck, or family barbecue.

Ingredients for Classic Potato Salad

A person's go-to potato salad recipe is a bit like a signature. Get it right, and you'll always be the person that brings potato salad to gatherings. Get it wrong, and, well, you'll probably be asked to bring plates and cups next time.

Plenty of people add all sorts of things to their potato salad, from carrots to raisins, and while that might work for your household, we like to be more traditional. That's why this Classic Potato Salad calls for:

  • Russet potatoes: You can use waxier potatoes like gold or red potatoes if you want, but perfectly-cooked russets are the ideal potato salad potato, in our opinion. They absorb flavor well and have a toothsome texture that is the just-right combination of starchy and creamy.
  • Celery: Some old-fashioned potato salad recipes call for celery salt or celery seed, but we like to go with the real deal for this recipe. Save the leaves off the celery bunch to garnish the final dish.
  • Sweet pickle relish: It's just not a Southern potato salad without relish.
  • Hard-boil eggs: Like sweet pickle relish, a Southern potato salad isn't complete with hard-boiled eggs. More on that below.
  • White onion: Onion provides the backbone of flavor in this dish. We call for it finely minced because we want it to nearly melt into the dressing, not stand out in large pieces. But if you like pieces of onion, chop them for chunkier bites.
  • Mayonnaise: This condiment provides the creamy base for the potato salad dressing.
  • Dijon mustard: Some folks prefer yellow mustard, but the slight sweetness of Dijon is more balanced.
  • Apple cider vinegar and sugar: These two ingredients blunt the creamy richness of mayonnaise for a tartness that isn't overwhelming. Potato salad recipes without a tart ingredient just won't seem balanced in the end.
ingredients for Classic Potato Salad Southern Living

Potato Salad.. With Egg, Really?

Egg belongs in Southern potato salad . We said it. A lot of recipes call for grating eggs so they add creamy texture and flavor without being piecey. In fact, you may not even know what's providing that je ne sais quois to your family's favorite potato salad.

But we're not ashamed. Chop them up. Stir them in. Impress everyone.

How To Make Classic Potato Salad

The great thing about making this favorite side dish is that it's easy. As long as you have the ingredients on hand (and it's adaptable if you don't have quite everything), you can have this potato side ready in just over an hour.

  • Step 1: Boil potatoes. Add cubed potatoes to a stock pot, then add cold water over the potatoes. Sprinkle in a few pinches of salt. The salt in the water will help flavor the potatoes. Once the water is boiling, cook until the potato cubes are tender, about 15 minutes. Start checking after 10 minutes so you don't overcook the potato pieces. Russets can go from tender to mushy in the snap of a finger. Once they're tender, drain the potatoes, and let them cool before adding any other ingredients.
  • Step 2: Mix dressing. Combine the mayo, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. You can do this while the potatoes are cooking so the flavors have a chance to meld.
  • Step 3. Mix potato. In a larger bowl, combine the cooled potatoes, relish, eggs, celery, and onion.
  • Step 4: Combine dressing and potatoes. Gently toss the dressing and the potato mixture until well combined. Transfer to your serving bowl, and garnish.
ingredients for Classic Potato Salad in a large bowl

Fred Hardy; Food Stylist: Margaret Monroe Dickey; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

Potato Salad Tips From the Southern Living Test Kitchen

Before you start cooking, consider these important tips:

  • Start with cold water. Hot water will make potatoes mealy and starchy faster. Cold water helps the potatoes cook perfectly.
  • Salt the water. Salted water is one of the best ways to flavor potatoes. It's hard to flavor the inside of the spuds once they're cooked.
  • Let potatoes cool a bit before adding dressing. Hot potatoes will absorb the moisture of the dressing because their cells are open. Letting the potatoes cool a bit before adding the dressing guarantees a creamier salad.

Colorful Taters

How do you make potato salad that catches the eye? Use colorful potatoes.

The beautiful red and purple of colorful potatoes make any homemade potato salad stand above the rest.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do you add vinegar to potato salad?

Some people toss warm potatoes with vinegar to help flavor them before a dressing is added. We prefer to put vinegar in the dressing to balance the richness of mayonnaise. Apple cider vinegar is our choice for its hint of sweetness, but you could use white wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar for a more acidic, less sweet bite.

How far in advance can you make potato salad?

Potato salad gets better after it sits, so we prefer to make potato salad a few hours before it's time to serve. But if you need more time, potato salad will be good up to 3 days after it's made. Just be sure to cover well in an air-tight container, and keep in the fridge.

What kind of potatoes are best for potato salad?

Most classic potato salad recipes call for waxy gold or red potatoes. Those work great, and they hold their shape well, even if they're slightly overcooked.

But we like russet potatoes for this recipe because they're the more classic choice for potato salad. You just have to be careful to not overcook them.

Do you chop potatoes before boiling?

Yes, chopping potatoes into nearly-equal cubes before you cook them helps them cook evenly and precisely. We recommend chopping them before cooking for this reason.

Should you remove the potato peels or not?

That's up to you! The peel on russet potatoes are fibrous and chewy, so if you're using that kind of potato for your potato salad, maybe peel them. (We did in this recipe.) If you're using golds or reds, the thinner skin is perfectly OK to leave.

More Classic Side Dishes

Editorial contributions by Kimberly Holland .

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes , cubed

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery

  • 1/4 cup sweet pickle relish

  • 2-3 hard-cooked eggs , chopped

  • 1/2 cup minced white onion

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

  1. Add potatoes to a large stockpot. Fill with water one inch above potatoes. Add several pinches of salt. Bring to a boil, and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, and cool completely, about 1 hour.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper.

    dressing for Classic Potato Salad Southern Living

    Fred Hardyl Food Stylist: Margaret Monroe Dickey; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooled potatoes, celery, relish, eggs, and onion.

    Classic Potato Salad before dressing added

    Fred Hardyl Food Stylist: Margaret Monroe Dickey; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

  4. Gently combine dressing with potato mixture until well coated. Sprinkle the top of the potato salad with celery leaves (optional).

    Classic Potato Salad Southern Living in a bowl

    Fred Hardy; Food Stylist: Margaret Monroe Dickey; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

Additional reporting by
Kimberly Holland
Kimberly Holland
Kimberly Holland is a writer and editor with 15 years of experience in food, lifestyle, health, and nutrition content. She has been published in Southern Living, Real Simple, Allrecipes, EatingWell, Cooking Light, and other publications.
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