Idaho or Red Bliss? Yukon Gold or Kennebec? Here’s the type of potato you need for every dish.

By Lisa Milbrand
August 04, 2020
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Potatoes are a classic starchy side, with what seems like a billion different ways to serve this root vegetable—mashed, fried, baked, boiled, or in salad, pancakes, stews, and casseroles, to name a few. And once you decide how you’ll serve your potatoes, you have another tricky problem—which type of potato works best for a particular recipe?

There are three major types of potatoes out there. Waxy potatoes, like Red Bliss, new, and fingerling, have a lower starch content and are best for recipes that need potatoes that hold their shape pretty well. These are the best potatoes for potato salads, boiling, and roasting.

Starchy potatoes get soft and fluffy, so they’re the best potatoes for mashed potatoes, soups, and casseroles. They include common types of potatoes such as Idaho Russets and sweet potatoes.

All-purpose potatoes are the happy medium—not too starchy, not too waxy, so they’re a great potato staple. Potato types like Yukon Gold, Kennebec, or Purple Peruvian fall into this all-purpose category.

For some recipes—like mashed potatoes—the best type of potato may just be a matter of preference and presentation. But with other recipes, where the starch of the potato is needed to help with the consistency, opting for a waxier potato like fingerlings or creamers may make your potatoes a bit disappointing. Read on for the best potatoes for your favorite recipes or preparations, or check out the types of potatoes graphic below.

realsimple.com; illustrations by Sarah Ferone

The best potato for mashed potatoes really depends on your own personal preferences. Yukon Gold potatoes give you that lovely creamy mashed potato mouth-feel without becoming too gummy (check out our mashed potato hack for perfectly prepped spuds). If you like your mashed potatoes a little more rustic and “smashed,” using a thin-skinned variety like Red Bliss lets you keep the skins on and cut back on prep time.

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Pretty much any potato would work in a potato salad, depending on what your personal preferences are. “For potato salad, I love Yukons, red bliss potatoes, I make a sweet potato salad with yams—it depends on the look and textures you’re looking for,” says Tanya Holland, chef and restaurateur at Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, Calif. and host of the podcast Tanya’s Table.

RELATED: How to Make the Perfect Potato Salad

For a classic twice-baked or baked potato, you want to pick one of the fluffier, starchy types of potatoes. “Look for something with a thicker skin, like an Idaho potato,” Holland says. “Sweet potatoes also work beautifully baked.”

The best potatoes for stews and soups depend on the ideal texture of the potatoes in the finished product. For smooth, creamier potato soups, a starchy potato like a Russet would more easily blend into the finished product. But waxier potatoes like small new potatoes would work better in a hearty stew where chunks of potato will remain intact.

Err on the starchy side for French fried potatoes and other fried potato recipes, like potato pancakes or home fries. “I like a big starchy Kennebec potato for French fries,” Holland says. Waxy potatoes tend to contain too much moisture to develop the perfect crunchy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside texture that French fry fans adore.

Your potato pick matters most for recipes like potatoes au gratin or scalloped potatoes, where you need to rely on the starch of the potato to help hold the rest of the recipe together. “Different potatoes have different flavors and different levels of starch,” Holland says. “If you’re making potatoes au gratin and use a potato that’s lower in starch, the potatoes don’t stick together well.” Russet potatoes work great for this type of recipe—or go back to your all-purpose Yukons.

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