Pass the butter and gravy, please.

By Kelsey Ogletree
September 24, 2020
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No Thanksgiving table is complete without a giant bowl of mashed potatoes. While a relatively simple dish to prepare, mashed potatoes is one side you should perfect to make all your dinner guests happy. People are passionate about this starch, after all! If you’re wandering the grocery store produce section wondering what potatoes to buy to make perfect mashed potatoes, you’re not alone—it’s a very common question. Not all potatoes are created equal, and different varieties will give you different results. We spoke with chefs to learn their top recommendations for the best potatoes for mashed potatoes, depending on your texture preference. Happy mashing!

For Creamy Mashed Potatoes: Yukon Gold

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Waxy, a little starchy (but not too much so) and a tiny bit sweet, Yukon Gold is the ideal variety for creamy mashed potatoes, says chef Adrienne Cheatham of Institute of Culinary Education in New York. “They will soak up flavor but aren’t as fluffy—they have more of a creamier texture when mashed,” she explains. Other golden-hued potatoes, such as Inca Gold, will help you achieve a similar flavor and texture. The starch is what aids the creaminess, as it means the mashed potatoes absorb more of the fat (i.e., butter or sour cream) that you add to it, says Executive Chef Francesco Console of Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine at Ashland Springs Hotel in Ashland, Ore. Yukon Golds also pair well with other Thanksgiving sides like Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce and braised greens, he adds (so, no worries if the dishes run together on your plate).

For Fluffy Mashed Potatoes: Russet

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With high starch content, using Russet potatoes to make mashed potatoes will result in a fluffy texture, says Cheatham. They’re perfect for achieving that classic potato flavor and will absorb a lot of milk and butter (which obviously makes them delicious). If you can find them, Kennebec potatoes, a white variety often used for chips and fries, will lend a slightly nutty flavor to mashed potatoes, says James Beard-nominated chef Jeff Osaka of The Empire Lounge & Restaurant in Louisville, Colo. You might also want to do a mix of Yukon Gold and Russet: “It gives you the best of both worlds—starchy and waxy—and they cook alongside one another beautifully,” says chef Alfonso Martinez of I|O Godfrey at The Godfrey Hotel in Chicago.

For Skin-On Mashed Potatoes: Fingerlings or Russets

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While less common for a Thanksgiving table, skin-on mashed potatoes are a favorite for many, thanks to their rustic texture. “In some ways, they remind people of a great baked potato,” says Chef David Santos of Um Segredo Supper Club in New York. He uses fingerlings for making skin-on mashed potatoes since they have a high starch ratio (thus, they’re super absorbent) and have the added bonus of a natural rich, sweet flavor. Plus, cooking them with the skin helps retain more nutrition and absorb less water during cooking (which can lead to gluey mashed potatoes).

General Rules for Choosing Potatoes

Photo: Alison Miksch; Food Styling: Mary Clair Britton and Kady Wohlfarth; Prop Styling: Prissy Lee

Always pick potatoes that are about the same approximate size for uniform cooking, says Chef Joe Thompson of One Bellevue in Newport, R.I.  And while there are all kinds of recipes for mashed potatoes, you should never underestimate the power of quality ingredients, says Executive Chef Aaron Cuschieri of The Dearborn in Chicago. “In a back-to-basics format, mashed potatoes contain only four ingredients—potatoes, butter, cream and salt,” he says, so it’s important to use the best available you can find of each. Finally, avoid new or young potatoes for mashing. “Their sugars haven’t converted into starch yet, so they won’t mash as well and it will be hard to make them smooth and creamy,” says Cheatham.