How to Pick the Right Potato for Mashing, Roasting, Frying, and So Much More

Learn what to use for everything from hash browns to gnocchi.

Russet, red new, and Yukon Gold fresh potatoes in a grocery store

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Whether mashed or baked, roasted or fried, potatoes are unequivocally perfect in every form. But with so many different varieties of potatoes, which ones are right for your recipe? They have varying levels of moisture and starchiness, so picking the right potato is important. For example, while russets are great for hash browns and gratins, you might want to think twice before cooking them for a picnic-friendly potato salad. There are thousands of potato varieties; here’s how to cook the most common types of spuds.

The best potatoes for mashing

Picture the perfect bowl of mashed potatoes — chances are they’ll be buttery, creamy, and just a touch salty. When creaminess is the important factor, go for Yukon Gold potatoes, fingerlings, or La Ratte potatoes, says Hugue Dufour, executive chef and owner of M. Wells. If you want to use up a few different varieties that you have on hand, grab your potato masher and try a mix of russet and Yukon Golds, which creates a smooth consistency. Use less butter and more cream to create a lighter mash, says Alan Ashkinaze, executive chef of Gallaghers Steakhouse. Try our foolproof mashed potatoes recipe, which calls for Yukon Golds, unsalted butter, whole milk, and — wait for it — mayonnaise.

The best potatoes for baked and twice-baked potatoes

A classic baked potato calls for russet potatoes, which are low in moisture and high in starch, so yield a nice fluffy interior when baked. Their skins are thicker, and crisp up nicely in the oven. And they are large enough to handle toppings like bacon, chives, sour cream, and cheese. Their size makes russets ideal for twice-baked potatoes as well; you need a russet potato’s roomy interior to be able to stuff the filling back in the potato.

The best potatoes for roasting

When you want a side dish of potatoes that are crispy on the outside with a fluffy, tender flesh, go for fingerling potatoes. Ashkinaze recommends this variety due to their thin skin, which makes it easy for the heat to penetrate the potato. Fingerlings or small new potatoes also work well for steamed and roasted smashed potatoes. When roasting the spuds, add fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme, along with alliums such as shallots and garlic, so they come together for a flavorful side. Need inspiration? Follow our recipe for Granny’s Roasted Spuds and for delicious results every time.  

The best potatoes for French fries

Want to skip the drive-thru line and try your hand at making French fries at home? “For something crispy like fries, or a dish where the starch and the structure are important, I suggest a 'flour-y-ish' potato like russet or Idaho potatoes,” says Dufour. These sturdy spuds will hold their shape once cut and deep-fried, which means you don’t need to worry about limp, soggy pommes frites

The best potatoes for hash browns

Whether you’re picturing the thin and crispy hash browns you get for breakfast at a diner, go for russet potatoes. “[They] have low moisture and are dryer potatoes, so they fry well and make what I think is a perfect crisp for hash brown consistency,” says Ashkinaze. For hash browns that are diced or more like home fries, you can also use Yukon Golds; Julia Child and James Beard called for them in their recipe

The best potatoes for latkes and potato pancakes

For crispy latkes and potato pancakes that have an audible crunch, you’ll need hot oil and a few pounds of russet potatoes. Their low water content means they’ll fry up beautifully and serve as a savory canvas for applesauce, sour cream, smoked salmon, and other toppings. If you want to think outside of the box, browse our best latke recipes, which range from zucchini-based fritters to a sweet potato version.

The best potatoes for gnocchi

To make a traditional batch of potato gnocchi, use Yukon Golds. Their naturally creaminess and nutty flavor will make perfectly pillowy pockets of this Italian comfort food. Homemade gnocchi is a comfortable base for marinara sauce and melted mozzarella cheese or a silky-smooth cacio e pepe sauce. But you can use russets for gnocchi; Chicago chef Zoe Schor opts for them for her loaded baked potato gnocchi, which calls for a slightly different texture. 

The best potatoes for potato salad

Whether you prefer a mayo-dressed potato salad or a lighter, sharper German-style potato salad, use red potatoes or Yukon golds for their texture. “With red potatoes, that glueyness is ideal, as it keeps them from falling apart when you cut them up and combine them [with other ingredients],” says Ashkinaze. Pro tip: dice them first before boiling to ensure that they don’t fall apart. 

The best potatoes for soup

If you’re making a big batch of creamy Vichyssoise (aka potato and leek soup) or this over-the-top Loaded Potato Soup, use russets. “Because they are a dry potato, they blend out nicely when you add butter and cream. If you started with moist potatoes, your creamy soup would be too watery. You need something that can counter the added creaminess of the other ingredients. It’s the perfect balance,” says Ashkinaze.  

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