My go-to recipe for classic potato salad! It’s a little tangy, a touch of sweet, and perfectly creamy.
Growing up in the Midwest meant eating a lot of “salads” that weren’t actually salads at all. Zero lettuce involved. Fruit salads, dessert salads, pasta salads, potato salads. These are my favorite kinds of salads; the ones that keep you coming back for more. They are a Midwest summer staple, and they all continue to be my favorite go-to salads for BBQ’s, potlucks, and even a quiet night grilling out with family or friends.
Where did I learn how to make all of these Midwest “salads”? Where I learned most of my cooking and baking skills: my mom. She has always been the queen of making these lettuce-less salads. She’s also always been the type to throw everything in a bowl without measuring and have it come out tasting better than ever. While this is a trait my mom passed down to me – through many years in the kitchen together – I like to take note of the measurements so that I can share the deliciousness with all of you!
This recipe includes all of the classic potato salad ingredients that I loved as a child – hearty potatoes, hard boiled eggs, crunchy celery, creamy mayo, tangy mustard – but I’ve also added a few key ingredients to really seal the deal. I upped the ante with dill pickle juice to add extra tang, sweet pickle relish to add a touch of sweetness, and crunchy radishes for added texture and zip. I really feel like I’ve found the perfect combination for the BEST classic potato salad recipe.
This is my “come back for more” classic potato salad recipe that all my friends and family love, and it’s soon to be yours, as well!
Ingredients in the Best Classic Potato Salad.
Potatoes. I prefer red or yukon gold potatoes. They aren’t quite as starchy and their skins are soft. Feel free to peel the potatoes if you like, but I like to leave them on because it’s one less step and they add a pop of color. You can use russet potatoes, but they don’t hold together as well, and their skins are tougher. If you use russets, I recommend peeling them before.
Hard boiled eggs. The trick to nicely peeled eggs is shying away from fresh eggs. The older eggs peel better. I like to cook my eggs on the stovetop while I boil the potatoes. My cooking technique for perfectly boiled eggs is in the notes section of the recipe.
Radish, celery & onion. These ingredients add a much needed crunch to potato salad. While they are all optional, I highly recommend using them all because they enhance the flavor and color of the dish, as well.
Mayonnaise. While I’ve always been a Miracle Whip girl, I do prefer to use mayonnaise for my potato salad because I can control the flavor and tang of the sauce. And trust me, this sauce does not lack flavor. But, feel free to substitute in miracle whip if you prefer it or if you don’t have mayo on hand. The potato salad will still taste great.
Yellow mustard. Another classic ingredient is yellow mustard. It adds a much needed tang to the mayonnaise and gives the salad that pop of yellow that we all love and know.
Sweet pickle relish. Yep, that’s right. Sweet pickle relish. Trust me on this one. It adds a touch of sweetness and really enhances the flavor of the whole salad. You will love it. If you’re skeptical, start by adding a small amount and add more as desired.
Dill pickle juice. You need it. It adds so much flavor and balances out the sweet pickle relish. If you don’t have pickle juice on hand then you can use apple cider vinegar or white vinegar. Make sure you reduce the amount though because pickle juice does not equal vinegar.
Seasoning. Paprika is a classic seasoning in potato salad. I also like to garnish the potato salad with a sprinkle of paprika for added color. Last, but definitely not least, salt and pepper for obvious reasons.
How to make the Best Classic Potato Salad.
Cook the potatoes. If the potatoes are large, cut them into four quarters. If the potatoes are small, just cut them in half. You want the potatoes to all be about the same size so that they cook in the same amount of time. Otherwise you’ll have some mushy potatoes and some undercooked potatoes. Nobody wants that mess. To cook them, add potatoes to a pot of water, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer until fork tender.
When it comes to the type of potato to use, I recommended red potatoes or yukon gold potatoes. They have the perfect amount of starch for potato salad and they’re skins are soft, so you don’t have to peel them. You can use russet potatoes but they don’t hold together as well and their skins are tougher. If you go this route I recommend you peel them first. I have used russet potatoes when it’s all I had on hand.
Once the potatoes are done, rinse them with cold water to stop the cooking process. Then place them into the refrigerator until they’re cool enough to handle. Otherwise you’ll end up playing hot potato. Once cooled, remove loose skin and cut into roughly ½ inch chunks.
Make the sauce. Whisk together the mayonnaise, yellow mustard, sweet pickle relish, pickle juice, and seasonings until well combined. Easy peasy.
If you’re not a mayo person, feel free to substitute in miracle whip. I certainly won’t judge because, miracle whip > mayo. But for potato salad, I like to control the tang and seasoning so I opt for mayo. But I won’t hesitate to use miracle whip if it’s what I have on hand.
Toss everything together. Add the potatoes and chopped radishes, celery, and onion to a large bowl. Pour on the sauce and gently mix it all together. It’s okay if some of the potatoes mash up a little; that’s just how potato salad should be.
Finishing touches. If desired, garnish with chopped radishes, celery and onion and sprinkle with paprika. This makes a not so pretty salad look half pretty.
Refrigerate. I highly recommend you cover and refrigerate the potato salad for 2-3 hours or until chilled. Even better, if you can make it the night before, do it. Potato salad is always better the second day when the flavors have time to mingle.
Looking for more summer salads? Here are a few more favorites.
Best Classic Potato Salad
- 3 pounds red potatoes (or yukon gold)
- 6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
- 4 radishes, finely chopped
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1/4 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 3/4 cup sweet pickle relish
- 2 tablespoons dill pickle juice (or 1/2 tablespoon vinegar)
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Chopped chives for garnishing (optional)
- Cut large potatoes into quarters and cut small potatoes in half. Place potatoes into a large stockpot and enough water that the potatoes are covered by at least an inch. Bring the pot to a boil then reduce heat to medium and maintain a simmer. Cook the potatoes for about 15-20 minutes, or until fork tender.
- Once the potatoes are done cooking, drain off the water and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Place the potatoes in the refrigerator until they’re cool enough to handle.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, pickle relish, pickle juice, paprika, salt and pepper.
- Once the potatoes have slightly cooled, remove the loose peels and chop the potatoes into ½ inch chunks. Place the potatoes in a large bowl and add the hard boiled eggs, radishes, celery, onion, and mayonnaise dressing. Gently mix together until the potatoes are well coated with the dressing.
- Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight. If desired, garnish with additional diced radish, celery, and chives and sprinkle with paprika before serving.