How To Make Perfect Mashed Potatoes

And common mistakes to avoid.

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our many blessings, one of them obviously being mashed potatoes. Piled high in a glorious display of showmanship, we like to think their bounteous beauty is a metaphor for the richness of life. (Or something.) Mashed potatoes prove that the humble potato, with hard enough work and big enough dreams, can rise up and turn itself into a gleaming beacon of success. That’s what the American dream is all about, right?

But really, mashed potatoes are one of the top three things to look forward to at Thanksgiving dinner. That is, unless you totally mess them up. And though mashed potatoes seem simple, they’re actually pretty finicky, and surprisingly easy to destroy.

Below are the top 10 mistakes that you’re possibly making with your mashed potatoes, and tips for how to avoid making those goofs. This Thanksgiving, you’re going to have the best mashed potatoes ever.

Mistake #1: You're using the wrong kind of potato
Of the three kinds of potatoes (starchy, waxy and all-purpose), you should aim for varieties that fall within the starchy (Russet) or all-purpose (Yukon Gold) realms. You should NEVER use waxy potatoes (i.e. red bliss, fingerlings, etc.). Starchy potatoes break down better, resulting in a creamier mash.
Mistake #2: You're not cutting your potatoes into equal-sized chunks
Flickr: krossbow
Your potatoes won't cook at the same rate if they're different sizes, meaning the larger pieces will be undercooked while the smaller pieces will be overcooked. This does not a creamy mash make. Start with cold water, bring it up to a simmer, and cook the potatoes until they're all uniformly done.

(Some people say you shouldn't even peel or cut your potatoes before adding them to the cooking liquid, but we don't agree with that method because our potatoes are rarely all a uniform size.)
Mistake #3: You're over/undercooking the potatoes
Overcooked potatoes are mealy, and therefore not delicious. Undercooked potatoes are too chunky to whip into a smooth mash. You'll know your potatoes are perfectly done when a sharp paring knife passes through the potatoes without any resistance.
Mistake #4: You're using a food processor, blender, immersion blender, or hand mixer
THIS IS IMPORTANT: Potatoes are filled with starch, and starch does NOT like to be overworked. When you handle/mix/beat/whip starch too much, it breaks down and tightens up. Imagine what happens to your fingers when your fists ball up in a fit of rage -- that's basically what happens to the starch in potatoes when you mix them too much. The result is something akin to thick glue, and that's horrible. You should be aiming for light and fluffy.

Instead of using one of the aforementioned tools (which are so high-powered that they will most certainly overwork the potatoes), we suggest using a potato ricer or a hand-held masher.
Mistake #5: You're overmixing the potatoes, period
Flickr: Laissez Faire
Even if you use a ricer or a hand-masher, it's possible to overwork the potatoes. When you're mixing in the cream, milk or butter, gently stir until the ingredients are JUST combined. There's no need to work your mashed potatoes to death. YOU'LL BE EATING GLUE, REMEMBER?
Mistake #6: You're using cold butter and cream
Having these ingredients at room temperature helps them absorb better into the hot potatoes, and also decreases the risk that you'll overmix them.
Mistake #7: You're adding too much liquid
Flickr: Alexandra Moss
You can add a bit of cream or milk (according to your recipe), but don't turn your mashed potatoes into potato soup. The only way to un-do this is to add more cooked potatoes, which you most certainly won't have on-hand during Thanksgiving Day madness.
Mistake #8: You haven't added enough butter
Joel Robuchon's famous mashed potato recipe uses a 2:1 potato-to-butter ratio, meaning that for every pound of potatoes, he uses a half-pound of butter. We here at HuffPost Taste are huge fans of his recipe, and can attest to the fact that it doesn't taste like a grease pit. They're perfectly balanced and perfectly heavenly. When in doubt, add more butter.
Mistake #9: You haven't used enough salt
All the potatoes and butter in the world will still taste Bland City if you don't season them with enough salt. Season your mashed potatoes and, WITHOUT MIXING THEM TOO MUCH (have you gotten the point yet?), taste them and adjust the salt levels until they're to your liking. The amount of salt will obviously vary to suit everyone's taste.
Mistake #10: You're drying them out
It's ok (but not optimal) to make your mashed potatoes in advance, but once they've cooled down it's important that you heat them up without drying them out. There are two ways to do this. 1) Place your finished mashed potatoes in a double boiler. This will gently warm them through without the risk of scorching the potatoes at the bottom of the pan. 2) Add more warm cream or butter.
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