Let's go back to the basics with this simple guide to boiling potatoes. 

By Melanie Fincher
Updated May 20, 2021
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There's nothing exciting about boiling potatoes. But it is an essential cooking technique that's the first step to so many dishes, including: Mashed potatoes, potato salads, and just plain 'ol boiled potatoes

Master this basic cooking skill and you'll be set up to make all your favorite potato dishes. Here's how to boil potatoes step-by-step, 4 different ways: On the stove, in the microwave, in the slow cooker, and in the Instant Pot. 

Best Potatoes for Boiling

Your best bet for boiling is going to be waxy potatoes like Yukon gold or red potatoes. They'll hold their shape better when boiled (which is important for potato salad), cook more quickly, and they'll be tender and creamy once cooked. 

You can also boil Russet potatoes, however starchier types of potatoes like Russets tend to absorb a ton of water. If you do choose to boil them for say, mashed potatoes, keep them whole while boiling to prevent them from becoming water-logged. 

How Long to Boil Potatoes 

The cooking time is going to come down to size — whether your potatoes are large or small, cubed or whole. In general cubed or small potatoes will take about 10 to 15 minutes to boil, while larger, whole potatoes will take between 20 to 25 minutes. To check potatoes for doneness, insert a knife into one. If it slides in without much effort, you're good to go!

How to Boil Potatoes 4 Ways 

How to Boil Potatoes on the Stove

This stove-top method is the most traditional and straight-forward method for boiling potatoes. 

Person boiling potatoes over stove
Credit: Blaine Moats/Meredith
  1. Prep potatoes. Scrub potatoes clean using a vegetable scrubber ($6; Amazon). You may also cut your potatoes into smaller pieces depending on what you're making. You can leave the skin on or peel depending on personal preference. Some argue that leaving the skin on helps them to hold their shape while boiling. 
  2. Cover with water. Transfer the potatoes to a saucepan and cover with an inch of cold water or broth. Add ½ teaspoon salt. 
  3. Simmer potatoes. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Cover the pot with a lid and let simmer until fork-tender, about 10-15 minutes for small and/or cubed potatoes or 20-25 minutes for large potatoes. 
  4. Drain and cool. Drain potatoes in a colander. To rapidly cool potatoes for recipes that call for cooled potatoes, you may submerge them in an ice bath. 

How to Boil Potatoes in the Microwave

This quick cooking method is best saved for small batches of potatoes. 

  1. Prep potatoes. Scrub potatoes clean using a vegetable scrubber ($6; Amazon). You may also cut your potatoes into smaller pieces depending on what you're making. You can leave the skin on or peel depending on personal preference. Some argue that leaving the skin on helps them to hold their shape while boiling. 
  2. Transfer potatoes and cover. Transfer the potatoes to a microwave-safe bowl. Cover the potatoes with an inch of water and add a dash of salt.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and poke holes to vent. 
  3. Microwave. Microwave on high for five minutes. Check for doneness. Continue cooking for another five minutes, or until done. 
  4. Drain and cool. Drain potatoes in a colander. To rapidly cool potatoes for recipes that call for cooled potatoes, you may submerge them in an ice bath. 

How to Boil Potatoes in the Slow Cooker

While the potatoes aren't technically boiled, this hands-off method will give you the same tender results.

  1. Prep potatoes. Scrub potatoes clean using a vegetable scrubber ($6; Amazon). You may also cut your potatoes into smaller pieces depending on what you're making. You can leave the skin on or peel depending on personal preference. Some argue that leaving the skin on helps them to hold their shape while boiling. 
  2. Transfer and cover. Place your potatoes in your slow cooker. Cover with an inch of water or broth. 
  3. Cook on low. Cook the potatoes on low for six to eight hours, or until fork-tender. 
  4. Drain and cool. Drain potatoes in a colander. To rapidly cool potatoes for recipes that call for cooled potatoes, you may submerge them in an ice bath. 

How to Boil Potatoes in the Instant Pot

The Instant Pot gives you the hands-off approach of a slow cooker, but with the cooking time of the stove-top method. 

  1. Prep potatoes. Scrub potatoes clean using a vegetable scrubber ($6; Amazon). You may also cut your potatoes into smaller pieces depending on what you're making. You can leave the skin on or peel depending on personal preference. Some argue that leaving the skin on helps them to hold their shape while boiling. 
  2. Place on trivet and add liquid. Place the trivet in the inner pot. Arrange potatoes on top. Add one cup of water or broth. 
  3. Pressure cook. Close the lid to the Instant Pot and cook and switch the valve to the sealing position. Use the steam function to cook the potatoes until tender, or 5 minutes for small potatoes and 10 minutes for larger ones. 
  4. Release pressure and cool. Allow the pressure to release naturally. Open the lid and remove the potatoes. To rapidly cool potatoes for recipes that call for cooled potatoes, you may submerge them in an ice bath. 

How to Use Boiled Potatoes 

Now that your potatoes are creamy and fork-tender, it's time to put them to use! Simply toss them with a little butter, salt, pepper, and chives to make this easy Boiled Potatoes with Chives recipe.

Or mash them with a little butter and milk like in this Basic Mashed Potatoes recipe. Stir cubed, red potatoes with mayonnaise and other ingredients to make potato salad. For more recipe inspiration browse our entire collection of potato recipes

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