How to Make the Fluffiest, Creamiest, Smoothest Mashed Potatoes

Follow these pro tips for the best side dish ever.

test kitchen's garlic-thyme mashed potatoes
Photo: Bryan Gardner

People have strong feelings about mashed potatoes. This almost universally loved side dish requires just a few basic ingredients and doesn't call for any difficult techniques or a lot of time. The end result should be fluffy, creamy, and smooth; no lumps, and nothing gummy or watery please. To achieve the best mashed potatoes every time, follow these expert tips. Know that potato type does matter and small changes, like using a different tool or how you cut the potatoes, can make a big difference, too. Here we've compiled all the pro secrets you need to know, plus some tips for customizing your mash, including a creamy vegan recipe.

Potato Type

Any type of potato can be mashed, but for the trifecta of perfection, fluffy, smooth, and creamy, one potato reigns supreme: the Yukon Gold. Why? Yukon Gold potatoes are medium-starch content potatoes and starch contributes to the fluff-factor. This makes Russet or Idaho potatoes, which are both high-starch content potatoes good contenders. However, we have set the bar higher, and now we don't just want fluffy potatoes, but also a mash that's creamy and smooth. Yukon Golds deliver on the creamy factor. Their mashed consistency is already creamy—even before you add butter and milk—and they have a nice golden hue, adding richness in texture and color that you can't get from the higher starch varieties.

Cooking the Spuds

The key to cooking fluffy mashed potatoes is minimizing the amount of water they absorb. Before we get into three cooking options, here are four rules to follow. First, if boiling, start the potatoes in cold water so they cook evenly, and the outside isn't immediately exposed to hot water. Second, you always want to simmer the potatoes, not boil them. Third, you'll know the potatoes are done—no matter which cooking technique you choose—when you can easily insert the point of a knife, a wooden skewer, or a fork into the potato. Fourth, always drain the potatoes well.

You have three options for cooking. The most traditional method is to boil diced potatoes. This isn’t always the best for the technique for creamy, smooth, and fluffy mashed potatoes, though. Instead, try boiling whole potatoes or boil them in large chunks. This reduces the amount of surface area that comes into contact with the water and thus reduces the amount of water the potatoes absorb. The traditional option isn't always the one the pros prefer. Thomas Joseph, our Kitchen Conundrums expert, prefers steaming potatoes, so they only come into contact with steam rather than directly with the water; the result is an incredibly fluffy mash.

The last option is baking whole, unpeeled potatoes until they are super tender. Remove the flesh from their jackets and discard the skin. This results is the driest potato, which means ultimately the fluffiest and creamiest—and the version that needs most butter and milk added to it! (If you are reading this during the holidays when oven space is prime real estate, it might be best to save this method for another day.)

Smashing: The Best Tools for the Job

Set aside the whisk, fork, and potato masher. While the latter does a fine job, it does produce a mash less smooth than our preferred utensils will, and this is a time when using the right tool really makes a difference. If you want to put a bowl of the fluffiest, smoothest potatoes on the table, they should be mashed using either a potato ricer ($24.99, or a food mill ($70, fitted with a fine disk. Techniques that use a mixer or food processor may sound interesting but texture-wise they will come out overworked and gummy; they are a hard no.

The Key to Creamy

Milk and butter lend mashed potatoes their richness and creamy flavor, and it's hard to add too much of either. To ensure the potatoes stay hot, warm the milk and butter in a small saucepan before folding it into the mash, otherwise the cold dairy cools down the hot potatoes. Make sure to stir the dairy in just until combined, as every time you stir, you lose a little fluff and gain gumminess. For super creamy potatoes, sub some (or all) of the milk with heavy cream and/or add more butter.

Get the Garlic-Thyme Mashed Potato Recipe (It's Our Test Kitchen's Favorite)

Make Ahead (Yes, Truly!)

You can keep mashed potatoes warm for up to two hours before you're ready to eat. Just transfer them to a heatproof bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place over a pot of simmering water. Give them a good stir right before serving.

Customize Your Mash

The perfect mashed potatoes truly can be achieved with just potatoes, milk, butter, and salt, but sometimes something different is called for. Here are our food editors' favorite mix-ins. For tang, melt in cream cheese, sour cream, or buttermilk. For extra flavor, warm garlic or woody herbs, like rosemary and thyme, into the milk mixture. For a twist on the classic mashed potato, sub part of the potatoes with another vegetable such as parsnips, celery root, or sweet potato, or mix in some white beans. Just know that these potato-vegetable (or bean) blends will not be as fluffy as all potatoes.

You can also skip the dairy and try our vegan mashed potatoes, which are surprisingly creamy and rich thanks to a generous drizzle of garlic and herb infused extra-virgin olive oil. And if you want to keep it simple, just stir in lots of leafy green herbs.

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