How to Cook Potatoes, 6 Ways

Wondering how to cook potatoes? We break down which types of potatoes you should use for each cooking method and describe the best ways to cook potatoes in the oven, on the stovetop, in an air fryer and more.

I can’t think about a potato without recalling Samwise Gamgee. Not only is he one of the greatest heroes of cinematic history (and literary fiction before then), he’s also a lover of potatoes. And if you’re wondering how to cook potatoes, Samwise also has the answer: “Boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew. Lovely big golden chips with a nice piece of fried fish.” That pretty much sums up the versatility of the potato!

But just because you can cook potatoes any way under the sun doesn’t mean that you always should. Some cooking methods yield superior spuds to others, and some potato recipes are better for certain types. These are the best ways to cook potatoes according to a professional chef.

How to Clean Potatoes Before Cooking

Before making any of the potato recipes below, you’ll want to start with clean potatoes. Potatoes grow in the dirt, so the skins can be quite (ahem) dirty. Luckily, this is an easy problem to fix! Rinse the potato under cold running water. If there are any stubborn dirt bits that don’t come off in the wash, lightly rub the skins using your fingers or a clean scrub brush. Then dry them with a kitchen towel, and you’re ready to cut and cook. And if you have green potatoes, toss ’em. That hue won’t come off no matter how hard you scrub.

Oven-Roasted Potatoes

close up of oven roasted potatoes on a baking sheet garnished with herbsseverija/Getty Images

This might be our favorite way to cook potatoes. You can roast any type of potato, but Yukon Golds turn out best. Think creamy on the inside, crispy on the outside, caramelized perfection. Waxy potatoes like red potatoes, new potatoes and fingerling potatoes roast well, too. Avoid oven-roasting Idaho or russet potatoes, as these starchy potatoes don’t keep their form as they cook and will turn into a mushy pile.

It’s important to cut the potatoes into the same-size pieces to ensure they cook evenly. Also give them plenty of room on the baking sheet. Crowded baking sheets create steam, yielding a lackluster soft texture instead of a crispy and wonderful one.

How to Roast Potatoes in the Oven

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, halved or cut into 2-inch wedges
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  2. Spread the potatoes out over a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Lightly toss to coat.
  3. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer with the cut-side down.
  4. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until golden brown and tender.

Serve roasted potatoes with meaty mains like prime rib roast, roast chicken and maple-glazed salmon.

Baked Potatoes

Still life of salt baked potatoes in roasting tinRyan Benyi Photography/Getty Images

Baked potatoes differ from roasted potatoes because they’re cooked whole. Idaho and russet potatoes are ideal for baking because they’re starchy instead of waxy. Starchy potatoes break down to become soft and fluffy, making them ready to absorb all that delicious butter, sour cream and cheese you’re bound to put on them.

Be sure to poke a couple of holes in the potato before it goes into the oven, or go British style and slice cross-shape in the top. Potatoes are full of water, which turns to steam as it cooks. If the steam can’t escape, the potato might explode. Chances are pretty low (it’s never happened to me personally), but it’s not worth the risk. I’ve seen photos, and it looks like a mess to clean up.

How to Make Baked Potatoes

Ingredients

  • Idaho or russet potatoes
  • Toppings of your choice, like butter, salt, pepper, sour cream and chives

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
  2. Prick the potatoes in a few places with a fork and place them directly on the rack. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, until tender when pierced with a fork.
  3. For a shortcut, microwave the potato using the method below for 5 to 6 minutes. Then, bake for 20 to 30 minutes.

Baked potatoes are a classic side for meat loaf or steak, but they also make a great vegetarian main to go alongside Caesar salad or roasted vegetables.

Boiled Potatoes

Potatoes boiling in a pot on the stovedashtik/Getty Images

Plain, boiled potatoes are a little…well, boring. No matter which potato you choose, they will all lack the depth of flavor of any other cooking method on that list. While you can boil any type of potato, waxy and Yukon Gold potatoes hold their structure better than starchy potatoes.

That said, boiled potatoes are perfect for absorbing other flavors. The water removes excess starch from the potato, creating an absorbent vehicle for potato salad marinades or mashed potato mix-ins. Par-boiling potatoes before roasting, sauteeing or grilling them is another great option. These less-starchy potatoes will crisp up more easily, creating extra-crunchy fried or roasted potatoes.

How to Boil Potatoes

Ingredients

  • Any type of potato
  • Water
  • Salt

Directions

  1. If the potatoes are larger than 2 inches in diameter, quarter or halve them. If par-boiling, cut the potato as specified in the recipe for fried or roasted potatoes.
  2. Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Add a generous pinch of salt and bring the water to a boil over high heat.
  3. For par-cooked potatoes, turn off the burner and cover the pot. Let the potatoes sit in the hot water for 10 minutes before draining well.
  4. For fully boiled potatoes, reduce the heat to simmer and cook until the potatoes are cooked through, anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on the size.

Try using boiled potatoes to make mashed potatoes or potato salad, or par-boiling potatoes before making breakfast hash.

Air-Fryer Potatoes

using an air fryer to cook potatoes and make French friesyulka3ice/getty images

An air fryer is an amazing gadget. It’s basically a countertop convection oven, which makes it easier than ever to create crispy roasted potatoes. You’ll want to follow the same general guidelines here as you would with roasted potatoes: Yukon Golds are best; waxy red potatoes, new potatoes and fingerling potatoes also work well. Avoid starchy Idaho or russet potatoes.

The most important rule to keep in mind here is batch size. The potatoes need enough air flow around them to crisp up, so don’t try to cook potatoes for a crowd in an air fryer. You’ll also want to shake the basket from time to time to ensure all the potatoes have access to the hot, circulating air.

How to Cook Potatoes in the Air Fryer

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold or red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, pepper and spices, like rosemary and granulated garlic

Directions

  1. Preheat the air fryer to 400°.
  2. Drizzle the potatoes with oil and season with salt, pepper and any other spices you desire. Toss to coat.
  3. Place the potatoes in the air-fryer basket. Cook until potatoes are golden brown and tender, 15 to 17 minutes, stirring or tossing the basket every 5 minutes.

This is but one way to make potatoes in the air fryer. Because it’s an oven, you can use the air fryer to make wedges, chips, latkes or baked potatoes. The possibilities are endless!

Instant Pot Potatoes

cooking potatoes in the instant pot with brothAndrey Znamenskyi/getty images

Looking for a hands-off way to cook potatoes? Look to the Instant Pot. Keep in mind that the Instant Pot requires one cup of liquid to function properly, so this method is not going to result in crispy potatoes. Instead, the Instant Pot is the perfect way to make boiled potatoes, potato salad, mashed potatoes or baked potatoes. You’ll want to follow the rule of thumb for the potato recipe you’re following: starchy potatoes for baked potatoes and mashed potatoes, waxy potatoes or Yukon Golds for potato salad and boiled potato dishes.

How to Cook Potatoes in the Instant Pot

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 pounds baby potatoes, halved if larger than 2 inches
  • 1 cup water or broth
  • Butter
  • Herbs, like thyme, parsley or chives

Directions

  1. Place the potatoes and water or broth in the Instant Pot.
  2. Lock the lid and cook on high pressure for 12 minutes. Quick release the pressure.
  3. Drain and discard the cooking liquid. Toss the potatoes with butter and herbs.

Don’t forget: The Instant Pot is also a fantastic way to make potato soup.

Microwaved Potatoes

microwaved potato wedges with butter and dill for garnishrusak/Getty Images

If you’re running short on time, the microwave is a great way to cook potatoes quickly. We like using the microwave as a shortcut method for making baked potatoes in the oven: Microwave on high for 5 to 6 minutes before baking, cutting the oven cooking time in half.

It’s also great for par-cooking potatoes before finishing them using a different method, like scalloped potatoes, skillet potatoes or breakfast hash. Chop or slice your potatoes, place them in a microwave-safe bowl with a tablespoon of water and partially cover the bowl. Microwave for 3 minutes to soften the potatoes.

Any type of potato can be cooked in the microwave depending on the dish you’re making. If you’re cooking whole potatoes, be sure to poke a few holes in them with a fork. This allows the steam to escape as the potato cooks, preventing a potato explosion (it’s rare, but it does happen).

How to Cook Potatoes in the Microwave

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds red potatoes, cut into 2-inch wedges
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • Spices and herbs, like garlic powder and parsley

Directions

  1. Place the potatoes in a 2-quart microwave-safe dish.
  2. Pour the melted butter and seasonings over the potatoes and toss to coat.
  3. Microwave on high, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Stir after the first 5 minutes.

These no-fail potato recipes are perfect for any meal!

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.