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The Best Potatoes for Mashed Potatoes (and 7 Common Pitfalls to Avoid)

Double-check this list, then whip up the best mashed potatoes ever.

Everyone looks forward to mashed potatoes, especially at Thanksgiving (the side dishes are the best part of Thanksgiving dinner, after all). There aren't a lot of steps to making this comfort-food fave, but choosing the best potatoes for mashed potatoes — and keeping a few other things in mind as you make it — will guarantee your dish a spot in your family’s mashed potato hall of fame!

To get it right the first time (which is even more important when you've got to deal with turkey and stuffing too!), choose potatoes that will give you the best flavor and texture (Russets or Yukon Golds are our picks). Then grab your favorite recipe (these garlic mashed potatoes are a must-try!) and double-check this list to avoid common pitfalls. After mastering the basics once and for all, we're certain that mashed potatoes will become your thing to make every holiday.

Read the tips below, and don't forget to watch our step-by-step video above for an easy way to make mashed potatoes that taste great every. single. time. Who can argue with that? Here are seven common mistakes to avoid when cooking mashed potatoes:

1. Using the wrong type of potatoes

Choose higher starch potatoes like Russets or Yukon Golds for the fluffiest, smoothest and most flavor-packed mash. Russet varieties mash up light and fluffy, while yellow-fleshed potatoes like Yukon Gold have a naturally buttery flavor and creamy, dense consistency. Choose one or the other depending on your preferences, or a mix of both! Waxy potatoes (such as red or white varieties) have firmer flesh and require more mashing to become creamy, which could lead to the dreaded "potato paste."

2. Not salting the water

When potatoes cook, the starch granules swell and absorb water and — if you've added it — salt. Top tip: If you add salt early on, you won't need to as much at the end.

3. Starting them in hot water

Cover them with cold water, add salt, then boil and reduce to a simmer. If you start in hot water, they'll cook unevenly, with the outside falling apart before the inside is cooked.

4. Under-draining the potatoes

Make sure to drain well after cooking to avoid a mushy, watery mess. While no one likes mashed potatoes that are dry and chalky, you'll want to use a flavorful liquid to add moisture, like milk, cream or even chicken stock. If you'd like, gently reheat the drained potatoes on the stovetop to dry them out slightly before mashing with your preferred seasonings.

5. Using flavorings straight from the fridge

Let your butter come to room temperature before melting it into the hot potatoes, then mash in the warm milk or cream. It will be absorbed more easily, and it won't cool everything down.

6. Overworking the potatoes

The swollen starch granules in your cooked potatoes are in a delicate state. Mashing them too vigorously — say, in the food processor — or for too long releases lots of starch, which makes them gluey and unappetizing. Be gentle with your potatoes, and you'll be rewarded with light, fluffy spuds as well as happy, well-fed guests.

7. Making them too far in advance

We're big fans of preparing food ahead of time, especially when there's lots of cooking involved, but potatoes don't take kindly to sitting around for long periods. Refrigerating them overnight sounds like a no-brainer, but they'll start to taste like cardboard. Want to make them ahead anyway? You can hold the prepared potatoes in a heat-proof bowl, with the surface covered with plastic wrap, over a pot of simmering water for up to 2 hours. If you have a slow-cooker with a warm setting, that will work too. Fluff 'em up again before serving.

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