I’m pretty sure that a gathering in the South doesn’t happen without a big bowl of Classic Potato Salad. And that’s the way it should be. I bet every family has at least one great potato salad recipe, don’t you? Me? I am always changing up the recipe, trying new flavors and additions. But this recipe right here is my go-to all-time fave.
Classic Southern Potato Salad
Let’s start with the heart of it all…the humble potato. I grew up making potato salad using red potatoes. Later, I changed over to white russet potatoes. Either one you use is just fine, but here are the main differences:
- Typically, white russet potatoes are less expensive than red potatoes.
- Russet potatoes have a higher starch content, which makes them fluffier than red potatoes.
- When cooked, red potatoes are firmer than russet potatoes. They have a “waxier” texture.
You can use russet potatoes, red potatoes, or even Yukon gold potatoes for this recipe. I like the russet, because the way I boil the potatoes, you get a little bit of “mash” and a little bit of “chunk”.
- 5 pounds of potatoes (see my tater notes above)
- Bell peppers, any color
- Onion, white or yellow preferred
- Sweet pickles or sweet pickle relish
- Sweet pickle juice
- Mayonnaise or salad dressing (see my notes about this below)
- Hard boiled eggs
- Seasonings + spices (sugar, salt, pepper, onion powder, paprika)
This recipe makes about 12 cups of potato salad, which is about 24 servings. You can easily cut it in half if needed. I like to make a bunch. Because potato salad sandwiches.
Tell me you have had a potato salad sandwich before?!? So good. Pile it on between two soft pieces of country white bread.
Mayo vs Salad Dressing:
You can use either mayonnaise or salad dressing for this potato salad recipe. I grew up 100% making potato salad using Miracle Whip salad dressing. Salad dressing has a sweeter, tangier flavor than traditional mayo because it has vinegar and other spices in it. I love it.
My husband prefers that I use mayo, so normally that’s what I use. The absolute best brands that I use for all of my recipes are Duke’s or Heinz.
Keep this in mind: if you use salad dressing, the flavor will be sweeter + tangier than if you use mayo. (Sometimes I use a combination of the two.)
How to Make Classic Southern Potato Salad:
- Wash the UNPEELED potatoes. Place them in a large pot and cover them with cold water by 2 inches.
- Place the pot on the stove and bring to a low boil. Cook until you can easily pierce the potatoes through with a knife. You want them to be firm, but not too hard. It takes about 30 – 45 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes.
- While the potatoes are boiling, combine the bell peppers, onion, pickles, pickle juice, mayo / salad dressing, mustard, sugar, salt, pepper, and paprika in a large bowl.
- Add the hard boiled eggs and mash them with a fork. Stir into the mixture.
- Drain the potatoes and let them cool. Then peel the potatoes by gently scraping a paring knife or peeler against them. The peeling comes right off. Cut the peeled potatoes into 1/2 inch sized cubes.
- Add the potato cubes to the prepared mayonnaise mixture and toss gently with a rubber spatula to coat the potatoes. Sprinkle with more paprika (optional). Chill until time to serve.
More Southern Recipes to Try:
If you prefer, you can bake the potatoes in the oven instead of boiling.
Some people like to peel their potatoes first, but I find it easier to peel them once they have been boiled and cooled. Plus I really like the texture of boiling the potatoes whole instead of in chunks.
NOTE: I’m not a huge fan of egg in my potato salad. But my husband loves them. Our compromise? I only use 3 eggs for the 5 pounds of potatoes, and I mash them up very fine. You can use more eggs if you’d like, or leave them out. Up to you!
Tips + Ideas for Potato Salad:
- Not a fan of sweet pickles? Then we can’t be friends. Kidding. Just swap them out for dill pickles. So yummy. I’ve even used bread + butter pickles, also great. In a pinch, plop any kind of sweet / sour relish in.
- Mix up the mayonnaise dressing and vegetables and pickles first, then add the potatoes. This makes it easier to distribute all of the ingredients.
- I like to mix my potato salad in a very large bowl, and then transfer it to a prettier serving bowl.
- If your potatoes are all different sizes, take the smaller ones out when they are ready instead of letting them stay in the boiling water.
- Spice it up with a little bit (or a lot) of hot sauce. Check out our recipe for Hot Sauce Potato Salad here.
- Swap the classic onion for chopped scallions for a fresh burst of spring flavor.
- Use a scoop or two of sour cream for a cooler flavor.
- Have some fresh dill? Chop it up and add it in.
This is a classic Potato Salad recipe that is perfect for cookouts, family dinners, and anytime you need a go-to potato salad recipe with no fuss.
The combination of hearty potatoes with a lightly seasoned dressing and bits of color and crunch is an excellent side dish for so many meals. Pair it with baked beans and ribs for a Southern feast. Or how about for Easter Sunday?
Classic Southern Potato Salad
Hearty potatoes in a creamy dressing, with bits of color and crunch. This Classic Southern Potato Salad is an excellent dish for your cookouts, potlucks and family gatherings.
- 5 pounds russet potatoes washed
- 1/2 green bell pepper seeded + diced
- 1/2 red bell pepper seeded + diced
- 1/2 small onion peeled + diced
- 1/2 cup sweet pickles diced
- 2 cups mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sweet pickle juice
- 2 tablespoons mustard
- 1 tablespoon white granulated sugar more or less to taste
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika plus more for top
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 3 eggs hard boiled, peeled
Wash the potatoes. Place them in a large pot and cover them with cold water by 2 inches.
Place the pot on the stove and bring to a low boil. Cook until you can easily pierce the potatoes through with a knife. You want them to be firm, but not too hard. It takes about 30 – 45 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes.
If your potatoes are different sizes, remove the smaller ones when they are ready and continue to cook the larger ones until they are done.
While the potatoes are boiling, combine the bell peppers, onion, pickles, pickle juice, mayo / salad dressing, mustard, sugar, salt, pepper, and paprika in a large bowl.
Add the hard boiled eggs and mash them with a fork. Stir into the mixture.
Drain the potatoes and let them cool. Then peel the potatoes by gently scraping a paring knife or peeler against them. The peeling comes right off. Cut the peeled potatoes into 1/2 inch sized cubes.
Add the potato cubes to the prepared mayonnaise mixture and toss gently with a rubber spatula to coat the potatoes. Sprinkle with more paprika (optional). Chill until time to serve.