Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

The Great Potato Salad Debate

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: potato, potato salad, debate, German, recipe, mustard, Newman's own, Italian dressing,

Kate and I enjoy a relatively calm existence at home, but when it comes to potato salad, there’s nothing calm about it. Kate really loves traditional German-style potato salad – I like the stuff well enough, but in my book, it just isn’t salad. It is potato casserole, no doubt about it. And I can say that because I am pretty close to half German. Whoever heard of a salad that was served hot? It will wilt all the fresh greenery if you give it half a chance. Oh, wait, that sauerkraut is already pretty well wilted, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I love so-called German Potato Salad; it just isn’t salad.

Hank's Potato SaladThe way I see it, when it comes to potato salad, there is only one approach. The recipe calls for potatoes, preferably new, red, thin-skinned potatoes; hardboiled eggs, preferably sliced or diced whole; garden fresh yellow- or white-skinned onion; fresh dill weed; celery; and any other interesting looking green garden herbs. Finally, you need some sort of dressing. I prefer Newman’s Own Italian (Caesar will do if your wife has thrown the Italian out). Oh, did I mention that Kate doesn’t like Italian dressing? What?

OK, so you boil the spuds whole (with the skins on) until they are firm … not soft and not crunchy. You can tell when they are done by periodically testing pieces with a little butter and pepper on them. Once the potatoes are just right, run cold water into the boiling pot and let them sit until cool. This is a good time to go pull an onion or two and some fresh celery.

Once the potatoes are cool, cut them into the right-sized pieces. I leave the skin on. I usually shoot for cubes roughly ½ inch across. Place them in a bowl and gently toss them with Italian dressing. Newman’s Own is a little too red for my ideal potato salad vision, but I like the stuff and what it stands for. When you have enough dressing … you will know (trust me) … cover the bowl and let it sit while you consume a frosty beverage under the hackberry tree.

On the way back into the house, cut some chive if you want a little more onion flavor. Chop the onion, celery and any other greenery into appropriately sized pieces and toss them into the bowl of marinating potatoes. Add as much mayonnaise as you like and mix the whole works gently. I like freshly ground black pepper, so that’s what I top this salad off with.

I can’t give you exact quantities for my favorite potato salad, because I never know exactly how many potatoes I will have the energy to dig. And if I am short a tablespoonful of mayo or Italian dressing, there’s no harm – you can’t tell Kate though, because if you don’t follow the recipe exactly, it just isn’t right.  

One thing about me that I know Kate and I both agree on is that wherever we wind up eating, if there is potato salad on the menu, I have to try it. I tried some the other day at a friend’s house, and it was yummy. Yummy enough that I asked for the recipe – it wasn’t German or French potato salad – it was lovely and delicious, the way potato salad is meant to be.  

What do you think? Is German potato salad really salad? Does mustard belong in potato salad? How about sour cream? What’s your favorite recipe for this ultimate summertime comfort food?


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

8/29/2008 5:04:59 PM My feelings about potato salad are the same as the third guy's....

hank will_2
8/18/2008 8:27:03 AM

Hey Erin and Alaina - A dad couldn't ask for sweeter children. Thanks Erin, for posting your pickle recipe. I will have to try it, if we ever get enough cukes from the vines. Alaina, your potato salad sounds yummy. I still don't know about the bacon bits. But as you know, there isn't much that I won't try in the way of good food. And, I agree, you are kind of picky.

alaina will_2
8/18/2008 6:57:55 AM

Hey Dad, sorry I'm slower than molasses in January going uphill, but my favorite recipe is red potatoes, green onions, hardboiled eggs, real bacon bits and a vinegar dressing (that I always have to call home to be reminded how to make). I like it warm too...truth is its really the only potato salad I like, I'm kind of picky

erin c. midtlyng
8/15/2008 8:26:29 AM

Hey Dad, Pickles are pretty simple. I scrub off the cucumbers, cut the ends and either cut them long or into coins. I heat four cups of water, 1/3 cup of coarse sea salt, and I think half a cup of white vinegar. Bring it to a boil, and make sure the salt dissolves. Meanwhile, place the cucumbers in mason jars with generous sprigs of fresh dill and either sliced or whole garlic cloves. Pour the salt water mixture in the jars, close them up and let them cool on the counter, and then put them in the fridge. They might seal by themselves, but we go through them so quickly that not having a seal hasn't been a problem. Pickles will be ready in two to three days. This should net you about two quarts. The refrigeration is key. I do the exact same recipe for pickled peppers.

hank will_2
8/8/2008 6:38:34 PM

Erin -- What's your pickle recipe? I am going to try pickles in the potato salad, but I think they really belong on the side ... and if I can't have them on the side, then I don't want them at all ...

erin c. midtlyng
8/8/2008 1:32:32 PM

Alaina, I'm all for the german potato salads, but if you must do the creamy variety that Dad loves, then you have to have chopped pickles. I just made a fresh batch using my home grown cukes!

hank will_1
8/7/2008 10:21:53 PM

Alaina -- clearly, potato salad preferences AREN'T genetic. So ... what's your favorite German potato hot-dish recipe?

alaina will_2
8/7/2008 7:09:19 PM

yuck, pickles?!? Am I related to you two? German potato salad for me, if my lips aren't white and puckered after potato salad, there just wasn't enough vinegar two kill me, mayo? pickles? cerery? No way:)

hank will_2
8/7/2008 3:10:44 PM

I don't know Erin. You better send me some to try ... or better yet, bring it when you come for Thanksgiving.

erin c. midtlyng
8/7/2008 3:04:24 PM

Dad, No pickles in potato salad? Are you serious? Of course you put pickles in the potato salad! It's even better when you use your own home made pickles. Mmmm tastiness.

hank will_1
8/1/2008 12:05:00 PM

I sense that you pickle people are ganging up on me. Pickles on the side yes, but in the salad? No, No. And then there's that mustard thing. What is that about? I love mustard, but there is a proper time and place. Now that sour cream ... good stuff for sure ... but it is for making baked potatoes palatable and tacos positively wonderful. Can it possibly belong in potato salad? Actually, this is all making me very hungry. I plan to try your ideas to see just how set my ways are on this topic.

8/1/2008 11:37:08 AM

A good potato salad reminds me of my mom's (when I was growing up). I do believe I've found a very similar recipe. A good potato salad is room temperature...or freshly seems to bring out the flavor more for me. It's made with white potatoes (never red), sour cream, mayonnaise, yellow mustard, green onions or chives, salt and pepper, hard boiled eggs (my mouth is watering), and PICKLES! Chop up those babies and it really adds good, good flavor. I always add them last. Serve it with hamburgers from the grill, and mmmmmmmmmmm!!!

8/1/2008 9:59:39 AM

I suddenly realized that no pickles were mentioned in your recipe, Hank. How can that be? I mean, I completely agree with you that potato salad cannot be hot or even slightly warm to be considered potato salad. There are many delicious potato-salad-like casseroles that are warm, but these may not be considered true potato salad. But, man, NO PICKLES? Are you NUTS???? Here's that tarragon-containin' potato delicious thing that isn't really potato salad that I mentioned in my previous comment: That story also has one of the best recipes for fried chicken that I've ever tasted -- except, can it really be called "fried chicken" if it's fairly healthy for you and involves a crust made from oats and herbs? Still, in for a penny, in for a pound. If you're going to have pickle-less, tarragon-bearing potato salad, you might as well go whole hog and have oats on your fried chicken. Neither of these is MY recipe, mind you. I'm embarrassed to share mine because it is so laden with fat -- in the form of mayo and sour cream -- no one will ever want to eat it again.

hank will_2
7/29/2008 11:22:14 AM

Hey Todd -- I am really keen on horseradish in general. I like it shredded, salted and with a bit of vinegar in it. I haven't tried it in potato salad, but I have to believe I would like it for sure. I am also quite fond of horseradish mustard. But in my book mustard just isn't supposed to be in potato salad. Mind you, I have eaten lots of potato salad with mustard in it, and I totally enjoyed it.

hank will_2
7/29/2008 11:19:54 AM

Hey Lacy -- I agree on adding just about anything fresh to potato salad. I admit to adding jalapenos from the garden and additional herbs too. KC -- I can't really imagine potato salad made with whipped potatoes. I think we need a potato salad food-day at work before summer is gone.

todd markle
7/29/2008 11:08:01 AM

Hank, I would think horseradish (or horseradish sauce) and /or mustard would make great addittions to potato salad. Maybe even horseradish mustard. I have to admit though, that horseradish sauce and mustard are my 2 favorite condiments and I would probably try them in just about anything LOL!

razor family farms
7/24/2008 5:54:18 AM

I love your blog! As for my favorite summer recipes... goodness... I think that I would have to go with ANYTHING that includes fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes and strawberries. Nothing tops those! Excellent post! Blessings! Lacy

7/22/2008 3:55:52 PM

We should have a Grit Potato Salad-Off, like the Pillsbury Bake-Off. My mother made absolutely fabulous potato salad, with whipped potatoes and mustard. As soon as I went up to the university, I rebelled by starting to make potato salad with mayo and dill pickles -- the kind made by people of whom we used to say, "They aren't FROM here." Now, I've discovered one that has tarragon and no pickles and I'm sort of falling in love with it, though I feel sneaky and a bit flamboyant. A no-pickle potato salad? Now, that's WAY not traditional. I must not be from here ...

7/22/2008 12:13:34 PM

Hank, I agree that potato salad is COLD! For my own personal taste you can leave out the hard boiled egg and celery please! I like lots of other greens though. Parsley, chives, even oregano. Extra onions and some bacon too! Occasionally a beautiful red or yellow sweet pepper is a nice addition. No mustard! I also prefer new potatoes with red skin, skin left on! makes for a beautiful looking salad!

hank will_2
7/22/2008 11:24:18 AM

Hey Ilene -- So what is your recipe? I am curious about how to use mustard, and what kind might be especially good. I also like horse radish, but I haven't tried that in potato salad yet either.

hank will_2
7/22/2008 11:23:07 AM

Hey Jessica -- I am the same way when it comes to trying potato salad. I will try it wherever I happen to be. I shy away from the deli-counter stuff at most grocery stores because I have seen them dump it out of big cartons. I always hope that some commercial variety will come close to my favorites, but that doesn't often happen.

7/21/2008 3:23:20 PM

Oh yes, mustard indeed!!!!

jessica kellner
7/21/2008 11:05:49 AM

I like all sorts of potato salad, even, embarrassingly enough, the somewhat gross yellow concoction served at inexpensive barbecue buffets. But I like the red-skin version the best...the kind you describe. I have to say, like you, I've never gone in for the hot potato salad's good, but yeah, more of a casserole than a salad!