How Long Do You Boil Potatoes? (We Help You Find Out)

Published Categorized as Cooking Tips
Potatoes boiling in a pot on the stovechris77ho /Depositphotos

Potatoes are easy to boil… if you do it right. We help you learn how long to boil them so they come out just right.

When it comes to cooking at home, boiling potatoes is certainly one of the easiest things to do. Still, it can be quite the challenge for a first-timer to get it right. If this applies to you, don’t worry; we’ve got you covered with all the tips and tricks you need.

You only need to boil a potato for 10-15 minutes. The goal is to have them soft and cooked through, but not so soft that they fall apart. You can check potatoes for doneness by poking them with a fork to see if enters with little resistance.

It’s not too big of a deal if you over-boil the potatoes. You can always add a tablespoon or two of butter, a dollop or two of heavy cream, and then mash them up. Well, what do you know, you have yourself a bowl of mashed potatoes!

In this quick guide, you will learn how to correctly boil a potato—and for how long. Then, we will share with you a few of our favorite ways to salvage over-boiled potatoes. Read on if this sounds like what you came here to find out.

How Long Should You Boil Potatoes?

You only have to boil potatoes for 10-15 minutes, from the moment the water reaches a full boil, to get them nice and soft. Then, you can take those versatile spuds and turn them into mashed potatoes, potato salad, or whatever meal your heart desires.

A rolling boil, also known as a “full boil,” is when the water in the pot reaches its boiling point of 212°F (100°C). Big, buoyant bubbles will start to rise to the surface, rolling around, bumping into each other, and bursting unpredictably as the convection currents in the water make the potatoes dance.

The good news is that boiling potatoes is indeed one of the most straightforward cooking tasks there is. The only real challenge here is figuring out when they are done, and thus ready to chill, peel, and eat.

After all, the exact cooking times of each potato are unique because of their differences in size, weight, and variety. So you have to know when to take them off the heat, lest you end up overcooking them.

So, how do you do that?

How Do You Know When a Boiled Potato Is Done?

All you need to do is a little bit of poking around (literally!) with a fork.

So, after you’ve been boiling those tubers for 10 minutes, grab a fork and follow these two steps:

Poke in: Take that fork and poke it through a potato ¾ of the way through the middle. A cooked potato will give you minimal resistance; in contrast, a potato that’s undercooked will be too hard for you to push through.

Shake off: Next, shake that fork very gently. A cooked potato should slide right off, without fuss.

When your potato passes both of the steps above, that means you’ve boiled it for long enough. You can repeat the test with each of your potatoes just to be sure. Then, shut off the fire and take those potatoes out.

Should You Put Potatoes in Boiling Water?

No, despite lore to the contrary, throwing your potatoes into readily-boiling water isn’t necessarily a good idea.

Potatoes are dense, you see. They’re hard, with lots of starch and moisture on the inside. That means that heat takes time to travel to the middle and cook the potato all the way through.

When you plunge a potato into boiling water, you over-expose the surface to excess heat. The exterior will cook real quick, but that heat won’t get to travel all the way to the middle.

In the end, you will be left with a hybrid of a potato, if you will, that tastes anything but appetizing: one that’s overcooked and falling apart on the outside, yet undercooked and crunchy when bitten into.

That’s why you must always start the potato boiling process with cold water, preferably water that’s salted generously. Then, put the potatoes in and crank up the heat so that the spuds warm up along with the water.

When you do it this way, the heat will slowly make its route through each potato and cook them thoroughly through. Not long after that, you will have a bunch of perfectly cooked potatoes ready to eat.

What Happens If You Over-Boil Potatoes?

When you over-boil your potatoes, they’ll lose too much of their firmness and become too mushy. At the same time, the excess heat will also destroy some of the nutrients in potatoes, like amino acids and vitamins.

Everyone needs to understand that over-boiling doesn’t just happen because you left the pot on the flame for too long. Even with the fire off, the hot water will continue to boil the potatoes.

So, remember to drain those potatoes as soon as you’re done boiling them. Then, if you prefer, or if your recipe calls for it, you can soak those potatoes in an ice bath real quick to cool them down even faster.

Remember: in most cases, you only want to boil your potatoes until they’re soft enough to eat. You don’t want to take them to a point where they fall apart all on their own when you try to pick them up.

What Can I Do With Overcooked Boiled Potatoes?

Thankfully, potatoes are exceptionally versatile. So, you can still do a lot even after over-boiling them. For example, you could:

Dry them out: Try to salvage your over-boiled potatoes on a hot pan, maybe with some oil. The heat will evaporate some of the excess moisture and restore some firmness.

Make mashed potatoes: Over-boiled potatoes are too soft for some recipes. But, they’re also halfway to becoming mashed potatoes. They’re so soft you won’t even have to mash them! Just throw in some chives, butter, and anything else you prefer.

Turn them into croquettes: A croquette is a type of dumpling that you can make with over-boiled potatoes. All you have to do is shape your soft potatoes into croquettes and add a few ingredients, and you’re good to go!

Make cream soup of potatoes instead: Last but not least, you can also make a potato cream soup. Top with crackers or crusty bread and an abundance of shredded salty, gamey pecorino cheese. All of a sudden, you have an extra appetizer for your meal!

As you can see, over-boiled potatoes aren’t the end of the world. Not a single spud will go to waste with a few slight tweaks to your recipe or meal plan!

Final Thoughts

As you can see, boiling potatoes is an absolutely fuss-free thing to do to prepare a meal. Firstly, it’s incredibly easy and quick to do. But, more importantly, it’s also very easy to recover from if you make a mistake and get it wrong.

That’s why boiled potatoes are an excellent job to give to even the youngest kitchen helper in the home!

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.