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Potato Salad | My Secret Ingredient to Make it Perfect

potato salad in a clear bowl with a turquoise and navy print napkin
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Pota­to Sal­ad is one of those dish­es that can become very per­son­al depend­ing on where, geo­graph­i­cal­ly, you grew up. There are just some recipes that we tend to make the way they have always been made through gen­er­a­tions in our fam­i­ly. Two exam­ples of that are coleslaw and pota­to salad.

My fam­i­ly is the same. Most of my kids don’t real­ly eat pota­to sal­ad or coleslaw any­where but here. Keep in mind our five kids range in age from 18 — 36, now. lol Still, mom’s pota­to sal­ad is the stan­dard all oth­er’s are mea­sured by. I’ll bet you are the same. So this recipe may seem odd to you, but I hope you get a chance to give it a try. It is one of our all-time favorite side dishes.

Ingredients for MY Perfect Potato Salad

Pota­to sal­ad hap­pens to be some­thing that I’m not sure is region­al, for us, because there are peo­ple from our area whose eye­brows go up when they hear my recipe. It’s adapt­ed from the recipe I grew up with. 

potato salad ingredients - potatoes, celery sweet pickles, onion, and the secret ingredient - sweet pickle juice

The way we made pota­to sal­ad when I was grow­ing up is the way I make it now. Except for hard-boiled eggs. I don’t like them, so I don’t use them. Mom, did we put eggs in our pota­to sal­ad? I don’t remem­ber. But, see, that’s how these recipe tra­di­tions come about. I don’t like hard boiled eggs, so my kids don’t eat pota­to sal­ad with eggs. AND I have a secret ingredient.

To make my pota­to sal­ad you will need:

  • pota­toes (red or rus­set work great)
  • red onion, minced
  • sliced cel­ery
  • sweet pick­les, minced
  • Mir­a­cle Whip (You can use mayo, but it won’t taste the same. lol)
  • yel­low mustard
  • the secret ingre­di­ent — sweet pick­le juice

Yup! Pick­le juice. I know. It sounds weird, but trust me. It’s the bomb in the bomb-diggety for this deli­cious pota­to salad. 

homemade potato salad

Prepping the Potatoes

Cook­ing the pota­toes is easy, but it’s also impor­tant. First of all, just like pas­ta, make sure the water you boil them in is prop­er­ly salt­ed. A drop of it on your tongue should taste salty. I use a Table­spoon in about 2 1/2 to 3 quarts of water. It’s hard to get fla­vor into pota­toes AFTER they are cooked, so sea­son the cook­ing water well.

red potatoes and russet potatoes

Pota­toes can be peeled or unpeeled. Usu­al­ly, if I use rus­sets, I *peel them. If I use red pota­toes I leave the skins on. 

There isn’t a log­i­cal rea­son for those choic­es. It’s just the way I do it. Now, that I’m forced to think about it for this post, the skin on red pota­toes may be thin­ner and smoother. That could be why. Skin-on is a more rus­tic and col­or­ful sal­ad. Go with your mood and what’s in your pantry.

Do your best to cut the pota­toes into uni­form sizes for boil­ing, so they cook even­ly. I just go ahead and cut them the size I want for the sal­ad, so I don’t have to waste time re-cut­ting them after they’re cooked.

Boil the pota­toes in a *large sauce pan or pot, until they are ten­der, but still firm. If they’re cut small, like these, it will only take about 15 min­utes once they start boil­ing. You don’t want to take it too far or they get grainy and have too soft a texture.

cut red potatoes boiling in a pan

Assembling the Potato Salad

You want the pota­toes to be com­plete­ly cool, before mix­ing up the pota­to sal­ad. Try­ing to stir them and mix up the sal­ad when they’re warm results in “mashed pota­to” sal­ad. The tex­ture is just not right. 

After drain­ing them, I run cool water over the pota­toes for about 60 sec­onds to help take the heat out and stop the cook­ing process. 

Then, I like to spread the pota­toes on a dry bak­ing sheet and pop them in the freez­er for a few min­utes while I cut up the oth­er veg­gies for the sal­ad. They’re only in there for a few min­utes, so they don’t actu­al­ly freeze, but it quick cools them enough I can get the sal­ad mixed up.

Mince the onion, slice the cel­ery and mince up the sweet pick­les. Remem­ber to reserve 1/2 cup of the pick­le juice.

Once the pota­toes are cool, stir all the veg­eta­bles togeth­er and then add the Mir­a­cle Whip to the top. Dol­lop the mus­tard on top of the mayo and use your spoon to sort of swirl them togeth­er. Pour the secret ingre­di­ent — pick­le juice — over the top of every­thing. Then, mix it all into the sal­ad. That’s it! Salt and pep­per, to taste and a gar­nish of fresh chopped pars­ley if you have it. 

SO DELICIOUS! I hope you give it a try!

potato salad in a clear bowl with a turquoise and navy print napkin

FAQs About Potato Salad

Why Does My Pota­to Sal­ad Taste Bland?

Acid. With creamy dish­es of any kind, that bright zing of an acid will ele­vate all the oth­er fla­vors in the dish. In the case of pota­to sal­ad, this is par­tic­u­lar­ly true. Acid can come from things like cit­rus juice and zest or vine­gar. In the case of this recipe, the vine­gar in the pick­le juice is what gives it that spe­cial fla­vor amp. If you want a lit­tle more zing, add more pick­le juice a Table­spoon at a time until you are sat­is­fied with the fla­vor.

Also, don’t for­get to salt the pota­to sal­ad to your taste. I know some peo­ple must avoid salt. But, if you’re not one of them you have to learn to under­stand the cor­rect way to use it. Salt is a fla­vor enhancer. The goal is not for a food to taste salty, but for all the oth­er fla­vors to *pop*. Adding a rea­son­able amount of salt to any dish does exact­ly that. Omit­ting it can be anoth­er rea­son any dish tastes bland.

What Kind of Pota­toes are Best for Pota­to Sal­ad?

Any. It’s a mat­ter of per­son­al pref­er­ence. I like rus­sets and red pota­toes for pota­to sal­ad. Those are starchi­er vari­eties. Oth­ers pre­fer more waxy pota­toes like Yukon Golds. There isn’t a right or wrong. Your pota­to sal­ad will taste best to you when you use the pota­toes YOU like the best.

What Goes Best With Pota­to Sal­ad?

That’s the beau­ti­ful thing! Almost every­thing. Of course I don’t serve pota­to sal­ad with soups and stew, but almost every­thing else. It’s fab­u­lous along­side hamkalua porkslop­py joesslow cook­er chick­en breastsroast chick­enper­fect baked chick­en breastsMon­terey chick­enMis­sis­sip­pi Pot RoastMaple Mus­tard Pork Loin — burg­ers — steak — ribs and so much more!


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perfect potato salad

Perfect Potato Salad and My Secret Ingredient

  • Author: Glen­da Embree
  • Total Time: 30 min­utes
  • Yield: 12-16 serv­ings 1x


Our fam­i­ly’s favorite pota­to sal­ad.  The secret ingre­di­ent is sweet pick­le juice.  Oh and Mir­a­cle Whip.  Change those two ele­ments and it just won’t be the same.  Absolute­ly scrumptious!


Units Scale
  • 3-4 lbs pota­toes (peeled or not), cut into uni­form bite-size pieces
  • 1 medi­um red onion, minced
  • 1 cup thin­ly sliced celery
  • 1 1/2 cups minced sweet pick­les (gherkins)
  • 2 1/4 cups Mir­a­cle Whip or may­on­naise
  • 2 Table­spoons mustard
  • 1/2 cup sweet pick­le juice
  • salt and pep­per, to taste



  1. Wash and/or peel the potatoes.
  2. Cut the pota­toes into uni­form, bite-size pieces.
  3. In a large sauce pan or pot, cov­er the pota­toes with salt­ed water and bring to a boil.  Once boil­ing, reduce the heat to medi­um-high, so they keep boil­ing, but won’t boil over.  It should only take around 15 min­utes for them to cook at this point.
  4. When the pota­toes are fork-ten­der, drain them in a colan­der.  Run cool water over the pota­toes to begin the cool­ing and stop the cook­ing.  Spread them in a sin­gle, even lay­er on a bak­ing sheet and pop them in the freez­er (or even the fridge) to cool while you cut up the oth­er veggies.
  5. Make sure the pota­toes are com­plete­ly cooled.  They will end up as mashed pota­toes if you try to stir them into the sal­ad warm.
  6. Once the veg­gies are prepped, place them in a large sal­ad bowl, with the pota­toes and stir them all together.
  7. Add the Mir­a­cle Whip right on top and then add the mus­tard to the top of that.  Use your mix­ing spoon to swirl them togeth­er a bit. 
  8. Pour the pick­le juice over the top of every­thing and then fold the dress­ing into the sal­ad.  Stir until all the veg­gies are coat­ed and the dress­ing is even­ly distributed.
  9. Refrig­er­ate the sal­ad until you are ready to serve.  It will keep sev­er­al days in the fridge, but prob­a­bly won’t last long enough for you to find out.
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 20
  • Cat­e­go­ry: Sal­ad, Side Dish
  • Method: Stove-Top
  • Cui­sine: Amer­i­can

More Delicious Salads to Try

Bean Salad

Gluten-Free Tabbouleh

Kale Apple and Butternut Salad

Broccoli Ramen Slaw

Roast Beef Gravy

12 thoughts on “Potato Salad | My Secret Ingredient to Make it Perfect”

    • Me, too, Shel­by. I’m a huge fan of the Food Net­work chefs, but I don’t agree with a few of them that red onion has to be cooked because it’s too over­whelm­ing. I love that spicy, sweet bite of raw red onion. And like you, I think it makes a huge dif­fer­ence in the fla­vor of sal­ads, especially.


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