Home » Ingredients » Vegetables

Potato Salad | My Secret Ingredient to Make it Perfect

potato salad in a clear bowl with a turquoise and navy print napkin
Post may contain affiliate links. See my Affiliate Disclosure.

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!


Want to Save This Recipe?

Enter your email & I’ll send you the link so you always have it at your fingertips.  Plus, I’ll send a collection of easy recipes to your inbox every Friday!

Save Recipe

By submitting this form, you consent to receive emails from Glenda Embree.

clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
perfect potato salad

Perfect Potato Salad and My Secret Ingredient

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

5 from 7 reviews

  • Author: Glenda Embree
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 1216 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
  • 34 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

glenda embree

About Glenda

I believe cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be complicated and that YOU can do it. My simple recipes, tutorials, and cooking tips will help you get weeknight dinners on the table with less stress. Forget takeout or the drive-thru. Let me show you how to make homemade easy. Read more...

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.


Leave a Comment

Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star


as seen on promo graphic


as seen on promo graphic