Russets vs. Red vs. Yukon Gold Potatoes: What's the Difference?

Plus learn which type is best for making mashed potatoes, french fries and more.

Potatoes are the hearty and reliable backbone of many cuisines throughout the world—the trusty spuds find a welcome home in versatile dishes like aloo palak, potato pancakes and colcannon. They're a multitalented ingredient that can be prepared in a variety of different ways, but more importantly, they're easy to use and easy to find.

Don't let their simplicity fool you—just because potatoes seem like a low-maintenance vegetable, that doesn't mean that all varieties should be treated the same way. Despite their ubiquitous nature, potato varieties can't all be used interchangeably—a good example is if you've ever suffered through a plate of gummy, gluey mashed potatoes. Some lend themselves better to different applications—like frying, baking or boiling. Knowing the subtle differences between russets vs. red vs. Yukon Gold potatoes can help you become a better cook.

yukon gold, red potato and russet potato on pink, light green and light blue background with grid
Getty Images

More importantly, understanding the differences between varieties can be the secret to perfectly crispy home fries and can help you nail that next batch of mashed potatoes. Read on for the most important differences between russet, red and Yukon Gold potatoes.

What Are Russet Potatoes?

Russet potatoes are versatile potatoes that are neutral in flavor and high in starch. They're available at almost any grocery store, any time of year. Russet potatoes are large with thick dark brown skins. When cooked, the flesh is dry, with a light, airy and oftentimes mealy texture. Their oblong shape is great for making baked potatoes and stuffed potatoes, plus their relatively mild flavor means they can easily take on the flavors of whatever they're cooked with.

russet potato on white background
Getty Images

How to Use Russet Potatoes

Russet potatoes can be used in a variety of ways, and they have a large number of culinary uses when compared to red potatoes and Yukon Gold potatoes. The dry, fluffy flesh means they're particularly good for baking and mashing. When baked, the thick skins crisp up perfectly, acting like a jacket to hold in the soft, fluffy filling. The hearty construction means they can be loaded with different fillings—like cheese or sour cream—and still maintain a sturdy shape.

Thanks to a low water content, this variety of potato can crisp up nicely, too. That means they're also great for making french fries, potato chips and bubble potatoes.

What Are Red Potatoes?

When observing the differences between russet versus red potatoes, red potatoes are much smaller, with thin reddish skins. The flesh is waxy, which means these potatoes retain their shape and don't get us fluffy or pillowy as russets do. The flesh is a bit sweet, and because red potatoes have a higher water content than russets do, they tend to stay in the shape that you cut them in no matter how you cook them.

Red potato on white
Getty Images

How to Use Red Potatoes

Red potatoes are great for roasting, cooking in soups, or boiling or steaming for potato salad. The waxy nature of the flesh means they'll maintain their shape, but it also means they will get gluey when overworked, so you'll want to choose a different potato for mashing. Instead, try red potatoes in your next German potato salad or kale and potato soup.

What Are Yukon Gold Potatoes?

Yukon Gold potatoes, sometimes referred to simply as yellow or gold potatoes, are a thin-skinned potato with yellow flesh. They have a creamy texture and an almost-buttery flavor. In terms of texture, Yukon Golds fall between the starchy russet and the waxy red potato, which makes them a great all-purpose option that's well-suited to a number of culinary applications, including making melting potatoes. The Yukon Gold potato is actually a cross between a yellow potato and a white potato and can most often be found in stores between August and February.

yukon gold potato on white
Getty Images

How to Use Yukon Gold Potatoes

Thanks to their thin skins and pleasant, creamy texture, Yukon Gold potatoes are very versatile, which makes them an easy substitute for most other varieties. Yukon Gold potatoes are stable enough to cook without crumbling, which means they're great when used in potato salads or soups. They lack the waxy characteristic of red potatoes, which means they're easy to mash without becoming too gummy. Overall, Yukon Golds are a fantastic all-purpose potato that can be baked, fried, mashed, boiled or sautéed.

Nutrition Information for Potatoes

There is minimal difference in the nutrition for russet, red or yukon gold potatoes, so the choice comes down to personal preference more than nutrition.

For reference, here's the nutrition for 1 small (138-gram) russet potato, baked with flesh and skin:

  • 131 calories
  • 4 g protein
  • 0 g total fat
  • 30 g carbohydrates
  • 4 g fiber
  • 19 milligrams sodium
  • 759 mg potassium

If you're wondering if potatoes are healthy, they sure are! Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin B6, a nutrient important for the production of red blood cells and neurotransmitters. They're also rich in vitamin C, which can help reduce the risk of certain cancers, and potassium, which can help manage blood pressure. They also contain resistant starch, which can improve digestion.

Can I Use Different Potato Varieties Interchangeably?

When substituting potatoes for one another, it's important to consider how you plan to use them. Some potato varieties can be used interchangeably, but it depends on the specific variety and the dish. Perhaps the biggest difference from potato to potato is texture, so you'll need to consider how the finished texture will impact your dish. When making mashed potatoes, you can absolutely substitute Yukon Gold for russet. But you should avoid using waxier red potatoes, which can become gummy when mashed. When making potato salad, stick to the firmer, less-starchy potatoes like red potatoes or Yukon Gold. Starchier potatoes don't hold their shape, so they aren't a good option for salads. Avoid them for soups, as well, unless you intend to puree or mash them into the broth.

Bottom Line

Potatoes are an incredibly versatile ingredient and are affordable and easy to find. However, not all varieties should be treated the same way. Before selecting a potato, first assess what type of dish you plan to create and how the potato's flavor and texture will factor into the finished product. If you're looking for a fluffy, basic potato that's great for mashing or baking, opt for a russet. If you're looking for a firm, waxy potato that's ideal for salads or soups, go with red potatoes. If you're looking for an all-purpose potato that boasts a buttery flavor and creamy texture, opt for Yukon Gold.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles