Hot, warm, or cold, this traditional German Potato Salad is a scrumptious blend of sweet, tangy, and bacony goodness. A tried-and-true family favorite!
Makes German Potato Salad So Special?
(Was macht den deutschen Kartoffelsalat so besonders?)
My high school German teacher loved food, and often brought in German foods into class for us to try. Frau Müeller introduced us to exotic new-to-us delicacies like Butterkase (pronounced “booter-keh-zuh,” which literally means butter cheese), Kartoffelpuffer (German potato pancakes), and a profusion of buttery Bavarian pastries. However, the one dish that stood out most was her traditional Bavarian Kartoffelsalat – commonly known in the United States as German Potato Salad.
German potato salad is distinctly different from American potato salad; most notably, it is completely mayonnaise-free. However, it has one very important thing in common its American counterpart: no two potato salad recipes are quite the same! This recipe has been honed and perfected over three decades, and is now a tried-and-true family favorite and a time-honored Oktoberfest tradition.
Culinary historians speculate that the combination of cooked potatoes, oil, vinegar, and herbs was introduced in the US by 19th-century German immigrants, who had a penchant for rich, sour-sweet combinations. Hot potato salad soon became so closely associated with German immigrants that it was dubbed German Potato Salad.
Dressed with bacon, onions, and vinegar, German potato salad as we now know it in the US has its roots in the south of Germany. Known historically as the Bavarian region, it hails from the home of all things Oktoberfest: brightly embroidered lederhosen and dirndl skirts, decorative beirstiens, and festive Oompah bands.
Equally scrumptious hot, warm, or cold, German Potato Salad is a deeply satisfying blend of sweet, tangy, bacony goodness. This traditional Bavarian Kartoffelsalat recipe is very easy to put together, and we strongly suggest making it ahead of time. (We always make it at least a day ahead to allow all the flavors to mingle and meld, and then rewarm it to serve for our big Oktoberfest meal.)
What Goes into this Recipe
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
★ Red potatoes - We prefer to use small red potatoes, quartered. You can use any red potato, cut into about ¾- to 1-inch cubes. (Cubed potatoes stand up to the cooking process much better than potato slices.)
★ Bacon - Use a high-quality, thick bacon for best results. We prefer to use an unpeppered, smoky bacon.
★ Red onion - Red onions add more color, and have a sweet undertone that works well in this recipe. You can use yellow or sweet onions, but the flavor will be slightly different.
★ Sugar - We use white sugar for this recipe, and don't recommend using any alternative sweeteners, as they can dramatically change the overall flavor profile.
★ Apple cider vinegar - We have successfully used red wine vinegar with this recipe, but much prefer the flavor added with apple cider vinegar.
How to Make the Best German Potato Salad Ever!
Prep the Potatoes
Cut potatoes into ½- to ¾-inch cubes and put them into a medium saucepan. (Leave skins on.) Add enough cold water to cover the tops of the potato cubes.
Salt the water, cover the pot, and bring the potatoes to a boil. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until tender but still firm.
While the Potatoes are Cooking
In a 10-inch Dutch oven or large, heavy saucepan, cook bacon over MEDIUM heat until crisp.
Remove from heat. Remove bacon from pan and set aside. Leave bacon drippings in pan.
Return pan to MEDIUM heat, and sauté the onion in the reserved bacon drippings.
Reduce heat on the sautéed red onions down to MEDIUM-LOW. Add vinegar, sugar, water and celery seed.
Heat onion-vinegar mixture a low simmer. Remove from heat.
Put It Together
Add the hot potatoes to Dutch oven. (Make sure liquid and potatoes and both very hot when mixed together.)
Add cooked bacon pieces, and stir everything together gently to combine.
Salt and pepper to taste. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 325°F | 163°C.
FAQs & Expert Tips
We eat the leftovers cold… with our fingers… from the fridge. (Try it - you'll like it!) It makes a great picnic salad, too!
Sealed in an air-tight container in the fridge, German potato salad will stay good for up to a week.
There are two basic differences between the two:
★ Salad Base: American potato salad is mayonnaise -based, while German potato salad is completely mayonnaise-free.
★ Temperature: American potato salad is always served cold. German potato salad is traditionally served warm. (However, we think it is delicious at any temperature.)
German Potato Salad (Authentic Bavarian Kartoffelsalat)
- Cut potatoes into ½- to ¾-inch cubes and put them into a medium saucepan. (Leave skins on.)Add enough cold water to cover the tops of the potato cubes. Salt the water, cover the pot, and bring the potatoes to a boil. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until tender but still firm.
While potatoes are cooking:
- In a 10-inch Dutch oven or large, heavy saucepan, cook bacon over MEDIUM heat until crisp. Remove from heat. Remove bacon from pan and set aside. Leave bacon drippings in pan.
- Return pan to MEDIUM heat, and sauté the onion in the reserved bacon drippings.
- Reduce heat on the sautéed red onions to MEDIUM-LOW. Add vinegar, sugar, water and celery seed.
- Heat onion-vinegar mixture a low simmer. Remove from heat.
- Add the hot potatoes to Dutch oven. (Make sure liquid and potatoes and both very hot when mixed together.)Add cooked bacon pieces, and stir everything together gently to combine.
- Salt and pepper to taste. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 325°F [163°C].
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Originally published October 2, 2014. Updated with new content, images, and directions to improve reader experience.