Hash Browns: the Holy Grail of Breakfast




Introduction: Hash Browns: the Holy Grail of Breakfast

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For perfect, light, crispy, delicious hash browns, every time, use this method. I'll also show some ways not to make hash browns, as well as an experiment showing what happens when you skip the crucial step.

Hash browns (along with biscuits, which I haven't yet mastered [edit: now I have! see here]), are the holy grail of breakfast. Done right, they are crispy, light, and delicious, worthy of every praise and love-song ever written in honor of food. Done wrong, they are mushy, soaked in oil, half-burned and mangled. They are, to borrow from the Grinch, "an appalling dump heap, overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots".

But once you figure them out, they're surprisingly easy. Get excited.

What you need:

  • Potatoes
  • A grater
  • A strainer
  • Oil or butter
  • A frying pan & spatula

Step 1: Grate Your Potatoes

OK, you knew this. Peel or wash first.

Step 2: Rinse Your Potato Shreds

Pour your shreds into a strainer and rinse them out. You can also put them in a bowl, fill it with water and potato shreds, then strain and repeat until the water runs clean.

This is where the magic happens. When you do this, you will see your shreds turn from a gray, mushy mass into crisp, white shreds of delicious potato goodness. According to the (always reliable) internet, you are removing "the starches" in this step. I'm not sure why this makes a difference, but it sure does. All the difference.

Step 3: Squeeze the Water Out

No need to go crazy here. Just grab the potatoes in your hands and squeeze some water out of them so they aren't sopping wet. 

Some people will use a towel and twist it. Others get "potato-ricers" (giant garlic press type contraptions that will squeeze every last ounce of moisture from potato shreds). This is only necessary if you haven't already rinsed the potatoes. If you have rinsed them, then squeezing really isn't all that important (see the experiment at the end of this instructable).

Step 4: Fry

Put oil, bacon grease, butter, or something else that sounds tasty in a pan. Get it hot before adding your potato (you can check this by adding a few shreds... they should sizzle).

Add your potato and pack it into a patty (see below for thickness). Check for done-ness on the bottom side before flipping. It will probably take around 5 minutes per side. Try to only flip once. If the hashbrowns fall apart, that's fine: just flip in pieces.

That's it. This is probably the point at which you usually get frustrated, but with these rinsed potato shreds, things will go much easier.

Now, how thick should you pack? How much grease/oil should you use? There are two main schools of thought here:
  1. Dangerously Crispy: This is what I show in the front picture. Crispy through and through. To get these, you should:
    • Use a generous amount of oil. 1/8 inch deep-ish. You're almost deep-frying (but remember, the oil should be hot before you add the potatoes... otherwise they'll soak it up like greedy oil-loving little sponges).
    • Pack your potato patty thin (like 1/4 inch thick).
    • Be patient.
  2. Diner Style: This is what you get at Denny's (also shown on the first page). Crispy on the outside, but thick enough to have a soft middle. To get these, you should:
    • Use less butter / oil (maybe a quarter cup for a pan).
    • Pack the potato patty a little thicker (like 1/2 inch thick).
    • Cook a little slower, so you can cook all the potatoes without scorching the outsides. Medium to Medium Low heat.
    • Be prepared for significantly more falling-apart-ish-ness. That's ok. If it melts in your mouth, it will probably also melt on the spatula. Practice makes perfect.
Both options are delicious. Adding onion or other veggies is also delicious. Just about anything that involves potatoes and oil in the morning has the potential to be delicious.

Step 5: Ways to Go Wrong

There are lots of ways to go wrong. For example, you could:
  1. FAIL TO RINSE THE POTATOES! It's hard to win if you do this. For one of the experimental trials, (and for my whole life before I discovered this trick), I made this mistake. it leads to grayish, mushy, gooey, nasty, hash brown impostors.
  2. Put the potatoes in the oil before it's heated. This is a sure way to end up drinking a few tablespoons of oil for breakfast. Always check that the oil's hot enough to sizzle a few potato shreds before you put the rest in.
  3. Flip too early. Potatoes take a while to cook. Lift up the edge of your patty to check, but don't flip until the bottom side looks the way you want it. The more you flip, the more chance you're going to damage your patty, and the worse the end result will turn out.

Step 6: Experimental Results

In this experiment, I grate three potatoes and make three hash brown patties (all of the dangerously crispy variety).

  • In group A, I grate the potatoes and do nothing else to them before cooking.
  • In group B, I grate the potatoes and then rinse them before cooking.
  • In group C, I grate the potatoes, rinse them, and then squeeze them before cooking.

Results: A << B < C (or, if you're not a math / engineering person, C is better than B, and both C and B are WAY better than A).

Lesson Learned: Rinse your hash browns. Watch the 3-minute video to see for yourself:

Step 7: Bonus: Take Your Hash Browns to the Next Level

If you are unwilling to accept anything but the utmost perfection, there is one final thing you can do to make your hash browns just a smidgeon better: pre-boil them. I got this tip from dropkick, and almost a year later, I've finally got around to testing it. If you have a day to plan ahead and you like thick, diner-style hash browns, this technique is definitely worth a try. Check out my website and blog for the details and experimental results (and check out my novels and short stories while you're at it!).

Thanks for reading.

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111 Discussions

I'm a professional cook. Nothing the matter with the way that your doing this, but I have a suggestion that works if you have the time to plan ahead. I think my way is somewhat easier and you end up with much faster browning hashbrowns.

Clean and boil some whole potatoes.

Cook the potatoes untill a fork can penetrate them but they're still firm (normal sized potatoes only take 15 to 20 minutes at a rolling boil).

Quench the potatoes (run some cold water over them to stop or limit any residual the cooking process - you don't need the potatoes to be completely cold - just enough so you can handle them)

Put the potatoes uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. - This is a very important step as the potatoes firm up in the refrigerator. If you use them while they're still warm you'll likely end up with fried mashed potatoes.

Heat oil or butter up in a frying pan and grate the unpeeled potato directly into the pan. - It will grate easily and most of the skin (if it's a brown potato) will sluff off to the side instead of grating. it's easy to discard the skin or you can fry and eat it also - I like it.

The potatoes will brown very quickly and you'll have no problem with blackening.

I boil potatoes and put them in my home refrigerator about once a week. That way I have them ready for hashbrowns, scalloped, twice-baked, or any other potato dishes that meet my fancy.

5 replies

So I finally got around to trying the pre-boiling technique you suggested. It worked really well; it was a little easier to cook the patties and to get thicker patties. I added a step to the instructable (mentioning your name) and a post to my blog as well. Thanks!

Nice, thanks for posting that. I'd heard something about pre-boiling, but it always sounded like too much work. But I can see how if you have a bunch of them pre-boiled, it's not so bad. I'll have to give it a try and see how it compares. Thanks!

Do people in Chicago put sour cream on hash browns as we did when I lived in MN. Makes sense if you like t on baked potatoes. Try it if you haven't.

I don't know about in Chicago, but here in San Francisco I haven't ever seen that. It sounds delicious though! I'll have to try it.


Suggestion; get a salad spinner - I find them for about $2 at the DOLLAR TREE store. They have a big basket that can be used for rinsing, draining and, of course SPINNING the shreds to get them as dry as possible without crushing them into pulp. I often put a bit of salt and /or onion powder and/or garlic power in the final rinse, let the shreds sit for 10 or 15 minutes to absorb the extra flavor, then drain and SPIN.

Hmmm... Think I'll go make a batch!

Good job!


6 replies

Wait, $2 at Dollar Tree?
Also, thanks for the reminder. I forgot Dollar Tree has kitchenware items.

the DOLLAR TREE in my area (SW Ohio) has items marked for even $, sometimes as much as 20 or 30 of them... ;-)

Weird! I live in NE Ohio, and everything is $1. That's their main advertisement to get people to come in. :D


Reply 2 years ago

second that

Thanks for the helpful guide. I used your pre-boiled technique but I added spring onion, a couple of eggs and salt/pepper after grating. Almost worked perfectly (but that's down to my crappy stove top that won't fit my pans and gives an uneven cook) and in spite of the slightly blackened spots they taste amazing.

1 reply

I've been making what I call potato pancakes for many, many years. My mother used to make them often when I was a child and while I never got an actual recipe from her, I started making them when my kids were small using only my vague recollection of the ingredients. While they often varied from soggy to fairly crisp, I never really knew why. Now I do! Thank you so much! BTW, my mum (mom) was originally from Germany and made her kartoffelpfannkuchen with finely chopped onions, eggs and flour (the latter to soak up the potato liquid?) and I've been doing that ever since, too. I'm off to make a batch according to your advice, without the flour but with the onions and eggs.
Ps, any hints as to what type of grater is the best and how to avoid grating the skin off your knuckles? Thanks!

4 replies

Sweet, let me know how they turn out! I just used one of the hand graters (like a little tower with grated surfaces on each side). I kindof turn the potato sideways and use my fingertips at the end... but there's probably a better way.

Solobo, I raced out and bought one of those kinds you mention and it works grate! (pun intended) and I didn't add any grated skin to the mix either!
As for how they turned out, well, see picture below. The plate on the left contains 3 small pancakes and as you can see, they just fell apart and look very unappetising (I'm glad I didn't make them for company!) I had one batch left and decided to sprinkle some flour on it and mixed it in. The result is on the right... pretty good don't you think? How do you or others manage to keep them from falling apart without flour? As for taste, very nice and there was no discernible difference between the ones with or without flour. So, thanks to this instructable, no more soggy hash browns, but I will continue to use a bit of flour.

Pictureofsilver, my new grater cost me $2 from the you know what shop lol!

PS, That soaking potatoes removes the starch is correct, unfortunately, it also removes some of the vitamins. I guess so long as we don't overdo the hash browns, it's worth the small sacrifice.

potato pancake.jpg

Very cool! Thanks for posting the pictures. Yeah, I've just had to flip really carefully in the past. I may try the flour trick; you say it helps hold them together? Do you just sprinkle some in while they're frying?

I add the flour after soaking/rinsing/drying, adding eggs and onions. Then I sprinkle a small handful of plain flour on and mix it through before frying.

It definitely holds them together and hardly changes the flavour at all. You could try potato flour I guess. What it does is replace the starch (that was removed with the soaking) without the liquid.