Grandma Follansbee’s German Potato Salad

Grandma Follansbee’s German Potato Salad

Home to me tastes like German potato salad. My Grandma Follansbee’s, to be exact. She’s been making the stuff for God-knows-how-long, and now my mother makes it, too, and so of course, do I. My grandmother is 86 going on 50, tough as nails, smart as a whip, and very, very good at Scrabble. I’ve always loved her mid-century-ish approach to food—she used to make "sugar and butter sandwiches" with Wonder bread and granulated sugar, which, when you’re nine, is all there is—and her German potato salad is the stuff of family legend. I don’t know how it compares to other German potato salads, because I’ve never bothered to make another one. And neither should you.

Bring home the bacon.

German potato salad is all about achieving the perfect balance of sugar and vinegar—a little bit sweet and a little bit sour. The key is this: Add the sugar and vinegar a bit at a time, one then the other, and taste constantly. This will help you get the right flavor without going overboard on sweet or tangy.

Time: 30 minutes
Active Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 5–10 people as a side
Drink: Cold, malty beer. 

  • Red potatoes, about 2 per person
  • 6–8 slices bacon
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • One large yellow onion, diced
  • Granulated sugar
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

  • 1. Boil potatoes
    Boil the potatoes until they’re fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Set them aside to cool. 

    Note: I leave the skin on for extra flavor and color, but you can peel them if you want.

    2. Cut bacon into small pieces; fry
    Slice the bacon into 1/4-inch pieces and fry them in a large, medium-hot pan until crisp. You’re going to put all the potatoes in this same pan, so be sure to go big. 

    Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towels.

    3. Cut potatoes into cubes
    Slice up your cooled potatoes into roughly 1/2-inch cubes. 

    4. Sautée onion in bacon fat
    On medium-high heat, cook the onion in the leftover bacon fat until soft. 

    5. Add potatoes and bacon; season with vinegar and sugar
    When the onion is soft, add the cooked, diced potatoes and bacon and warm all the way through. (I also like to brown them a bit for extra flavor.) Some of the potatoes will fall apart and mash—that’s okay, you want the texture to be chunky and rustic. 

    Add cider vinegar and sugar to taste. In the end, it’s about a 1/4 cup of vinegar and a 1/4 cup of sugar, but seriously—just eyeball it and taste as you go along. Again, you want it to be a nice balance of sweet and tangy. 

    6. Add salt and pepper; serve warm
    Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. I like to serve it warm, but it tastes good cold, too. 


    Um, excuse me?

    How do I know when I’ve achieved the right balance of sweet and tangy?
    Oh, you’ll know. And if you don’t, ask someone to help you taste. It’s great to have a second opinion while you dial it in. 

    What should I serve this with?
    I like to pair it with summer cookout food—think burgers and steaks. It also makes a killer hash when reheated the next day.

    Can I make this in advance? How long will it keep?
    It’ll keep for at least a week in the fridge. You can make it well in advance and reheat it (or eat it cold) whenever you want. 

    Seems like a lot of bacon fat. 
    My mom thinks so, too. After cooking the bacon, she drains off all but one tablespoon of the fat, then adds a bit of olive oil to reduce the overall saturated fat. Tastes (almost) as good!

    So, you’re telling me I should give up my traditional, mayonnaise-based potato salad?
    No, never. I am saying that you should make both! But think about it, you’re hosting a giant cook out and you suddenly have coleslaw, pasta salad, potato salad, and everything is drenched in mayo. Doesn’t a vinegar-based dressing feel in order? Think about it.

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