Picnic season has arrived and with it, a gigantic appetite for one of American's most decadent comfort foods: potato salad.
Perfect potato salad offers a delicate balance of flavors that allows every ingredient -- the potatoes, eggs, mayonnaise and pickles -- to shine. It's not hard to make, but it's messy and time-consuming and, as devotees are well aware, much can go wrong. Potatoes can be undercooked or overcooked, cut too small or not at all. And too much or too little salt or vinegar can pummel the taste buds.
Obviously, homemade is best. But when a picnic calls for potato salad and there's just no time, there are plenty of supermarket options which, it turns out, vary dramatically in quality and taste. Some are ultra-creamy or uber-eggy. Some are pickle powered, others have no gherkins at all -- and still others are loaded with fun extras like bacon, blue cheese or fresh herbs.
The key to finding a good potato salad is to pass up the ones with long shelf lives in favor of the deli counter's fresh-made versions. Not all markets have a deli counter, so this story includes prepackaged and deli versions, few of which are freshly made on site.
Here's the scoop on the best and the worst, with nutritional information, where available, for a one-cup serving.
Safeway Red, White & Bleu
Smokey, chewy bits of bacon, minimal mayonnaise and just a hint of blue cheese make this an interesting and irresistible alternative to traditional potato salad. Nutritional data not available. $4.99 per pound. (4 stars)
Raley's Potato and Egg Salad
Fresh dill, crunchy bits of celery and large bites of egg make this creamy and well-seasoned salad a winner. Those who love mayonnaise might like the market's "Fully Loaded" version. All of Raley's salads are made fresh every three days -- and they taste like it. A serving has 387 calories, 24 grams fat. $3.99 per pound. (4 stars)
Whole Foods Potato Salad
Fresh potato, egg and parsley mixed with great-flavored mayonnaise make this natural and authentic potato salad one of the best. Giant hunks of potato and a lack of acidity keep it from getting a perfect score. A serving has 270 calories, 12 grams fat. $8.49 per pound. (3 ½ stars)
There's a bit too much green onion in this dense, pickle-free, mashed potato-style salad, but the flavor is good enough for a second bite, followed by a third. It's perfect for pickle-haters. A serving has 360 calories, 18 grams fat. A 20-ounce tub is $3.99. (3 stars)
Will's San Francisco Potato Salad
This vegetable-forward salad is never going to pass for homemade, but it is pleasantly creamy with a good balance of flavors. A serving has 400 calories, 30 grams fat. $3.99 per pound at Lucky. (3 stars)
Sprouts Blue Cheese and Bacon Potato Salad
Made with red potatoes, this salad has bold blue cheese flavor with just a hint of bacon. It loses points due to slightly grainy potatoes and limp vegetables. A serving has 440 calories, 30 grams fat. $4.99 per pound. (3 stars)
Safeway Deviled Egg Potato Salad
This bright yellow mix of eggs, potatoes, red peppers and herbs is decadently creamy, but its flavors are one-dimensional and slightly too sweet. A serving has 440 calories, 24 grams fat. $3.49 per pound. (2 ½ stars)
Sprouts Potato Salad
This extremely eggy potato salad has grainy potatoes and it's slightly too sweet, due to too much sweet pickle relish. A serving has 380 calories, 20 grams fat. $2.99 per pound. (2 stars)
Mustard Potato Salad
Vinegar and mustard squash every other flavor in this semi-pureed style salad. A serving has 380 calories, 16 grams fat. A 2-pound tub is $3.19 at Wal-Mart. (2 stars)
New Orleans Bill's Potato Salad
A tongue-numbing dose of black pepper wakes up this goopy mess of a potato salad, but not in a good way. A serving has 290 calories, 46 grams fat. A 3-pound tub is $6.19 at Smart & Final. (½ star and that only because I like pepper)
First Street Original Potato Salad With Egg
Those who like benign, flavorless food may enjoy a scoop of this mayonnaise-bomb. A 1-cup serving has 255 calories, 7.5 grams fat. A 2-pound tub is $3.19 at Smart & Final; an 8-pound carton is $7.69. (½ star)
Reser's Original Potato Salad
This ubiquitous potato salad brand makes a trio of flavors, but the original is the one most encountered at parties. Overwhelming sweetness kills any potato flavor. A serving has 460 calories, 24 grams fat. A 1-pound tub is $2.89 at Smart & Final; an 8-pound carton is $8.81 at Costco. (No stars)
Reviews are based on product samples purchased by this newspaper or provided by manufacturers. Contact Jolene Thym at email@example.com.