Potatoes are done when they almost mash themselves: You poke one with a fork and it softens to a paste. But to get the maximum smoothness with a whole potful, you need the right tool. Some people prefer a ricer, but a masher is quick and easy and also works for other less festive chores, such as mashing refried beans or even slicing boiled eggs.
A masher with a round gridded base might fit into pots and bowls, but that nouvelle design leaves lumps. Look instead for the old square style, especially one with thinly spaced sharp bars that smash and mash to creaminess.
Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma sell this superb one, called Gourmet Blender, for around $17, but you can't go wrong with any old-fashioned wire masher.
Counter Intelligence Newsletter
Get restaurant reviews, food stories and recipes from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen.