Oh, do I love my taters. Think of me as Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings: "Po-ta-toes! Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew." Of all the potatoes, I may love the humble, yet great baked potato the most. A perfect baked potato has crispy skin, a soft and fluffy interior, and is the perfect vehicle for the toppings of your choice.
Cheddar cheese, green onions, and sour cream? That is one classic baked potato. Going picnic style with pulled pork and BBQ sauce? No problem! Want to feel healthy with broccoli, Greek yogurt, and salsa? You go, girl!
The point is, baked potatoes can be the vehicles for anything you want. The only problem is it can be pretty unenjoyable if the skin is soggy or the insides are raw. So here you are - 10 tips on how to bake a potato for your best tater yet. Seriously.
1. Bake the Right Potato
With so many potato choices, which kind should you choose? As Alton Brown says: "If it looks like Mr. Potato Head(r), you've got the right one." This means the perfect baking potato is a Russet potato.
Russet potatoes are large and starchy with thick skins that crisp up nicely and insides that become deliciously fluffy and light. Yukon Golds are also ideal potatoes for the task based on their size, as well.
Pro Tip: If it comes from Idaho or Maine, you've got yourself a fine potato.
2. Watch out for Green Spuds or Sprouts
If the potato skins have a sprout or two, you can knock them off under running water before you start cleaning, but if it has too many, you'll end up cutting off too much skin.
Also, a greenish hue indicates a high amount of glycoalkaloids, which can be toxic in large quantities.
3. Decide How to Cook It
You can bake that potato any way you want, using the microwave, the oven, or even in the slow cooker. When using the oven, a higher baking temperature yields a shorter the baking time, but a too-hot oven will cause the skin to toughen up.
Around 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit is a good, moderate temperature for crispy-skinned, fluffy potatoes in about an hour. If you're pressed for time, microwave it for five minutes before baking it in a very hot oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, for 15-20 minutes to crisp up the skin.
The good ol' microwave zap shortens the cooking time for the potato because it warms from the inside out. Use a paring knife to poke holes in the skin before placing in the microwave for maximum softness.
4. Wash It
Potatoes grow in the ground, so they tend to get pretty dirty. They actually store better when they're not washed squeaky clean, so wash off the dirt right before cooking it.
Hold the potato under cold running water and scrub it with a brush, a clean sponge, or a towel. Pat the potato dry, but be careful because if you've blasted it with ice cold water, the skin will start to pull back from the potato. The crispy skin is the best part!
5. Stab It
To-poke or not-to-poke is a well-debated item in the food community. While I have never personally seen a potato explode, I know people who have.
For safety's sake, why not poke a few holes in it with a fork, it just in case? When you pierce the skin, it allows steam from inside the potato to escape, creating a fluffy interior texture.
6. Oil & Season the Skin
Using a pastry brush, spread olive oil, melted butter, lard, or bacon fat over the skin of the potato. Any oil will do. This helps the skin to crisp up, and prevents it from shrinking and becoming leathery.
Pro Tip: If you're using the quick-bake method of the microwave and the oven, use vegetable oil because it has a higher burn temperature, and can withstand the 400+ degree heat of the oven.
7. Don't Wrap It in Foil
Don't wrap it in foil. I cannot repeat this enough unless you really enjoy a soggy-skinned potato. I'm certainly not denying myself the pleasure of that crispy skin.
Place the potatoes directly on the oven rack, with a sheet pan on the lower rack below to catch any drippings. If you must use a baking sheet, arrange an oven-safe cooling rack on the baking sheet, allowing air to circulate around the potatoes.
In fact, you don't even need to foil wrap it if you throw it straight on the coals (they warned us this video is potato porn ... and they're absolutely right).
8. Make Sure It's Done
Slip a fork in the center. If there is no resistance, it's done! If there is a little resistance, keep baking it.
There's nothing worse in this world than an undercooked potato, and this is the most common mistake made when it comes to learning how to bake potatoes. Take caution when you remove potatoes from the oven, they'll be piping hot. Sillier mistakes have been made.
9. Prep it for Toppings
Once the potato is cooked through and cool enough to handle, gently use your fingers to massage the potato before slicing it. This breaks up the meat on the inside, creating the world's fluffiest potato.
Or, if you want to go crazy, scoop out the flesh and mash it with the toppings, guaranteeing you'll have a bit of every topping in each bite.
10. Have Fun with Your Toppings
Get creative! We suggest:
- Broccoli, Greek yogurt, salsa, and chives
- Pulled pork or chicken, BBQ sauce, sour cream, and cheddar
- Kimchi, butter, bacon, and a fried egg
- Sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, kale, and Gruyere cheese
- Frank's Red Hot buffalo sauce, roasted cauliflower, blue cheese, and celery
This article was originally published May 11, 2017