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In its essence, a baked potato is a potato, baked.
As with all elemental things, though, the simplicity of a baked potato is deceptive. We’ve all had excellent baked potatoes and terrible baked potatoes. Happily, an excellent one is not any harder to make than a terrible one.
The right potato, the right temperature, and the right timing are key. There’s also some spirited jabbing with a fork involved. Get set to bake the best potatoes of your life!
How to Bake a Potato
Use russet potatoes for baking. They’re the big, tapered ones with dull brown skins. These are high-starch potatoes, and they work best for dry heat. That’s exactly the kind of heat your oven makes. It’s a match made in heaven!
High-moisture potatoes, like redskins or Yukon golds, are best for wet heat: steaming and boiling. They are lower in starch and remain dense after baking, which is not what you want in a baked potato.
Those giant russet potatoes marketed specifically for baking often weigh around an entire pound. This is a lot of potato. The ones that are the most realistic for serving as a side weigh 6 to 8 ounces.
If you want to split that baked potato open and load it up with substantial toppings (like broccoli or chili or pulled pork or salsa and guacamole and black beans…sigh), a 6 to 8 ounce potato might still be a good bet, because you’ll be adding to it to make a full meal.
In any case, the bigger the potato, the more time it takes to bake. Keep that in mind.
Do you want your potato to explode in the oven? No. More importantly, do you want it to taste great? Yes. Then jab it multiple times with a fork. Ten times per potato should do it. Potato-jabbing is cathartic. Enjoy yourself.
Much less dramatically, hole-poking gives you superior baked potatoes. According to the Idaho Potato Commission, potatoes are about 80 percent water. As your potatoes bake, some of that water converts to steam and exits through the tiny channels you poked in them. This moisture loss is a good thing. Outside of preventing explosions, it delivers lighter, fluffier baked potatoes.
Rubbing the potato with a little oil or grease before baking is, in my opinion, a good move. It makes the skin nice and crispy so you get a contrast between it and the steaming, starchy interior. The potatoes come out of the oven looking darker, shiny, and more appetizing than un-oiled ones.
Some sources say oiling the potato before baking seals in moisture, which is the opposite of what you want—you want the potato to vent off moisture. But we already poked it full of holes, remember?
TRY THIS! At my first-ever restaurant job, we dunked our potatoes in a vat of bacon grease, then coated them in tasty crumbs from the bottom of the crouton bin. They were heavenly. If you cook bacon, save that grease for your baked potatoes!
I am all in favor of salting potato skins: salt makes potato skins taste great.
Salt will stick to a greased potato better than a dry potato, but some will still fall off. That’s just the name of the game.
That salt on the skin won’t season the interior of the potato one lick, so remember to salt it up good once it’s on your plate and split open.
Wrapping a potato in foil before baking will trap steam inside, resulting in dense, gluey flesh. Potatoes already have a perfectly fine wrapper: their skins. And you can eat them! So skip the foil before baking. It’s an extra step that makes not-as-good potatoes.
How long does it take to bake a potato? It depends. The short answer is: It’s not fast!
Expect baked potatoes to take anywhere from 35 to 55 minutes, or over an hour if you are using giant honking mega-potatoes. The baking time depends on the size of the potato.
Not too hot, not too cool. We like 400°F best.
Gauging a baked potato’s doneness can be tricky. Because they come in so many sizes, you’re best relying on how it looks, smells, and feels, rather than a timer (but still set a timer so you remember to check on them). Here are some tips:
- Fully baked potatoes will have slightly wrinkled skins.
- They may make tiny hissing sounds, if you listen carefully.
- If you lightly squeeze a potato, it should yield to the pressure of your fingers, and possibly even crack open a little.
- You should be able to slide a fork or skewer deeply into the potato with minimal resistance.
If you are still feeling unsure, use an instant-read thermometer: their internal temperature should be between 208°F and 211°F. (In this magic temperature zone, starch granules in the potato have absorbed water, ruptured, and rendered the interior flesh fluffy and light.)
Get that hot potato on a plate and open it up. For a fluffy, craggy interior that’ll absorb toppings like butter, sour cream, or chili, don’t cut the potato open with a knife. Split it open with a fork. This gives you crumbly, flour-y flesh and more surface area.
Thousands of steakhouses across America bake potatoes well in advance of serving them. These potatoes are not as amazing as ones straight from the oven, but they are pretty good.
However, after being kept hot for more than an hour, baked potatoes will get very wrinkly skins, their interiors will collapse and become dense, and the flesh under the skin will turn brown. If you want great baked potatoes, don’t make them more than an hour in advance.
To keep fully baked potatoes hot, wrap them in foil (I know we were carping on foil earlier, but this is foil after the potato’s fully baked). It’s best to wear an oven mitt when you do this. Then pop the wrapped potato in one of the following options.
- An Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker on its “keep warm” setting.
- A slow cooker on the lowest setting.
- A small cooler that’s been warmed with hot water, then emptied out.
- A regular oven on the lowest setting (ideally “warm”).
I often bake a few more potatoes than I need. They become building blocks for future meals: hash, gnocchi, loaded potato skins, twice baked potatoes, improvised baked potato soup.
Let leftover potatoes cool, then wrap them in foil and refrigerate them for up to 4 days. Baked potatoes do not freeze well.
Use potatoes of any size for this recipe, but make sure they are russets, which bake up nice and fluffy and starchy. Potatoes weighing 6 to 8 ounces will take 35 to 45 minutes, while potatoes between 14 and 16 ounces can take an hour or longer.
1 or more russet potatoes (1 per person)
Vegetable oil, olive oil, or bacon grease, as needed
Preheat the oven:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 400°F.
Wash and dry the potatoes:
Wash the potatoes and dry them with a kitchen towel. If they have big eyes or tiny sprouts, dig those out (the tip of a potato peeler is the best tool for the job).
Poke steam holes:
Poke each potato all over 10-12 times with a dinner fork. Don’t be afraid to really get in there; drive the tines about an inch into the potato.
Grease and season the potatoes:
Rub the potatoes with the oil or bacon grease. You can eyeball this amount, but 1/4 teaspoon per potato should do it. They should be a little slick, but not dripping with grease.
Rub as much salt as you like on the skins. A lot of it will fall off, but it makes the potatoes sparkle!
Bake the potatoes:
Set the potatoes on a wire rack set over a baking sheet (or, if your oven racks are clean, directly on the rack). The rack helps air circulate for even baking. If you are baking a lot of potatoes, don’t crowd them on the baking sheet; they’ll steam if crowded.
Bake until you can easily slide a fork or skewer into the center of the potato, 30 to 60 minutes. The baking time will depend on the size of your potatoes. They’re done when the skins are slouchy and wrinkled. You may even hear a slight hissing sound, or see tiny bubbles coming from one of the poke holes. If you squeeze one, it should yield to the pressure of your fingers easily, and quite likely crack open a little. If the potato is still hard, keep baking it until it’s done.
To serve, prick the center of a potato with a fork and pry it open to expose its crumbly and fluffy flesh. Season and top as you like, and dig in!
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