How to Bake a Potato
June 3, 2024 5:51 AM   Subscribe

After yesterday's rosin-fest, I thought it would be useful and uncontroversial to post definitive information about how* to bake a potato.

* This is not how I bake potatoes. I set the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, scrub the potato clean, either wrap it in foil or don't wrap it in foil, and put it in to bake for 60-75 minutes, depending on size.
posted by cupcakeninja (49 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I guess I’ll try putting potatoes directly on the rack. Otherwise I follow this recipe except I only brush with oil during the last 15-20 minutes because Someone On The Internet said oiling them at the onset doesn’t let the steam escape.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:01 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

America's Test Kitchen has a recent, simple recipe that I have made twice and they were the best I've ever had anywhere. Not going to try to link because that site/company/TV show is a PITA with permissions. But you can find it.
posted by SoberHighland at 6:10 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it's the same method as the one SoberHighland is talking about, but I use one from ATK that includes dunking the potatoes in very salty water to season the skin. You don't oil them, just put them directly on the rack at 400 for an hour. I also usually make a partial slice in one side rather than poking holes, to help the steam escape and fluff up the inside.
posted by briank at 6:24 AM on June 3 [9 favorites]

That's the one! The salt water evaporates, leaving an even crust of salt. The last 10 minutes you brush them lightly with veg oil and pop them back in. Bare rack, no foil. They were amazing.

Also: using a food thermometer to check the interior temp (!!!) ensures no hard interior without forking the things over and over. You need a thermometer that is needle-like, but those are easy to come by.

I found it. It's a video. You need to sign up with their site to get the text version of this very simple recipe. I swear it is worth watching this and taking brief notes, because the result both time I tried this was stellar. (disclaimer: they call it "brining" the potato which absolutely made me roll my eyes, but it's really about getting even salt over the skin. I just make a small amount of very salty water and roll them around in it and let 'em dry)
posted by SoberHighland at 7:07 AM on June 3 [9 favorites]

Chef Marco Pierre White endorses baking potatoes rather than boiling them (butter and barely-scalded milk, no cream) as the way to make great mashed potatoes.
posted by mhoye at 7:34 AM on June 3

I don't brine them, but I do scrub them off with water, then while they're still wet, I rub salt all over. Poke a few holes and place directly on the rack.
posted by hydra77 at 7:39 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

450, rub with oil and salt, do not pierce, bake until they yield when squeezed

I had someone once tell me that piercing them dries them out too much (and maybe it does at that temp) and that they won't explode unless you're baking them hotter than 450. In my limited experience, this holds, but I'd absolutely open to being corrected with dramatic exploding potato anecdotes.

My lazy-or-need-to-fit-other-things-in-the-oven-that-can't-stand-it-that-hot is 400, no oil, directly on the oven shelf. But I like the skin better when it's oiled and salted.
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:46 AM on June 3

How does anyone bake anything w/ olive oil at 450 and not have their smoke alarms go off? I have a really good hood, and I put it on full blast, and that still happens. As a result, 400 is the max temp for anything with olive oil at chez grumpybear.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:50 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

I'm reminded of this previous FPP with Bon Appetit's 63 ways to cook a potato, and also this one, which I didn't remember, but which came up in the search for that first link.
posted by msbrauer at 7:53 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

I pierce with a fork, rub in duck fat and sprinkle salt on and cook for 60+ min at 425.
posted by snofoam at 7:55 AM on June 3

To sum up the Cooks Illustrated/ATK method:

Clean your potatoes and poke them a few times with a fork, toss them in water as briny as you can make it*, place on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet (to catch drips) and bake at 450º F until the center of the largest potato reaches 205º F using an instant read probe thermometer (45–60 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes). Brush lightly with oil and bake another 10 minutes.

* Their recipe produces more than I need for two potatoes, so I do 1 Tbsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt and 1½ Tbsp water. I also sprinkle a little more salt on the potatoes after brining them, but you do you.
posted by fedward at 7:56 AM on June 3 [11 favorites]

63 ways to cook a potato

Microwave that spud, Bud
Oven bake at 425, Clive
Make a vichysoisse, Ross
It ain't a tomato;

Grate and make a latke, Rocky
Fine dice and pan fry, Guy
Slice thin and make ratatouille, Louie
Just cook that potato.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 8:42 AM on June 3 [30 favorites]

America's Test Kitchen made a short (6:38) video on this topic just a few months ago. The video shows and talks about the ATK method described in comments above (salt brine, back on rack, use thermometer to check temperature, etc.). It's part of Dan Souza's What's Eating Dan? series.
posted by ElKevbo at 9:02 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of the long bake at a lower temperature, and still had one of the bastard tubers explode on me once. Not only had I lost my dinner, I had to spend the whole afternoon cleaning the oven.

Salt and duck fat sounds good though.
posted by YoungStencil at 9:05 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

I usually just nuke my potatoes (cut into it as soon as it comes out to release the steam for greater fluffiness), but if I want my partner who hates flabby potato skin to eat them I use this method from The Kitchn that does not require any oil or salt or anything but time. It does require we remember we’re going to want potatoes in two hours, but if we can pass that hurdle successfully the fluffy insides and crispy skin meet my partner’s expectation. The toaster oven is best to avoid heating up the entire kitchen for two potatoes.
posted by telophase at 9:11 AM on June 3 [4 favorites]

I exploded a potato at 400 degrees last week - and I had poked holes in it with a fork! This is the only time I've ever exploded one.

Honestly, I do not find that oil makes the skin crisper or that anything makes much of a difference except timing - while it's difficult to burn a baked potato, you can definitely overcook them a bit and then they are less good, although as a potato fan, I am not really that concerned.
posted by Frowner at 9:23 AM on June 3

[redundant comment, can mods please delete? thanks]
posted by MiraK at 9:25 AM on June 3

One time I baked a potato with an M80. I didn't pierce the skin with a fork, though, and sure enough, bits of wet potato went everywhere.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:54 AM on June 3 [4 favorites]

(Complete aside but fun fact: I cannot read "m80" in any context except as "matey" in my head. The freestyle skateboarding trick is a kickflip matey, Western Infidels cooked a potato with a matey once, if you're driving from Glasgow to Stirling, you take the matey. It amuses me, anyway.)
posted by Dysk at 10:29 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]

I thought it would be useful and uncontroversial to post definitive information about how* to bake a potato.

Do you not even know us
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:34 AM on June 3 [14 favorites]

How does anyone bake anything w/ olive oil at 450 and not have their smoke alarms go off?

This is a question that's plagued me ever since I started cooking from recipes.

My conclusion is that tons of recipes use the phrase "extra virgin olive oil" by default when they really mean just "oil". Why this might be the case is equally a mystery to me. But, in general, I've learned to be much more selective about when I use olive oil -- if the recipe needs the flavor profile of olive oil, I'll use it, but otherwise I use an oil with a higher smoke point such as grapeseed
posted by treepour at 10:41 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]

Honestly the air frier has changed potatoes for me. I scrub them, rub them with olive oil, salt them, and then put them in the air frier at 400 for an hour.

Perfect crispy skin and fluffy insides every single time.
posted by routergirl at 10:43 AM on June 3 [4 favorites]

My dad, age 95, when he decides someone is just too fundamentally stupid to function, will shake his head slowly and say "That boy could fuck up a baked potato".
posted by outgrown_hobnail at 10:47 AM on June 3 [13 favorites]

I swear by a Morphy Richards 511648 Microwave Jacket Potato Baker: it's basically a silicone and non-stick-coated metal miniature Dutch Oven designed to go in the microwave. Takes about 20 minutes at 850 watts to bake half a kilo of baking spuds, in two sessions: ten minutes of the spud sitting in the dish bathing in microwave radiation, then take it out and put a lid on top and give it another ten minutes. The two halves have a metal interior which doesn't generate eddy currents and short out your microwave, but gets hot enough to crisp up the potatoes. Works best if they're brushed lightly with olive oil first.

Main thing is, it combines the speed of a microwave oven with the non-soggy finish of an oven-baked spud.
posted by cstross at 10:48 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]

I swear by the crockpot baked potato. Yes, it takes longer than an hour, but IMO tastes way better inside. The skin might be a bit worse, if you like really dried potato skin, but I don't so no loss there. Put in a little bit of water, and some potatoes, and a few hours later, soft baked potatoes.

Also, genetic engineering has made 'baker potatoes' too large. There are some that are bigger than my foot, so I have to buy the more expensive smaller ones (of course, potatoes are still pretty cheap, so 'more expensive' is like an extra $1 per bag) to have a baked potato as a side. That's my potato rant.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:19 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]

I use the same recipe that telophase linked to. There might be better ways to make baked potatoes but this one is pretty good and low effort so its a winner for me. Even the time it takes to bake isn't so bad because I don't think I've ever had a situation where I've felt I want to have a baked potato right now or decide to make some for dinner at the last minute. If I do want something like a baked potato a bit quicker then I'll just make some wedges.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:26 AM on June 3

Dysk: What does a pirate say when he turns 80?

"Aye, matey!"
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 11:31 AM on June 3 [6 favorites]

Not being the connoisseur some of y'all are, I am thrilled that I can throw a clean potato in my microwave, press a button labeled "potato," and have delicious food in like six minutes. I don't need to use the energy of an oven, overheat my house, or plan my lunch in advance.
posted by metasarah at 11:56 AM on June 3 [5 favorites]

Counter-top appliance-baked potatoes, 25 minute variety:

Six to eight spuds, each one with a shallow slit cut all the way around its largest equator for reliably limiting steam pressure (truly huge spuds can be cut entirely in half; count the halves as one spud each), ten minutes on max in the microwave to cook the insides soft, then transfer to air fryer, blast at 180°C (350°F) for fifteen minutes to crisp and brown the skins and finish the insides, done.

As well as crisping up the skin, the air fryer step cauterizes the anti-steam cuts in it so in practice very little interior moisture gets lost, but the cuts create a weak zone that will crack quietly open again well before internal steam pressure can build to anywhere near explosion level.

I don't trust the poking-holes method because the holes also cauterize closed again and the weak zones they make are small enough sometimes not to tear open again before the whole skin ruptures. I've had multiply-poked potatoes explode all over the walls of my oven but no slit one ever has.

The texture of the baked-dry surface on the cut surface of any halved spuds ends up fairly similar to baked skin.

Will definitely try introducing a brining step next time. That sounds yum.
posted by flabdablet at 12:17 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]

A surprisingly delicious variant starts with brushed potatoes rather than washed ones. Cook as above with the dirt left on, then knock off any remaining gritty bits with a dry-bristled brush at the end.
posted by flabdablet at 12:21 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]

I will admit to being biased against baked potatoes, and Russets in general, because growing up pretty much the only kind of potato my mom would make was a baked Russet. I would ask and plead for mashed potatoes, but she would just tell me to make "smashed potatoes" using my fork. Scooping the innards out of the leathery husk always seemed like a sad way to eat a spud. Plus the skin took up valuable plate real estate! This led me to eat TV dinners with the instant mashed potatoes, just to get that texture. Anyway, as a grown-ass adult I will now make mashed potatoes at any time, given the opportunity. I will also roast them, pan fry them or par boil them and then cook them in a saucepan with butter, salt and pepper. I usually use gold or red potatoes, preferably the baby kind. For Thanksgiving I will make mashers with Russets and suffer the indignity of peeling them. But I never, ever bake them. Not ever.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:58 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]

No piercing the skin? What about how you have to cut out all the eyes so you won't get poisoned and die?

(I may be misremembering that bit of potato lore.)
posted by clawsoon at 1:05 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]

Pour olive oil on potato. Rub oil into potato with my BARE HANDS. (Wash hands.) Coat liberally with salt-black pepper-garlic mix I found at the store. Bake for like an hour. Eat. Perfect. Salty, peppery crust on the outside, delicious potato on the inside. Usually adorned with butter, sour cream, and shredded Cheddar. Add bacon if you want.

For extra fun, use leftover chili or taco meat or sloppy joe fillings on the tater instead or (or in addition to) the other toppings.

Damn, now I want a potato.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:10 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]

The method flabdablet describes--microwave for 10 min., then into air fryer for 15 min.--has revolutionized my baked-potato-eating life. An hour+change just feels intolerably long for a potato, and usually I'll just opt for something else, whereas ~25 min. feels entirely OK. (Then mash up the tender fluffy insides with some cottage cheese and salt/pepper, yum.)
posted by Kat Allison at 1:13 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]

I am going to agree with The_Vegetables' earlier post for crockpot baked potatoes. I can put them on low when I leave in the morning, and they are ready when I get home from teaching. make sure there's some liquid in the bottom of the crockpot and the skin is still decent for eating too.
posted by jkosmicki at 1:54 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]

i'd like all that + a bag of chips
posted by HearHere at 1:59 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]

posted by clavdivs at 2:36 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]

I don’t like eating potatoes. I know, this is anathema to a lot of people - I much prefer rice, or pasta, or lentils. But! I appreciate that there are people I live with who like potatoes, and when they need comfort food I’ll do baked potatoes with rosemary (I walk up the hill and pick rosemary fresh, because the store-brought stuff here is anaemic and our plant is very small). Personally I cook them for a bit in salty water, then take them out and cover them in oil before baking, but I’m looking forward to changing my technique thanks to this post.

I’m not looking forward to eating the blasted food pebbles though. There is almost nothing that doesn’t taste fantastic if given this much attention, fat, and flavour. Potatoes are just favoured by most people.
posted by The River Ivel at 3:49 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine introduced me to baked potatoes loaded with various combinations of meat and vegetable ingredients (things like canned tuna, green peas, etc.). My favorite has evolved to be butter, frozen/reheated peas, shredded cheddar, salt, pepper, and maybe thyme - although fresh rosemary sounds good, I may have to try that next time.

I've never tried brining a potato first, but after poking some holes in it with a fork I do rub some olive oil on the outside and add a hearty sprinkling of salt before baking it on the rack. After it's cooked I'll dress it as described above, then once the insides have been consumed I'll butter the inside of the skin, add a little more salt and pepper, then roll the skin it up like a pastry and eat it bite by bite.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:03 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]

How does anyone bake anything w/ olive oil at 450 and not have their smoke alarms go off?

For years I had an oven with a leaky door. Now that it's been replaced, I wonder if quite a lot of home cooks aren't really getting the temperatures they're requesting. That seems to have been my situation. Sometimes I think I see this reflected in recipes, too.
posted by Western Infidels at 4:38 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]

I think at least part of it is the difference between conductive, convective, and radiative heating. Olive oil is our standard oil, and we toss a LOT of vegetables in olive oil before roasting them in high heat. If I get sloppy and oil drips on the pizza stone at the bottom of the oven, it will smoke. But the amount of time any given sheet of vegetables is in the oven isn't generally long enough for the oil to hit its smoke point, and it seems that (at least some of) the concerns about high heat cooking with olive oil were overblown. Personally I have not found it to be a problem in a US-sized oven with relatively consistent temperature control (checked with two different types of thermometer). If I put a skillet on the stove over high heat, then I may be concerned about smoke.
posted by fedward at 5:42 PM on June 3 [4 favorites]

No piercing the skin? What about how you have to cut out all the eyes so you won't get poisoned and die?

Use potatoes that don't have eyes?
posted by Dysk at 9:20 PM on June 3

Use potatoes that don't have eyes?

blind cave potatoes
posted by moonmilk at 2:07 AM on June 4 [5 favorites]

How does anyone bake anything w/ olive oil at 450 and not have their smoke alarms go off?

Olive oil in contact with the skin of a potato, in an oven where the air is at 450°F which is above olive oil's smoke point, is not going to reach anything like that temperature.

Right at the surface of the skin where the olive oil is at, the inside of the potato - which is itself never going to get much above the boiling point of water unless the potato is actually fully dried out and burning - is going to affect the oil's temperature much more than the surrounding air is. Most of the gas right near to the potato skin is going to be water vapour exiting the potato, vapour that's not yet had time to get much over 212°F. And as that vapour boils out of the skin, the oil from the surface is going to wick into the pores it left behind and start to build that scrumptious crispy texture, further cooling the oil.

Oil smoke is going to come from oil in contact with dry surfaces like pans or dishes or rack wires that do get to the same temperature as the surrounding air, not so much off food items that can't.
posted by flabdablet at 3:20 AM on June 4 [5 favorites]

During my last year of undergrad, decades ago, I discovered the right combination of oven, oven temp, potato size, and cooking time so that I could bake small-ish potatoes without poking holes in them first. Which meant that when they were done, I could carefully take them out of the oven and drop them from about an inch into a plate, causing the skin to split and the potato to explode in a small way with an amazingly satisfying pffft sound.

I haven’t done it since, mostly because I don’t want to misjudge it and get a larger explosion, but it is a memory I treasure.
posted by telophase at 7:09 AM on June 4 [5 favorites]

You're either with us or you're with the pommes de terrorist.
posted by flabdablet at 11:01 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]

this from David Chang has been delightful

Start with 1 pound of any kind of small potatoes. Wash them with the skin on, and toss them in salt while they are still wet. Place the salted potatoes in a container with a lid, cover, and microwave them for 5 to 15 minutes total depending on size and quantity, giving them a shake partway through, until they're cooked through. Serve with mayo.
posted by stevil at 11:07 AM on June 4

I've always found fully microwaved potatoes too dry, but if you either mostly oven cook them or mostly grill or whatever, then a minute or two in the microwave at the end to speed along a not quite ready potato is ok.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:20 PM on June 4

Mod note: We've popped this delicious post into the sidebar and Best of Blog!
posted by Brandon Blatcher (staff) at 6:21 AM on June 6

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