There are a lot of ways to bake a potato, but this method results in the perfect mix of fluffy middle and crispy skin.
Behold the magical baked potato. At its best, it is a treasure of crispy, earthy skin that contains a tender and fluffy interior. At its worst, it is a sad, unevenly cooked combination of limp skin and lumpy parts. Potatoes are one of the ground's great gifts – cheap, delicious, nutritious (see below), widely local, versatile, and storage-friendly. They may be humble, but they can be glorious when treated well.
Which brings us to baking them. There are many ways to bake a potato – microwave, slow-cooker, oven, Instant Pot, grill, air fryer, toaster oven, and I am sorry to say, even the dishwasher.
Besides the air fryer and dishwasher, I have tried them all. And while I bet an air fryer does a bang-up job, in my opinion there is no topping America's Test Kitchen (ATK) recipe using a standard oven. It has the novel addition of quickly brining the potatoes first, cooking at a relatively high heat, and shellacking the spuds with a coat of oil 10 minutes before removing.
Is the ATK recipe the quickest? No. But the high temperature makes it quicker than baking at the more usual 350F. Is it the easiest? No. But it's not that hard at all, and delivers the paragon of potatoes: A crisp, snappy skin and a creamy, fluffy center. Here is the ATK recipe, amended with personal notes.
The perfect baked potato
- 4 (7- to 9-ounce) russet potatoes, unpeeled, each lightly pricked with a fork in 6 places
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1. Preheat oven to 450F degrees with rack in the middle. Dissolve 2 tablespoons salt in 1/2 cup water in a large bowl, then toss potatoes in the brine to moisten. Place potatoes on a wire rack atop a rimmed baking sheet and bake until center of largest potato registers 205F degrees, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Note: I had larger potatoes on hand – the largest being a meaty one at 11 ounces. It took 1 hour and 5 minutes to reach 205F degrees. In the photo above, you can see the wound of one poor victim that occurred upon my first temperature reading, before I found my slender instant read thermometer.
2. Remove potatoes from oven and brush tops and sides with oil. Return potatoes to oven and continue to bake for 10 minutes.
Note: I used olive oil because I love the flavor with potatoes and didn't worry about its smoke point.
3. Remove potatoes from oven and use a paring knife to make an "X" in each potato. Using clean dish towel, hold ends and squeeze slightly to push flesh up and out. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
NOTE: Taste before salting, since they have a salty skin already. And I'm old-school and go diner-style with a single slit and then pinch the sides in. To each their own.
Baked potato nutritionThe beloved starchy staple may have once gotten a bum rap from nutrition naysayers, but when not loaded with butter, cheese, and sour cream, a baked potato is more hero than villian.
A medium russet of around 7 ounces provides 35 percent of your daily value (DV) of Vitamin B-6, 25 percent DV of potassium, 20 percent DV of Vitamin C, and 9 percent DV of iron – not to mention almost 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber, all for just 170 calories.
My vegan-vegetarian-blended family likes baked potatoes with olive oil or butter, lots of Maldon sea salt, sometimes some Parmigiano, and usually whatever fresh herbs we have on hand. Sometimes we turn them into dinner by stuffing them with sauteed vegetables, curried chickpeas, etc. You can find more topping ideas from America's Test Kitchen here.
And also, should you be graced with extras: What to do with leftover baked potatoes.