A baked potato is a relatively simple food. However, if you think that baking a potato is as easy as throwing that spud in the oven and waiting an hour, you might be surprised. Baking the perfect potato takes skill—or it at least requires that you follow a few key guidelines.
For everything you ever needed to know about cooking a baked potato in the oven (or elsewhere!), keep reading.
What Potato Should You Buy for Baking?
The perfect baked potato all starts with choosing the right potato overall. You won’t get that fluffy inner potato goodness, ideal for topping with cheese, bacon, sour cream, chives and the like, and that crispy outer skin, from just any type of potato.
When you’re at the grocery store, look for russet potatoes. Russet potatoes are so commonly used for baking that they’re sometimes called, simply, “baking potatoes.”
The reason russet potatoes are best for baking? Their high starch content. That starchy goodness soaks up excess liquid and creates the fluffy texture that you want in a baked potato.
That starch also makes russet potatoes great for frying (french fries, anyone?) or making mashed potatoes. However, you won’t want to use a russet potato for something like a potato salad.
But what about Idaho potatoes, you might ask. Idaho potatoes are simply branded potatoes that are, in all actuality, just russets. The Idaho Potato Commission has, over the years, successfully marketed the state’s potatoes as some of the best for baking, but Idaho potatoes aren’t some special breed of potato. They’re typically just russets.
Potatoes you should steer clear of when baking, though, include red potatoes, fingerling potatoes, gold potatoes and purple potatoes. These all have a bit less starch than your standard russet, which means they won’t fluff up or mash down the way you might want. However, this lack of starch and waxier texture makes these potatoes ideal for recipes where your potato needs to hold up and not fall apart (think, again, potato salads, roasted potatoes or something like a gratin or casserole).
Otherwise, when picking out your russet potatoes, look for potatoes that are firm to the touch, with no wrinkled skin or visible sprout growth.
How to Cook Your Baked Potato in the Oven in 4 Steps
Ready to bake your potato? Here are the four steps necessary, to take you from a simple spud to a delicious dinner.
1. Clean your potatoes
First things first, you’ll want to wash the dirt and any residue off all the potatoes you plan to bake. Just give the potatoes a simple rinse in the sink. If there’s still a little dirt stuck, you can use a vegetable scrub brush to remove it.
Once the spuds are clean, thoroughly dry them. This is also the time when you’d want to cut away any sprout growth or dark spots.
2. Prick the potatoes
To allow steam to escape as your potatoes bake, prick some holes in the potatoes before placing them in the oven. You can do this with a fork or paring knife. Just be sure to poke several sets of holes in each potato.
3. Wrap your potatoes (or don’t!)
Before you place your potatoes in the oven, you can either wrap them or not. If you wrap the potatoes in aluminum foil, you’ll achieve slightly softer skin and a moist inner texture. If you leave the potatoes unwrapped, you’ll get extra-crispy skin.
Regardless of whether you wrap or not, though, you’ll want to add some oil to your potatoes. If wrapping the potatoes in foil, you can use butter or oil for this. If using butter, just plop a few pats of butter onto the potato before wrapping it. Otherwise, rub the potatoes in olive oil. Only use enough to coat the potato, as, if you’re leaving your potatoes unwrapped, you don’t want any oil dripping into the bottom of your oven.
Along with your oil or butter, you can also add a sprinkling of kosher salt or sea salt to the exterior of the potato at this time. (Yes, it really makes a difference!)
4. Bake the potato
How long you need to bake the potato will depend on the size of the potato. Most require at least an hour to bake, but some will take longer, up to 90 minutes. Because of this long cooking time, you might want to start baking your potatoes as soon as you get home from work or earlier in the afternoon, so they have time to bake while you finish preparing the rest of your meal.
Bake your potatoes in a preheated oven, at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. You can place the potatoes directly on your oven rack.
To test the potatoes for doneness, prick them with a fork. If the fork slides easily through the skin, with no resistance, the potatoes are finished. If you’re still unsure, you can check the potatoes’ temperature; potatoes are considered done once they reach an internal temperature of 210 degrees Fahrenheit.
Start testing the potato for doneness at about the 45-minute mark, to avoid overcooking.
No Oven? Try This Instead
If you don’t have an oven, or if the weather is particularly warm and you can’t stand the thought of heating up your oven (and kitchen as a result), there are other ways to bake a potato.
Microwave baked potato
You can bake a potato in the microwave in a matter of minutes. Just be sure you don’t use aluminum foil if you plan on popping a potato into the microwave. Instead, based on your potato’s size, you’ll want to simply place it in your microwave, wrapped in a damp paper towel, for six to 12 minutes.
Related: The 11 Best Microwaves [And Why You Should Probably Upgrade]
Grilled baked potato
You can also grill a baked potato. You will definitely want to wrap the potatoes in aluminum foil for this method. Here’s one easy recipe that shows you how to grill a “baked” potato. You can use a very similar method for cooking a baked potato over an open fire if you’re camping.
Slow cooker baked potatoes
If you want to start your baked potatoes well in advance of dinner time — like before you head out the door to work in the morning — you can throw them in the slow cooker and let this appliance do the work for you. Here’s how. If you have an Instant Pot, you can use its slow cooker setting for the same purpose.
Instant Pot baked potatoes
You can also use your Instant Pot’s pressure cooking setting to make baked potatoes. You’ll want to insert the Instant Pot trivet accessory, and add some water to the bottom of the pot. Using this method, you’ll find the potatoes “bake” in under an hour.
Air fryer baked potatoes
Yes, you can use this magical countertop cooker to “bake” potatoes. An air fryer will cook a baked potato in about half the time it would take in your oven. You’ll have to set your air fryer at 400 degrees and it’ll take about 30 to 45 minutes, with rotating the potatoes at the halfway point.
Best Ways to Top Your Baked Potato
So once your potatoes are finished cooking to perfection, how can you make them even better? While some prefer to simply cut open their baked potatoes and enjoy the fluffy interior goodness with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and maybe a bit of butter, there are more ways to top your baked potato for extra-tasty goodness.
Consider favorite toppings such as…
- Sour cream
- Cheddar cheese
- Bacon bits
- Barbecue sauce
- Taco seasoning
- Pulled pork
- Pulled chicken
- Leftover soup or stews
- Baked beans
- Tuna salad
- Chili con carne
- Pizza sauce and mozzarella
- Sautéed mushrooms
- Green onions
- Bleu cheese
- Gouda cheese
- Swiss cheese
- Sautéed peppers and onions
- Diced ham
What to Do with Leftover Baked Potatoes
Baked too many potatoes? Don’t toss them. Instead, tuck those potatoes in the fridge for one of these great uses later in the week.
Delicious, cheesy and easy to make. Twice-baked potatoes use your leftovers to create something new and just as yummy (or maybe even more so). This recipe from Betty Crocker shows you how to combine the baked potato filling with butter, cheese and more, to then re-bake the potatoes for a crispier exterior and a cheesy-good interior.
Want an even easier, but still delicious way to use up your leftover baked potatoes? Make potato skins!
Have a potato soup recipe you love? Rather than cook your potatoes in broth or water before making your soup, start your soup out with the baked potato filling, for an easier, faster dinner.
Baked Potato Alternatives
Love baked potatoes, but looking for an alternative to shake up your weeknight dinners? Consider baking sweet potatoes or other root vegetables, for a number of health benefits and added variety to your meals.
Baked Potato FAQs
Do you still have questions about creating that perfect baked potato? Here’s what else you might need to know, that we might not have covered above.
Are baked potatoes healthy?
While potatoes may get a bad rap because they’re filled with carbohydrates, potatoes are actually quite healthy when eaten in moderation. You’ll definitely get more health benefits from a baked potato than you might a bucket of fries at the local fast food place.
However, for the most nutrition from a baked potato, opt to eat the skin as well. (And, yes, if you washed and buttered or oiled the skins before baking, they’ll be quite tasty!) If you eat the entire baked potato, skin included, you’ll benefit from extra fiber, vitamin C, iron, manganese and potassium.
How should I store my potatoes before baking?
If you’ve picked out your bag of russets at the grocery store, but you don’t have plans to bake your potatoes for a few more days, you’ll want to take care to store your potatoes properly. There’s nothing worse than finding a foul-smelling, rotten or sprouted bag of potatoes somewhere in your kitchen.
One of the most important things to remember about storing potatoes is that these veggies need ventilation and airflow. Consider storing your potatoes in a produce bowl, in a pantry or frequently-opened cabinet or drawer — because while potatoes need airflow, they also need darkness, dryness and a cool temperature. (Don’t throw those potatoes in the fridge, though; they won’t hold up in the produce drawer.)
Can I bake sprouted potatoes?
Have you stored your potatoes properly and you’ve still come back to find they’ve sprouted? You can cut away the sprouts and still safely eat the potatoes.
How can I make my baked potatoes fluffier?
If you’re finding that your baked potatoes are a little too dense, but you’re buying the right types of potatoes and cooking them correctly, there are a few other tricks you can try. First, don’t cut into your potato right away, as soon as it comes from the oven. Instead, let it cool for about 10 to 15 minutes first.
Then, roll the potatoes on your countertop, beneath a clean hand towel (to avoid burning your fingers!).
Lastly, don’t cut your potato in a simple straight line for stuffing. Instead, cut the potato with an ‘x’ and then push on the two ends. This helps push the potato interior toward the middle, fluffing the insides up, rather than letting the insides fall back and condense against the two opposite sides.
How long are leftover baked potatoes good for?
Leftover baked potatoes will stay safe to eat in your fridge for three to four days.
Baked Potatoes Don’t Need to Be Boring
If you think your standard baked potatoes are a little lackluster, it could be chalked up to a few things. Maybe you’re not baking your potatoes the best way. Maybe you just aren’t getting creative with your toppings. Whatever the reason, baked potatoes hardly need to be boring. Follow our above tips for your best-baked potatoes yet.
You Might Also Be Interested In: 26 Tasty Air Fryer Recipes To Try This Fall
4 Steps To Bake a Potato
- Clean your potatoes
- Prick the potatoes
- Wrap your potatoes (or don’t!)
- Bake the potatoes