All the ways you tank your ‘taters
Heated potatoes sit on the pile of solace sustenances. An ideal baked potato is a beauty with a fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth interior and a crispy, sticky skin.
But the dream of the perfect oven-baked potato remains out of reach for many individuals. What should seem easy to buy a potato in a warm oven can, and often does, yield blended outcomes: gummy centers, mildly charred skins, or slippery, soggy skins.
No one will say they’re not edible, but could they be better? Yes. And if the steps to make them better are remarkably easy, there’s no reason to suffer sad, shriveled baked potatoes anymore.
Read on to see if you’re committing the 7 deadly sins against baked potatoes, and learn simple tips you can follow to make your next batch of oven-baked potatoes perfect.
1. You don’t dry the potato well.
You should certainly rinse the potatoes—we prefer russets—to remove any dirt and debris. You can even use a vegetable brush to offer them a fast scrub. But you need to dry the spuds well after the bath. Excess moisture on the skin can seep into the potato during baking and cause soggy skins.
Do be sure to pick a few holes into the skin, too. While the potato is unlikely to explode in the oven, no one is here to take risks with dinner. Err on the side of caution.
2. You wrap the potato in foil.
If you do this, don’t be ashamed — many cooks think this is the key to the ideal baked potato. But it turns out you’re ruining the skin if you do this.The ideal baked potato skin relies on a certain amount of dehydration and rehydration—we’ll get to that. If you bake in foil, all the moisture from the potato just circles back into the potato skin, which can leave you with a sad state of the skin.
No, once the potatoes have been washed and dried, let them be. No wrapping.
3. You don’t use a wire rack under the potatoes.
Potatoes need to cook all the way through, and the best way for that to happen is to make sure the hot air can get to the potato from all sides. You will get a difficult place and potentially uneven cooking if a potato bakes with one side touching a sheet pan.
Inside a rimmed baking sheet, place a thin wire rack. Line up your spuds, side by side, and place the pan into the oven. Before closing the door of the oven, make sure that there is a little room between each potato.
4. The oven is too hot.
Low and slow—that’s the mantra of the Perfect Baked Potato. If you’ve got the time to spare, cook the potatoes at 300°F for 90 minutes. If you need to speed that up, bump it to 450°F for 45 minutes. (Note: Your baking time will vary depending on the size of your potato and how hot your oven runs.)
But don’t go hotter than that. There’s no victory in cooking potatoes at a temp greater than 450°F. They might be done a bit faster, but the high heat temp will leave you with overly browned skins that might even char in spots. And since the whole point of a perfectly baked potato is to have skins as delicious as the fluffy interior, there’s no charging allowed.
5. You don’t take the potatoes’ temperature.
You know when meat is perfectly cooked by measuring the internal temperature; the same is true for baked potatoes. Use a probe thermometer to measure the temp of your potatoes. You’re aiming for a temp in the sweet spot between 205°F and 212°F. The texture may still be too thick below that, and above that, it may turn into a gummy mess.
6. You baste first, not last.
Skip the potatoes in oil and salt until the cooking period is finished. That’s when they will provide the spuds with the most texture and flavor advantage. If you oil them up early, the skins may not turn crispy. The salt, too, can run off the potatoes in the heat.
Instead, do a quick oil baste after the potatoes reach 205°F: Remove the pan from the oven. Brush with olive oil (or bacon grease if you have it) and heavy kosher salt sprinkle.
Return the pan to the oven for 10 minutes—the temperatures of the potatoes won’t climb more than 2 or 3 degrees in that time. The oil will crisp the skins that have been dehydrated during the lengthy bake, adding delightful flavor to the salt.
7. You let the potatoes cool before cutting.
Unlike meat, potatoes don’t get better by resting. They need to be sliced open immediately. If you don’t, water from the still-steaming core will be retained and thick and gummy turned.
Quickly jab a serrated knife through each potato as soon as the pan has cleared the oven. Give them a smooth squeeze to generate a vent (with a hot-temp glove or towel).
You can then collect all your fixings and call the family to the table. The potatoes will have cooled just enough by the time everyone gathers around to enjoy dinner—and marvel at your perfectly baked potatoes.