Baked potatoes are one of the ultimate comfort foods. Crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside, there's no better side to a great steak. In addition, they're a great vehicle for other foods such as chili and those delicious toppings (such as bacon!) you can pile on top of them. They are also very nutritious, packing just 300 calories for the largest of baked potatoes and being chock-full of fiber.
But achieving a perfect baked potato isn't as easy as it sounds. Although it seems like all you have to do is place a potato in the oven and wait for it to bake to perfection, there's a little more to it than that. When you want a potato that's been baked to perfection, follow these tips and you'll get one every single time.
1. Prepare the potato
All potatoes, no matter what kind you're cooking, start with a good scrub. Potatoes grow in the ground, so when they're pulled they still have a lot of dirt on them – dirt that no one wants to eat.
Some baking potatoes come prewashed, but don't trust this job to a factory or store. Scrub them very well, using a vegetable brush if you have one.
But the job doesn't end there. To get that super-crispy skin, rub the potatoes all over with oil.
Olive oil or vegetable oil can be used, but either type needs to be rubbed generously all over. Once the potato has been oiled, season it generously with salt.
Potatoes are bland by nature, and even if you plan to pile on toppings such as sour cream and butter, you should still try to inject some flavor before they're baked.
2. Prick the potato
Just about anyone who has baked potatoes knows they need to have holes pricked all over before baking.
This allows steam to escape while they're cooking and keeps them from bursting open – something that can create a huge mess and ruin dinner. Plus, it can shorten the cooking time because the heat can penetrate the potato more easily.
Many people prick the foil that the potato is wrapped in, but this is a big mistake. When doing this, some of the foil will inevitably get stuck in the potato's skin, which can be a nasty surprise for whoever happens to bite into it.
3. Get rid of the foil
Speaking of foil, get rid of it. Many people think potatoes have to be wrapped in aluminum foil when they're baked, probably because this is what restaurants do and even how many stores sell ready-to-cook baked potatoes. Restaurants wrap their potatoes in foil because potatoes have close to an hour cooking time and they can't be cooked to order. Foil conducts heat, and so it helps keep a potato hotter for longer, meaning they don't have to. And stores probably picked up the habit from restaurants.
But there's a big problem with foil: It keeps the heat from penetrating the potato's skin, meaning that it won't get crispy and crunchy, which is one of the main elements of a perfectly baked potato. There's really no reason to use foil when baking potatoes at home, so stop using it.
4. Squeeze them
There are two times baked potatoes should be squeezed. The first is when they're nearing the end of their cooking time. If they give easily, it means they're done and ready to be eaten. After they've been taken out of the oven, they should be squeezed again as soon as they're cool enough to handle. Slit them open down the middle first and hold the two ends and squeeze.
This will fluff the potato by squeezing it up and out of its skin and provide a perfect spot to put all those toppings.
But squeezing and fluffing a baked potato after it's cooked does more than provide for a nice presentation and a place to put toppings. Doing this actually releases steam from the inside of the potato – steam that will turn to moisture once it cools even just a little. If the steam isn't released, the inside of the potato will end up being soggy, not fluffy.
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