Ultimate Baked Potatoes Guide 2017-Easy, Versatile and Healthy Taters for All
Everyone loves potatoes in some shape or form. They’re a satisfying, belly-filling, starchy vegetable that can be home grown or purchased at just about any grocery store out there. With their great versatility, potatoes can accompany any meal and take on any flavor you choose. So you may be wondering, what do I need to know about baked potatoes? They are pretty straightforward, aren’t they?
While potatoes are difficult to mess up in the kitchen, there are definitely some great tips and tricks to consider when cooking or baking tasty taters in your kitchen. This helpful guide to baked potatoes will see to it that you are armed with a pocket full of knowledge about spectacular spuds, which will please any crowd.
Why Choose Baked Potatoes?
With the vast array of methods out there to prepare potatoes, you may wonder why should I choose a baked potato over something, like French fried potatoes? Well, the health benefits of potatoes in general are great, but if you keep your potatoes in baked form, you will retain most of those health benefits. When kept in a healthy format, potatoes contain vitamin C which are antioxidant and B6 which helps with many different body functions as well as enhancing athletic endurance.
Baked potatoes are simple to cook in comparison to other options and take less preparation or additional ingredients. If you are stuck for a quick and easy side dish to match up next to your barbecue steak or pork chop, a baked potato rounds out the meal nicely. A baked potato will add a carbohydrate to your menu and also double as a root vegetable.
Because baked potatoes are cooked and eaten with their skins on in most cases, you will benefit from the fibre content of the potato. A medium sized potato contains around 3 grams of fibre, which is very important in digestive regularity and overall health.
- Inexpensive and readily available in almost all grocery stores
- No need to add other ingredients, simply cook and enjoy
- Perfectly pairs with all meats to round out your menu
- Quick and easy side dish when time is a factor, such as a weeknight dinner
- Baked potatoes can be cooked in a variety of ways, making them super versatile
- Vitamin C content helps with overall health and provide important antioxidants
- Potato skins are rich in potassium which can help lower blood pressure
- Vitamin B6 helps with overall brain health and also cardiovascular health
- Filling side dish for anyone on a budget wishing to add bulk to their menu
- Versatile ways of cooking a baked potato from oven to barbecue and even slow cooker
To Fry or Not to Fry?
Methods for cooking potatoes are vast and, for the most part, easy. Almost everyone is familiar with French Fries or even hash browns. These are all forms of potato. There are many reasons why baking a potato versus frying or mashing them is so much better but of course, there are some negatives as well.
- Vitamins found in the skin will be consumed since most baked potatoes are eaten “skin-on
- Very little kitchen preparation is needed for a baked potato such as with French fries, scallop potatoes, mashed or other forms of cooking
- With a little seasoning, baked potatoes can be very tasty
- Provide a starch and/or a vegetable for your menu
- Can be eaten for any meal of the day
- Easy to find a bag of potatoes at the grocery store and for a less cost than other forms of potato such as frozen French fries or hash browns
- Potatoes are great for bodybuilders since they provide calories and carbohydrates needed for building mass and are helpful for their bodies and muscles in recovery from a workout
- Unlike frying, no added fat is needed
- Can be a little boring or bland without any additives
- High in carbohydrates, which may not be suitable for all diet requirements or needs
- May require a longer cooking time with certain methods since the potato will have to cook through completely
- Difficult to tell if they are cooked right through to the center
- May affect blood sugar and your glycemic index which may cause hunger between meals, type 2 diabetes, imbalances in your blood and more
- Starches, like potatoes, can cause inflammation, bloating and gas for many people
- To get many of the health benefits of a potato the skins must be consumed, however, many people don’t like to eat the potato skin of a baked potato
Common Mistakes Before, During and After Cooking Baked Potatoes
Purchasing Perfect Potatoes
If you are seeking out the perfect baked potato recipe to create in your kitchen, it really is of no use if you don’t start by purchasing just the right potatoes. There are some key characteristics and traits that you should look for and consider when selecting your potatoes at the grocery store.
- Consider which variety of potato you are purchasing—Russet potatoes yield best results with maximum fluffiness and right amount of starchy flesh
- Look for even brown skin tone with little to no dark patches or spots
- Avoid potatoes with green skin or green skin patches—it means potato has been exposed to too much light and can be toxic
- Choose potatoes in same shape and size to help with cooking evenly and finished at the same time and temperature
- Beware of sprouts on the potaotes. Ingesting sprouts could make you very sick
- If you have potatoes with sprouts in the bag you purchased, remove sprouts and eyes immediately to avoid ingesting any toxins present
- Avoid potatoes with shrivelled skin or moldy-like patches—these are more than likely past their shelf life
If you won’t be using your purchased potatoes right away, you will want to store them properly to keep them as fresh as possible until use. Taking the proper measures ensures you won’t waste any potatoes you may not be using right away.
- It is best to store them in a cool, dry place.
- Do not store them in a refrigerator since the temperature is a little too cold and will encourage the starch in the potato to convert to sugar, causing a sweeter tasting potato.
- You should keep potatoes out of the light since too much light will cause the green spots or patches on the skin which is toxic
- Never store them in the fridge—its too cool and starch will turn to sugars
- Paper bags or plastic bags with perforations are safe to use for storage and saving potatoes
Preparing your potato for baking is just as important in the final product being successful as the baking process itself.
- First step in prep is to wash your potatoes and use only cool or cold water, never hot
- Hot water could start the potato cooking from the outside
- Gently scrub, being careful not to bruise or break the skin.
- Pierce the skin all around potato with fork, skewer or knife tip—prevents explosion of potato during cooking or baking and even cooking
- Brush the skin with olive oil or butter all around to help crisp skin during cooking and prevent wrinkling and drying out
- Skip the aluminum foil if you want crisp skin
- Remove all blemishes, sprouts, eyes and green patches
Quick Do’s and Don’ts of Storage and Preparation
- Store potatoes in cool, dry places
- Use Russet potatoes for best results
- Remove all sprouts and eyes
- Remove any green flesh or spots
- Rinse and gently scrub potatoWith cold water
- Pierce flesh with fork or knife
- Rub flesh with salt and pepperAnd brush with olive oil
- Expose to excess light or leave in a hot, humid place
- Use new potatoes, yellow fleshed or other varieties
- Eat potatoes with sprouts:This can cause serious illness
- Eat any green flesh or patches: it can make you sick
- Use hot water or soak potatoes—Causes soggy potatoes
- Leave potato without piercing—it will explode
- Use butter or margarine—reduces crispiness
Quick Guide to Do’s and Don’ts of Baking Potatoes
- Set your oven at 400°F or higher
- Cook on middle oven rack
- Place potato right on the oven rack or on a rack on a sheet
- Turn potatoes halfway through cooking
- Use a meat thermometer to determineDoneness at 210°F
- Remove from oven as soon as desired temperature is reached
- Use microwave for 5 to 6 minutes in the beginning if you are pressed for time
- Use a low temperature—potato won’t cook properly
- Put under a broiler or leave at the bottom of your oven
- Use a baking sheet or flat stoneware since it creates hotspots on potato
- Put in the oven, set the timer and walk away
- Poke or handle the potato throughout the cooking process
- Overcook the potato—brown spots where it touched the rack or wrinkly skin are signs of overcooking
- Wrap in foil to “cook faster”—traps in moisture and skin won’t crisp
Ways to Bake Potatoes
There are several different methods how to bake a potato to perfection. Mainly though, the three most commonly used ways are microwave, traditional oven and in a slow cooker or crockpot. Each method requires different tools/supplies, differing cooking times and most importantly, different taste outcomes for the final product. Which method you select is up to you and how much time you have to prepare and bake your potato that day. It will also depend on the tools you have at hand. Regardless, each method has its own pros and cons so it is up to you which you choose.
Fastest Method—Microwave Baked Potatoes
If you feel like a baked potato but just don’t have the time required in the oven or slow cooker to get the job done, you can turn to the microwave. Don’t panic, the microwave won’t dry out and shrivel up your potato if you time it right and make sure you follow the right steps in preparing it.
Just like with oven baking, you should pierce the skin of your potatoes all over to avoid exploding in the microwave. Rub with olive oil and salt and pepper and put them on a microwave safe dish. You will cook for about 5 to 6 minutes, turn over then another 4 to 5 minutes. You should test them by sticking a fork into the center to see if they are soft and done. If not, you can microwave for additional one minute increments until cooked.
Your final baked potato will turn out fluffy in the middle, although drier than an oven baked potato and the skin will be soft as opposed to crispy. Be careful not to overcook in the microwave, which is easy to do. Your skins will shrivel up and become stiff like cardboard—definitely not edible.
If you are looking to make the job even easier, there is a neat product available on the market which claims to cook up the perfect microwave baked potato without the prep or risk of shrivelling up. It is called The Potato Express. You can cook potatoes in four minutes.
Best Method—Oven Baked Potatoes
Without a doubt, the best method of baking a potato is in a traditional oven. It does take longer than the microwave but the results are far tastier! You can choose one of two methods of baking; without aluminum foil or with aluminum foil. If you prefer the crispy skin of a traditional baked potato, then leave off the foil wrap. However, if you are looking for softer skin, the aluminum foil will do the trick.
For oven baking, you should prepare your potatoes by piercing their flesh with a fork or small knife. Follow this up with brushing the skin in olive oil and sprinkling with salt and pepper. Never use butter or margarine since these both have a high water content and will prevent the skin from getting crispy.
For crispy skins, you should place your prepared potatoes on a baking sheet with a rack on it. This allows air to circulate all around the potato and avoids hot spots on the potatoes. If you don’t have such rack, you can simply place the potatoes right on the rack inside your oven. If choosing this method, you should put them on the middle rack and place foil on the rack below to catch any drippings from the olive oil.
Perhaps you prefer your baked potato skins soft. This is easy to achieve by wrapping each potato in a layer of foil after the initial prep. These can be placed directly on the oven rack. It usually takes about an hour at 450°F to reach perfect doneness. Either way, you can use a meat thermometer through the center until the inside reaches 210°F.
Optional Way—Crockpot/Slow Cooker Baked Potatoes
One way to get around the time constraint issue is to plan ahead and use your crockpot to make perfectly delicious baked potatoes. Although it takes much longer in the crockpot than both the oven and microwave, you can set your potatoes in the morning before work and when you arrive home, your side dish is ready to go.
To prepare for the crockpot, you will follow the same preparation procedure as with the microwave and oven by piercing and brushing with olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper. Then you will need to wrap each potato in foil and simply place them in your crockpot. No need to add any liquid—these will cook in their own steam! They cook on LOW between 8 to 10 hours.
When the potatoes are cooked through and you open that foil wrap, you will notice that your potatoes have taken on a lighter, caramel-like coloring. This is because they were cooked without liquid, but don’t worry, they will taste perfectly yummy. In fact, this cooking process gives your potatoes a fantastic nutty flavor.
One very important note about cooking baked potatoes in the crockpot is that you should ensure your potatoes are kept above 140°F to avoid the risk of a serious type of food poisoning called botulism. If you are not sure what time you will arrive home within the 8 to 10 hours, set it for 10 to safe.
Your leftover slow cooker potatoes can be kept in their aluminum foil wrapping in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, so you don’t have to worry about wasting good food.
Pro Tips to Consider
When Cooking Using the Microwave
- To keep moisture in: Place a washed and still wet potato in a microwave-safe bowl, cover bowl with a wet paper towel. Cook at medium setting for 4 minutes for a medium potato, longer for larger.
- Always pierce your potatoes in several spots with a fork before microwaving to avoid explosions
- Flip the potatoes over half way through to cook evenly
- Placing potatoes in a circle helps distribute the heat evenly
- Leave at least one inch between potatoes to give each their own cooking space
- If potatoes aren’t thoroughly cooked at end of cooking time, add 1 minute at a time until done—this avoids overcooking
When Cooking Using the Oven
- Using waxed paper or parchment paper is not recommended since it is only rated up to 425°F and potatoes are baked at 475°F
- To save from burning your hands to check potatoes frequently, use an instant read thermometer to measure up to 210°F and then remove from the oven
- Reduce dirty dishes—place potatoes directly on the rack
- Always pierce potatoes before baking to avoid an explosive mess
- Flip halfway through baking to avoid browning of the underside
- Avoid using foil since it locks in moisture and prevents crispy skin
Faster Cooking Tips
- If pressed for time, start your potatoes in the microwave for three or four minutes
- Cook potatoes for about 5 minutes in the microwave and then transfer to the grill for 5 to 10 minutes
- If using a barbecue, you can cut them in halves, wrap each half in foil and grill for about 30 minutes
Tips for Added Flavor without Fat
- Use non-fat yogurt, either regular or Greek style
- Sprinkle with chopped green onions, salt and pepper
- Top with non-fat sour cream
- Mash the insides with a low-fat cream cheese (use a flavored cream cheese like herb and garlic for even more flavor)
- Add chopped garlic and rosemary
- Mix the mashed insides with steamed broccoli and low fat cottage cheese
Storing or Keeping Potatoes
- If potatoes are finished cooking but you won’t be eating for a little while, wrap them in foil to lock in the heat and avoid shrivelling up
- Never peel potatoes and just leave them exposed to air—they will quickly turn brown/black
- Store uncooked potatoes in cool, dry, dark places
- Remove any damaged, unhealthy potatoes from the bunch right away; they will rot the others
- Potatoes will keep for 1 to 2 weeks if stored properly
- Avoid storing in a plastic bag—this prevents proper ventilation
Common Problems and FAQ’s
1. Q: Should the cooking time be adjusted for multiple potatoes?
A: Cooking time should remain about the same in the oven, as long as all the potatoes are roughly the same size. If using the microwave, you will have to adjust the time accordingly or use the “Potato” button found on most microwave ovens and select the quantity you are using.
2. Q: Can I prepare baked potatoes ahead of time and just keep them until needed?
A: It isn’t ideal to prepare your baked potatoes ahead of time, since they will likely go soggy while waiting. The other issue to keep in mind is that potatoes kept in the danger zone temperatures—41 to 135°F—or at room temperature for 4 hours or more, could make you very ill with botulism.
3. Q: If I need to bake a large quantity of potatoes for a function, would I need to adjust the cooking time or temperature in a regular oven? Also, could I wrap them in foil for serving and to keep them warm?
A: You wouldn’t need to adjust the cooking time or temperature necessarily. After the recommended time of 45 minutes you should check for doneness by poking with a knife. If it slides in easily, it is done. If not, bake for an additional 10 minutes and check again. As for wrapping them in foil for serving, you can do this if you wish but it may make the skins shrivel up and soggy. Also you need to keep the potato at a safe temperature—above 135°F to avoid serious illness.
4. Q: I cooked my baked potato for the recommended time and it wasn’t done. I added another 10 minutes and still it was uncooked. After 5 more minutes the insides were finally cooked, however the skins did not get crispy. In fact, they were dry and hardened. I chose not to rub the outer skin with olive oil. Could this have been why the skins turned out poorly?
A: Sometimes your cooking time will need to be adjusted if the potatoes you are baking are large or if you have chosen a different variety than Russet. You should consider using an cooking thermometer to monitor your foods for doneness instead of setting a timer. The thermometer will give you an accurate reading on the internal temperature and tells you if it has reached the desired 210°F and up.If you want your baked potato to have crispy skin, you will definitely need to rub the skin in olive oil and salt and pepper prior to baking. The olive oil keeps moisture in and allows that traditional crispy skin to develop.
5. Q: Can I pre-bake my potato in the oven in the morning before work, then turn off the oven for the day but leave the potato to stay warm in the oven to cut down on cooking time once I arrive home?
A: Please never, ever do this. Leaving a potato out for more than 4 hours in the danger temperature zone of 41-135°F can allow the potato to become contaminated with botulism. Botulism is one of the most lethal forms of food borne illness. Botulism can thrive in the anaerobic environment created by the dense flesh of the potato and low acidity
6. Q: Could I wrap my potato in foil first and then pierce it with a fork?
A: You could do this, however, creating holes in the foil creates an air leak and defeats the original purpose of the foil. You are better off piercing the potato prior to wrapping it in foil.
7. Q: Do I have to remove the eyes on the potato or can I just bake it with them on there?
A: Yes. You need to ALWAYS remove the eyes of the potato. These can make you ill if you eat too many of them so it is better to be safe than sorry.
8. Q: How long can I keep potatoes for in my pantry?
A: As long as your pantry is a cool, dry place, your potatoes should keep for 1 to 2 weeks
9. Q: If I wash my potatoes before I store them will they keep longer?
A: No. Never wash your potatoes or any produce products before storing them. The damp moisture will encourage your potatoes to spoil before their shelf life.
10. Q: I have just found out that I am Gluten intolerant, can I still enjoy baked potatoes?
A: Absolutely! Potatoes are 100% gluten free. They are a great source of complex carbohydrates and are a tasty non-processed menu choice.
Baked Potato Recipes to Tempt Your Tastebuds
In the Oven
1.The Perfect Baked Potato
This recipe is a basic foundation for a plain baked potato done in the oven. With the perfect fluffiness of the insides and the crisped to perfection exterior, this recipe is hardly “basic” though. What is great about this recipe is that anyone can follow it and you can tweak it to your liking by adding your favorite toppings and/or seasonings.
2.Best Twice Baked Potato
An unbelievably delicious alternative to a regular, plain baked potato, this Twice Baked Potato will quickly become a family favorite. The combination of cheese, bacon and scallions compliment the fluffy goodness of the beautifully baked Russet. You will need to take into consideration the time required, though, since these potatoes are technically baked two times in the oven (hence the name). If you have specific dietary requirements it is pretty easy to substitute specific items such as low fat cheese instead of full fat or using turkey bacon in place of regular. You can even add your own seasonings if you wish to spice it up or make it a little more garlicy.
3.Basic Hasselback Baked Potato Recipe
The Hasselback potato was named after a restaurant in Sweden but brings full flavor to dinner tables worldwide now. The preparation is a little more detailed than just piercing the potato and rubbing with oil, but not too difficult for even beginner cooks to take on. The outcome is a crispy skin and firm but still moist inside since the potato is sliced into thin slices. The insides are exposed to the heat therefore become crispier than a standard baked potato. This recipe is a great compliment to a juicy steak or even lobster tail on the grill.
4.Shepard’s Pie Loaded Baked Potatoes
Forget plain and simple. This recipe will provide your family with an entrée baked potato that pairs perfectly with a salad or coleslaw. You won’t leave the table hungry to be sure. If you look in your fridge, chances are you have most ingredients needed to create this dish. Since it is cooked in the oven, you will want to be sure to leave yourself an appropriate amount of time.
In the Microwave
1. Microwave Red Baked Potato
The red Russet potato adds a colorful alternative to a regular brown potato. This easy to follow recipe video walks you through step by step to create a steaming fast side dish. You will like this recipe because it is for multiple potatoes instead of just one—perfect for a family on the go! In only about 10 minutes you will have a traditional baked potato with sour cream and chives
2. Microwave Loaded Baked Potato
Yes, it is true, you can have a loaded baked potato just like your favorite restaurant done at home in the microwave! In just a few simple steps, you will be eating a hearty side dish with all the comforting flavors of an oven baked potato. The best part is that this entire recipe can be done in the microwave. If you are short on time or just don’t want the heat of the oven in your kitchen, this recipe is a great choice.
3.Microwave Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Chicken and Black Beans
This is no side dish! These sweet potatoes, stuffed full with a hearty mixture of cheese, chicken and black beans, offer a belly filling, satisfying meal. The ingredients are not complicated and preparation is fairly easy. Since you can cook them right in your microwave oven, time is of no concern. Salsa and cilantro add to the Southwestern flare of this healthy baked potato alternative. Cooking sweet potatoes in the microwave is just as simple as a regular potato and just a little tastier
4.Microwave Sliced Baked Potatoes
Although simple, these sliced baked potatoes are flavorful and moist. They offer some flexibility in how you choose to season and garnish your own potato, although following the recipe will yield a delicious option as well. Two kinds of cheese and melting butter will make your mouth water and the soft skin and flesh will be sure to please your palate. These are very close to restaurant quality potatoes
In the Crockpot
1.Slow Cooker Sunday: Baked Potatoes
This video tutorial walks you through “baking” potatoes in your crockpot over time. They are faster if set on the high setting—only about three hours. If you will be out all day long, you can set the crockpot on low but just be aware that the color of your potatoes might seem off. This is normal and the potatoes are still safe for consumption, don’t worry. This particular recipe is just a basic baked potato in your crockpot for a simple side dish option. As an alternative, you could wrap the washed potatoes in foil and skip adding the water.
2.Loaded Slow Cooker Baked Potatoes
If you just NEED to have that fully loaded delicious loaded potato but don’t have the time to make it in the evening once you are home from work, this recipe will work well for you. The potatoes cook low and slow all day long and all that is needed to do is sauté the mushrooms and broccoli during your regular dinner prep time, which should only take about 15 minutes from chopping to finish. Since the recipe calls for low fat plain yogurt this is a healthy recipe for anyone trying to manage their weight. You can adjust the quantity based on how many people will be eating.
3.Slow Cooker Baked Potato Casserole
Perhaps you want to enjoy the flavor of a loaded baked potato but would rather try it in a different format or recipe. Since this recipe yields a casserole, it could be served as a main course and eliminate your evening dinner cooking all together. What is also wonderful about this recipe is that it is easily adaptable to your preferences since you could always add your favorite toppings once the casserole is cooked, such as black olives, steamed broccoli, sautéed onions or mushrooms and so much more
4.Slow Cooker Cheeseburger Potato Soup
It is hard to resist a hearty soup, especially on a cool, crisp autumn day. While this recipe isn’t necessarily a “baked potato” recipe, it does incorporate that same baked potato flavor but also adds beef and a creamy base. Since it includes carrots and celery, you will have covered all the food groups and can easily call this “dinner”. Serve with a crusty bun and/or salad to round it out. What is great about this soup recipe is that you can prepare it first thing in the morning and set your crockpot to run throughout the day. By the time, you get home from work, your house will smell amazing and dinner will be ready to go!
Resources and Further Reading
If you are looking to further your knowledge on baked potatoes, their health benefits, dangers associated with them or even great recipes, check out the following links. You will become a baked potato expert in no time and can prepare them in almost any method you can imagine