Baked potatoes often fall short compared to their silkier, more luxurious side dish relatives like potatoes au gratin, creamy mashed potatoes, pommes Anna and more. With the exception of some steakhouse dinners or a loaded option as a bar snack, it’s unlikely that baked potatoes are your go-to side dish. That is, until now. When cooked properly, they can be a tasty and nutritious part of a meal — or even the highlight of dinner with the right toppings!
"Potatoes get a bad rep because they have carbs, and so many people are afraid of carbohydrates," Isaac Toups, chef-owner of Toups' Meatery in New Orleans, tells TODAY.com. "The truth is, they are loaded with nutrients like vitamin C, potassium and B6 and they have a good amount of fiber."
While Toups suggests eating potatoes in moderation, he does advocate getting creative with toppings.
"If you’re serving a nice steak dinner, a dollop of crème fraiche and caviar is great," he said. "Or for a heartier potato, top with chili." For something unique, Toups says to try turning your potato into a pizza by adding mozzarella, pepperoni or whatever pizza toppings you like. Better yet, boost your veggie consumption by topping the spuds with broccoli and cheddar.
Baked potatoes don't have to be done in the oven. You can make the perfect baked potato on the grill, on an open campfire and even in the microwave. Ready to serve up some spuds? Try these recipes for baked potatoes and beyond.
How to shop for potatoes
Russets are the best potatoes for baking, as the skins are thick, allowing for major crisping, while the insides are starchy, making for a sweet and fluffy filling.
When shopping for potatoes, Toups says it's important to make sure there are no bruises or broken skin on the potato. "You want a smooth and firm texture," he says. Select spuds that aren’t growing eyes, either; while these aren’t harmful to consume, they’re a sign that the potatoes are past their peak and aging quickly. Avoid buying potatoes that are wrinkled, have begun to sprout or have green patches. Always choose potatoes with uniform shapes and sizes; they'll cook more evenly. Before cooking, wash and scrub them thoroughly to remove any excess dirt.
How to store potatoes
Store fresh, whole potatoes loose in a bin or rack (to allow air to circulate around them) in a cool (45 to 50 F), dark place that is well ventilated. Kept this way, they should last for several weeks.
How to wash potatoes
Always scrub potato skins well under cold, running water and then immediately pat each potato thoroughly with a paper towel or dishcloth until dry. "It’s important to avoid wet potatoes unless you like soggy skins," says Toups. "Sure you have to wash and scrub the potato to get the dirt and debris off, but you need to dry it completely before any further preparation."
Don't wrap your potatoes in foil
Toups also calls out a common mistake people make when baking potatoes. "I see a lot of people using foil to wrap their potatoes in but this is a big no-no and causes soggy skins!" he says. Foil holds in moisture and steams the potatoes, resulting in a "boiled" taste and texture. Plus, without the use of foil, the skin will get extra crispy and flavorful.
How long to cook a baked potato
Instead, simply rub the potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Prick potatoes with a fork before baking to shorten the baking time and to keep them from bursting. Place the potatoes on an unlined baking sheet and bake at 400 F for about one hour, or until tender. Turn the potatoes over halfway through the baking time to prevent browning of the undersides where they touch the baking tray or oven rack. A baked potato is ready when a fork easily pierces its skin. If the potato is hard, bake it a little longer. Don't exceed the recommended cooking time because potatoes will continue to cook after they're removed from the oven and the skin will get dry.
"Another common mistake is letting the potato rest or cool before cutting. This is not meat and the potato doesn’t get better with resting. You need to cut it immediately to avoid a gummy and sticky consistency." If potatoes baked to doneness are being held for over 10 minutes before serving, wrap them in foil. This will enhance the appearance of the skin by reducing shriveling.
How to microwave baked potatoes
To "bake" potatoes in the microwave, wash but don't dry them. Pierce, then wrap them in microwave-safe paper towels and place one inch apart on a microwave rack.
How to dress up baked potatoes
A great baked potato doesn't have to be basic. "For a prettier, fancier baked potato, cut the potato into thin slices while it’s raw, but not all the way down (leave the bottom intact)," says Toups. "Then fan it out a bit, brush with butter or oil and place directly on the oven rack and bake for 50 minutes at 425 F. Sprinkle a bit of shredded cheese and some chives and serve." This method is known as hasselback and is an easy way to build even more flavor in every bite.
By themselves, potatoes are low in fat and calories. You can keep them that way by serving them with low-fat toppings such as plain, nonfat yogurt with chopped scallions, low-fat cottage cheese and chives, stewed tomatoes, steamed broccoli florets or julienned carrots, spicy mustard or salsa. If you want a baked potato with all the toppings, delicious ingredients include leftover stews, chili, cream-style soups, butter, sour cream, shredded cheese, crumbled bacon, gravy, chili and lightly cooked vegetables. Even frozen and canned veggies are topping winners.