A good baked potato is the perfect side for any meal, but you can also easily make it the main event. Hearty, fluffy, and endlessly customizable, it’s perfect for picky and explorative eaters alike. But a loaded baked potato is only as good as its baked potato base. No amount of toppings can hide a bland, gummy interior or tough, chewy skin.
We’ve done our fair share of research on improving baked potatoes with such recipes as Best Baked Potatoes and Twice-Baked Potatoes with Bacon and Cheddar Cheese. Here are a few simple tricks you can use to ensure that even the plainest of baked potatoes is the best it can be.
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1. Prick the Potatoes with a Fork
One of the first things you want to do is prick your potatoes a few times with a fork. Creating these holes in the skin prevents steam from building up inside of the potato, which would cause it to explode. During her pursuit of the best baked potato, Cook’s Illustrated test cook Lan Lam baked 40 potatoes without pricking them, and not one exploded. However, we still recommend this low-effort step, because you never know!
2. Dunk the Potatoes in a Saltwater Solution
This step is extremely important because it seasons the skin and encourages it to dry and crisp in the oven.
Lan tested longer brines, but who wants to add an hour to a simple side? Fortunately, she found that simply wetting the raw potatoes in salty water produced flavor that was just as full as that of the potatoes that had brined for longer.
3. Oil the Skin Toward the End of Cooking
Lots of baked potato recipes call for brushing the outside of your potato with oil before baking to achieve crispy skin. But we discovered that it actually does the opposite. This is because the oil prevents the moisture in the skin from evaporating, leaving it soggy.
Lan realized that the best approach was oiling the skin right before the potatoes were about to come out of the oven. The last few minutes add extra crispiness to the already dehydrated skin, thanks to the salt bath.