Recipe Spotlight

For the Perfect Baked Potato, Grab a Thermometer

No more dense, gummy logs of starch.

Published Jan. 6, 2022.

A baked potato is one of those items that no one ever thinks needs an actual recipe: Most people just throw it in a hot oven and bake it until it’s squeezable. But truthfully, aren’t most potatoes baked that way a disappointment? Not to mention unpredictable—sometimes the center is dense and gummy; other times it’s overly dessicated.

Fortunately, I found a way to guarantee a perfect baked potato with a dry, fluffy interior every time. And it couldn’t be more simple: Take the potato’s temperature.

After baking an bushelful of Russet potatoes and taking their temperatures at various stages during cooking with an instant-read thermometer, I discovered that spuds cooked to at least 205 degrees and as high 212 degrees were at their best: fluffy from edge to center.

Here’s why: Cooked to 205 degrees, the potatoes’ starch granules were able to absorb much of the interior moisture, swelling and causing the cell walls surrounding the granules to separate into clumps that result in a texture we perceive as dry and cottony. At lower temperatures, not enough moisture is absorbed, for potatoes that aren’t optimally fluffy. 

The only hitch, I discovered, was that it was crucial to cut the potatoes open immediately after baking to let steam escape; if they sat for even 10 minutes, they retained water that turned them dense and gummy.

The next time you bake potatoes, try my method. I’m sure you’ll be a convert:

  1. Place potatoes in a 450-degree oven.
  2. Bake until the center of the largest potato registers 205 degrees. 
  3. Use a paring knife to make a X in each potato, then hold its ends to squeeze the potato slightly to push flesh up and out. Serve immediately.

And if you want well-seasoned potatoes with crisp skin, try these two additional tweaks:

  1. Dunk the potatoes in salty water before baking.
  2. Brush them with oil after they’re fully cooked (so they have a chance to dry out first), and briefly put them back in the oven to crisp the skin.

You’ll find my complete recipe here.

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