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For the Perfect Baked Potato, Grab a Thermometer

No more dense gummy logs of starch.
By 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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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.