Baked potatoes are an under-appreciated healthy food staple. Baked potatoes are easy to make, but just as easy to mess up or make more complicated than they need to be. Below I describe the method I use to make a baked potato. My baked potatoes are easy to make, and I have often been complimented by those who say that my baked potatoes are the best baked potatoes they have ever had.
The first step in preparing a baked potato is to preheat your oven. It does not matter whether you have an electric oven or a gas oven. You should preheat your oven to 400 degrees. You should preheat your oven for at least 30 minutes to ensure that the metal interior of the oven reaches a full 400 degrees. If you do not adequately preheat your oven, it will take longer to cook your baked potatoes and the oven’s temperature will decrease excessively whenever you open the oven to check your potatoes.
Be sure to pick high-quality potatoes for your baked potatoes. I prefer larger Russet potatoes that are sold individually at most grocery stores, instead of bags of larger quantities of potatoes. Individual potatoes tend to be larger, fluffier, and less bruised than smaller potatoes found in potato sacks at the grocery store. You should note that a large potato can take anywhere from 50% to 100% longer to cook than a smaller potato, and a larger potato also has more calories than a smaller potato.
Whichever potatoes you choose for your baked potatoes, their preparation is very simple. Simply hand wash the potatoes under cold water to remove any loose dirt from the potatoes. You do not need to scrub the potatoes or cut out the potato eyes. If there are any bad spots, you should cut them out; but otherwise, leave the potatoes intact. Potatoes are supposed to have an earthy taste, so I do not go out of my way to scrub the dirt off the potatoes before baking. And the cold water rinse helps ensure that the potato does not begin to cook prematurely.
After rinsing the loose dirt of the whole potatoes, use a fork to puncture the potato four times; twice on each side of the potato laying on the counter top. Puncturing a potato ensures that the hot air circulating in the oven can enter the inside of the potato, and it ensures that gases trying to escape from the potato’s interior do not cause the potato to explode.
Many people like to cook their baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil. This is unnecessary and can cause the potato skin to become spongy instead of crispy. To cook a baked potato the easy and best way, just place the punctured potato directly on the middle oven rack, towards the front of the oven. Then cook the potatoes until they are thoroughly cooked on the inside, and until the skins are crispy and begin to separate from the fluffy baked potato matter within. You should cook a small baked potato for about an hour, and a larger baked potato can take anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours to become a baked potato with a crunchy skin and a light, fluffy flesh inside.
To check whether your baked potato is done, just insert a fork all the way into the center of the potato still lying on the oven rack. If the baked potato is done, the fork will slide very easily into the center of the potato, and there will be no starchy residue leaking out of the fresh puncture holes. If you have any question about whether the potato is done, or if your fork encounters any resistance when you are testing the potato for done-ness, the potato is not done and you should continue baking the potato for another 10 to 15 minutes. It is extremely difficult to overcook a baked potato, and an overcooked baked potato is always better than an underdone baked potato.
This is all there is to making a perfectly baked potato the easy way. Once the potato is done, just slice it down the middle and dress with your favorite toppings. I prefer butter, course kosher salt, and some dried parsley. My wife prefers her baked potato with some herbal seasoning, butter, sour cream, and fresh chives. But the important thing is to have a baked potato with a crispy skin and with a thoroughly-cooked fluffy interior. If you follow my baked potato method above, you will have a baked potato that is perfectly done and delicious every time.
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