That said, it’s a sad reality that there are such things as lousy baked potatoes. Bland, mushy skin and unevenly baked centers are a always no-go. While there are a number of delicious ways to spice up your humble baked spud, the ultimate baked potato can only be achieved by starting with a top-notch base.
Thankfully, Cook’s Illustrated chef Lan Lam put in the leg work to perfect the technique, with one simple ‘hack’ that will guarantee a crispy exterior.
How To Achieve The Perfect Baked Potato
Chef Lam was on a mission: to create a baked potato with a uniform fluffy interior and thin, crispy exterior. To achieve her goal, Lam baked nearly 200 pounds of potatoes to nail every detail.
To start, Lam opted for Russet potatoes as they contain a high amount of starch which helps to create that ‘fluffy’ interior texture we crave in baked potatoes.
Next, Lam suggests pricking holes around the exterior using a fork to prevent accidental exploding due to pent-up steam. While she did note that she skipped this step and didn’t have a single incident, she also recommends erring on the side of caution (and we agree).
To prep the skin, Lam tried a variety of techniques such as coating with vegetable oil or sprinkling with salt. And here is where she discovered the magic. For the crispest, tastiest skins, dunking the potatoes in salty water was all that was needed! Even compared to brining the potatoes in salty water for an hour, a simple dunk provided the same results.
As for oil, Lam found that applying a thin layer towards the end of the cooking time and allowing for the potatoes to bake for 10 minutes ensured a deep brown, crisp skin.
Finally, it was time to cook. Lam tested cooking the potatoes in a microwave, a pressure cooker, and even deep frying, but found the optimal method was baking in a 450°F oven for about 45 minutes. An internal temperature of 205°F was the sweet spot for the perfect fluffy interior that wasn’t too gummy. But unlike that perfectly cooked steak, baked potatoes don’t need to rest. The key is to slice the potatoes immediately when done cooking, otherwise steam might turn the interior too dense.
And there you have it! Following Lam’s well-tested tips, you too can achieve a perfect backed potato ready to be served as a side, loaded up to become the main dish, or enjoyed all on its own.