As long as there are a few potatoes in the pantry, I know that I have at least one option for dinner. Whether topped with a simple pat of butter or a scoop of hearty chili, baked potatoes are a favorite no-brainer meal when I just want something easy and warm. Here are three different ways to make them.
No matter which method you choose to use, be sure to wash the potato and prick it all over with a fork. Forgetting that crucial pricking step will result in a spud grenade in your oven — pricking the skin lets the steam inside the cooking potato escape without this risk of bursting.
1. Oven-Baked Potatoes
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Rub the potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and prick them with the tines of a fork. You can lay them directly on the oven rack or place them on a baking sheet. Cook the potatoes for 45 to 60 minutes, until their skin is crispy, and sticking one with a fork meets no resistance.
→ Bottom line: Crispy potato skins!
Alternatively, make foil-wrapped potatoes: Follow the same directions as for oven-roasted potatoes, but wrap the potatoes in foil before cooking.
→ Bottom line: Softer skin, plus the potatoes stay warm in their foil jackets if you're still working on the topping or need to save a potato for a late family member.
2. Microwaved Potatoes
Rub the potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and prick them with the tines of a fork. Place all the potatoes on a microwave-safe dish and microwave at full power for five minutes. Turn them over and microwave for another three to five minutes. If still hard in the middle, microwave in additional one-minute bursts until cooked through.
→ Bottom line: Super-fast cooking time with soft skins.
3. Slow-Cooker Potatoes
Rub the potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and prick them with the tines of a fork. Wrap each potato in foil and lay it in the bottom of your slow cooker. Place the lid over top and set your slow cooker to LOW for eight to 10 hours.
→ Bottom line: Potatoes that bake while you're at work.
What's your favorite way to bake a potato?
This post has been updated — first published September 2011.
(Image credits: Emma Christensen)