We Tried 7 Methods for Roasting Potatoes and the Winner Blinded Us with Science

published Dec 11, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman - Food Styling: Maggie Ruggiero

French fries and mashed potatoes tend to get all the glory, but classic roasted potatoes deliver a simple satisfaction all their own. When done well, they’re crisp on the outside and creamy and fluffy on the inside. But how do you guarantee a stellar roasted spud every time?

With that goal in mind, we put seven popular methods to the test. While many are riffs on classic potato roasting techniques, one has a surprise ingredient, and several add an extra step in an effort to create a perfect roasted potato. Read on for the results of this carby contest. The winner has a few twists that are worth working into your roasting routine.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman - Food Styling: Maggie Ruggiero

A Few Notes About Methodology

Potatoes: For these tests, we used Yukon gold potatoes, which, in keeping with their name, have golden yellow flesh and rich, buttery flavor. While they’re a versatile, all-purpose potato, Yukon golds are particularly well-suited to roasting. Their skins are thin, so we left them on and gave the potatoes a good scrub. Aiming for consistent cooking, we cut all the potatoes into roughly 2-inch chunks, which typically means quartering a medium Yukon gold potato. 

Seasoning: While a few methods suggest adding additional seasoning, for the sake of comparison, we used only olive oil and kosher salt.  

Tests: All the tests were run on the same day, back-to-back, using the same oven and stove, as well as the same baking sheet and other basic equipment. We taste tested each method immediately after roasting. 

Timing: Prep times are included for each method — including soaking and boiling times. 

Ratings: Our aim was to find a method that produced crisp, golden-brown outsides and fluffy insides, with rich potato flavor throughout. Our final ratings also take into consideration ease of preparation and appearance. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman - Food Styling: Maggie Ruggiero

Potato Roasting Method: Steam First

  • Prep time: 20 minutes 
  • Cooking time: 45 minutes 
  • Rating: 3/10

About this method: Bon Appétit promises “perfectly roasted potatoes” with this two-step approach. First, the potatoes are steamed: You place the potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet with a bit of water in it, wrap the pan in a double layer of aluminum foil, and place it on the lowest rack of a 425°F oven. The potatoes are steamed until tender, then removed from the oven to cool slightly. Next, they’re tossed with oil and salt and roasted, cut-side down and undisturbed, on a baking sheet set on the lowest rack of a 500°F oven for 20 to 25 minutes. 

Results: The basic difference between this and many other roasted potato recipes is swapping parboiling for steaming. It seems like a solid idea, but we found the process elaborate — and a bit dangerous — and the results underwhelming. Testing the steamed potatoes for doneness requires poking through the foil to “feel around” for potatoes, which is followed by pouring hot water from the baking sheet, two steps that are both fussy and tricky to do without burning yourself or getting a face full of steam. The roasting step is supposed to take 20 to 25 minutes, but our potatoes were black on the bottom in less than 20 minutes, likely because the oven was so hot, the rack was so low, and the potatoes were never turned or tossed. While this method has many positive reviews online, it’s not one we’d use again.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman - Food Styling: Maggie Ruggiero

Potato Roasting Method: Soak First

  • Prep time: 35 minutes
  • Cooking time: 45 minutes
  • Rating: 5/10

About this method: This potato roasting method — popularized by The Pasta Queen of TikTok fame — starts with soaking the potatoes for 30 minutes to soften them. The Pasta Queen’s second tip is to preheat the pan to prevent the potatoes from sticking and falling apart. She also offers advice on how to flavor the potatoes, but we used only olive oil and salt. Finally, the potatoes are roasted in a 375°F oven for 45 minutes. 

Results: In terms of extra steps, this method is relatively low lift — soaking and preheating take almost no additional effort — but the results were also relatively unimpressive. Despite the Pasta Queen’s insistence, the potatoes did stick to the pan a bit in our test. They were crispy and flavorful, but no more than simpler versions that call for roasting only. Also, the potato skins pulled away from the flesh while roasting, which isn’t a dealbreaker but wasn’t quite as attractive as other methods we tested.  

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman - Food Styling: Maggie Ruggiero

Potato Roasting Method: Scuff with a Fork

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cooking time: 40 to 45 minutes
  • Rating: 6/10

About this method: We originally read about this method on Lifehacker, but it originates from the One Pot Chef out of Australia. Before the potatoes are roasted, the One Pot Chef uses a fork to scuff them up to make them extra crispy. He also lines his baking sheet with foil, which he says reflects heat to help cook and crisp the potatoes, and minimizes cleanup.

Results: Scuffing the potatoes takes seconds, but these potatoes didn’t come out any crispier than non-scuffed versions that were roasted similarly. They were some of the more flavorful spuds, and that may be because the rough edges gave the oil and salt something to cling to. However, all those fork lines give the potatoes a slightly odd appearance — we prefer the rustic simplicity of classic roasted potatoes. The foil does mean there’s almost no cleanup, but it also means the potatoes come out of the oven more brown than golden. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman - Food Styling: Maggie Ruggiero

Potato Roasting Method: Toss with Oil

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cooking time: 55 to 60 minutes
  • Rating: 7/10

About this method: Cookbook author and roasting expert Molly Stevens is the pro behind Fine Cooking’s no-frills approach to oven-roasted potatoes. A 375°F oven, an unlined baking sheet, and occasional tossing is all that’s required, making this the least fussy method of the bunch. Stevens’ recipe calls for waxy potatoes, but we used all-purpose Yukon golds for consistency. We also skipped the pepper and fresh herbs, and used olive oil, although Stevens says you can use oil, butter, or duck fat.

Results: This super-simple approach created crispy potatoes, although not quite as crispy as some of the other methods. Allowances could be made for the fact that we used Yukon golds and olive oil, but these potatoes still held their own. Thanks to an ample amount of oil, they were richly flavored, and thanks to regular tossing, they were evenly golden. So, while this wasn’t the absolute best method, considering its ease, it’s one we will likely come back to. 

Potato Roasting Method: Cook on Parchment Paper

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cooking time: 40 to 45 minutes
  • Rating: 8/10

About this method: Roasting potatoes on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet is a simple and popular approach found in numerous cookbooks, as well as websites and blogs. For this test, we used a version shared by Cookie and Kate, which calls for a 425°F oven, minimal olive oil, and stirring the potatoes halfway through the 40- to 45-minute roasting time. Cookie and Kate suggests additional seasoning, but we stuck to olive oil and kosher salt for consistency.

Results: Sometimes simple is best — or at least, one of the best, as this method was super easy and produced roasted potatoes that we’d be more than happy to dig into. While they weren’t quite as crisp as some of the more complicated recipes, they were indeed crispy with soft and fluffy insides — and beautifully golden. We did find these potatoes weren’t quite as richly flavored as others, probably because so little oil is used. But you could always increase the oil to bump up the flavor.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman - Food Styling: Maggie Ruggiero

Potato Roasting Method: Parboil & Rough Up

  • Prep time: 15 minutes 
  • Cooking time: 35 to 40 minutes
  • Rating: 9/10

About this method: Parboiling potatoes and then roughing them up a bit before roasting is a go-to technique in English kitchens — and for good reason. The parboil gives you a jump-start on the cooking process, while the roughing up helps crisp up the potatoes. Countless versions can be found in cookbooks and from online sources, but we used the method from Kitchn’s Extra Crispy Roasted Potatoes recipe. After boiling the potatoes briefly you transfer them to a bowl, cover the bowl with a plate, flip it over, and shake to roughen the sides and edges of the potatoes. After the roughing up, the potatoes are cooked for 35 to 40 minutes in a 450°F oven with some occasional flipping.

Results: The roughing-up stage was a bit awkward and messy, so next time, we might skip the plate and simply rough up the potatoes with aggressive tossing or stirring in the bowl. But otherwise, this is a super-solid, no-nonsense approach that delivers the ideal crispy and crunchy yet soft and fluffy potato we love. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman - Food Styling: Maggie Ruggiero

Potato Roasting Method: Parboil with Baking Soda & Rough Up

  • Prep time: 15 minutes 
  • Cooking time: 55 to 60 minutes
  • Rating: 10/10

About this method: Serious Eats offers a spin on the classic parboil and roast technique that includes several game-changing tweaks. Baking soda is added to the salted cooking water for boiling to make it more alkaline, which helps break down the exterior of the potatoes, so they’ll roast up extra crisp. And rather than starting with cold water, the potatoes are added to already-boiling water, which further breaks them down. The recipe calls for infusing olive oil, duck fat, or beef fat with seasonings, but we stuck to plain olive oil and kosher salt — the oil and seasonings are combined with the potatoes and roughly tossed to create a thick paste on the outside of the potatoes. Next, the potatoes go into a 450°F oven for 50 to 60 minutes with occasional shaking and turning.

Results: What we love about this method is that is takes a tried-and-true approach and makes small changes that deliver big results. Parboiling the potatoes in alkaline, already boiling water and quickly roughing them up in a bowl does create super-crispy spuds, and they emerged from the oven roasted to tender perfection on the inside. We found that 45 to 50 minutes was plenty of time to achieve richly browned potatoes, so mind your spuds while they’re in the oven. While this method does require a few extra steps, it’s well worth it for what are sure to be some of the best spuds you’ve ever eaten.