We Tried 6 Methods for Baking a Potato and Found a Clear Winner

updated Jun 13, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Potatoes, like other carbs, get a bad rap, but I’ve always been a staunch defender. They’re an inexpensive, convenient staple that will keep in your fridge longer than any other vegetable. They make a great canvas for a range of flavors, and they can be prepped a multitude of ways. A medium baked potato contains nearly four grams of fiber, loads of potassium, and what is known as resistant starch, which has a fiber-like effect on digestion and hunger. When you forget to go to the grocery store, a baked potato bar can be your dinnertime savior. 

It is, frankly, an insult to call a baked potato “plain.” Spuds may be, both literally and figuratively, one of the most salt-of-the-earth foods, but they still have much to offer. The way Gabrielle Hamilton described eating a simple boiled potato in Blood, Bones, & Butter (“Its pale yellow flesh was perfectly waxy, and its skin snapped when I bit into it.”) always stuck with me, and romanticized what may be one of the world’s humblest foods.

But Hamilton’s writing aside, I’ve always preferred the tender interior of a perfectly done baked potato. And I wondered, is oven-roasting the end-all, be-all of making a great baked potato? Would another method yield better flavor or more fluffy potatoey tenderness? To find out, I tried every method for baking a potato I could find. Grab your oven mitts because these are the piping-hot results.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

A Few Notes About Methodology

For testing purposes, I used Russet (also called Idaho) potatoes, which have high starch and low water content, making them ideal for baking. All were scrubbed under running water and dried, then punctured with either a fork or a knife to release pressure while cooking. I did not add any seasoning or other ingredients like butter to the potatoes except the cooking oil called for.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Method: Traditional Oven  

Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

About this method: For a straightforward classic oven test, I chose to follow the Ultimate Baked Potato recommendations from Serious Eats, which advises three necessities for potato perfection: A moderate oven temperature (375°F), oiled skins, and potatoes placed directly on the grates. 

Results

The technique is simple enough, but the somewhat low cooking temperature did not crisp the skin to my liking (and the smell of vegetable oil permeated the house). Cleanup is easy if you place foil underneath to catch any drippings, but to me, the wait was not worth it for what was, ultimately, a pretty standard and unimpressive spud. 

Rating: 5/10

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Method: Microwave

Time: 8 minutes or longer, depending on size

About this method: Plenty of food experts have told me you can make a perfectly acceptable baked potato by nuking it. The problem is usually that you don’t get a crisp skin the way you do in an oven. I tried this pretty standard method from Delish, which calls for placing a potato on a microwave-safe plate and zapping it for seven minutes, then flipping halfway through (definitely necessary for even cooking), and then compared it to my microwave’s preset potato button. 

Results

The recipe didn’t specify the size of the potato. The one I used, at 10.65 ounces, was fairly girthy. It turned out seven minutes wasn’t quite enough. I popped it in for an extra minute, but in retrospect another minute above that, even, might have been advisable. The potato was cooked but still a tad firm. And a watch-out if you try this: The plate can get dangerously hot.

The potato button took longer but the resulting spud was better: Super soft, creamy, and moist inside its jacket. Practically instant gratification (still no crispy skin, though). The process did, however, actually short out my microwave for a few minutes. I’m not sure I will be doing that again. 

Rating: 5/10 for recipe, 6/10 for potato button

Credit: makesushi1/Shutterstock

Method: Grill

Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

About: I’m generally of the opinion that anything grilled over charcoal is going to taste at least 10 percent better, so I was excited to see what kind of magical potatoes this method would yield. I was also intrigued by the way this highly rated recipe from AllRecipes (129 ratings and 4.5 stars) recommended buttering and seasoning the foil, then wrapping up your spuds and puncturing the packets.

Results

Ultimately, I was disappointed. Cooking took a bit longer than an hour. Admittedly I’m no grilling pro, though, so keeping the hot zone at the right temperature proved tricky. But the biggest disappointment was just that this tasted like any other potato. The foil likely prevented all that smoky goodness from penetrating the spuds. I will say that the potato was a really good level of doneness, but a little crumbly because most of the moisture cooked off. If you’re firing up the grill anyway, it might be worthwhile, but as a stand-alone method I’d say it’s not worth the lighter fluid.

Rating: 6/10

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Method: Slow Cooker  

Time: 4 hours, 5 minutes

About this method: Food & Wine acknowledges that their recipe won’t give you crispy skin. But if you’re using your oven for other purposes, and have the time, this can be an easy way to have hot baked potatoes ready to go. All you have to do is season your spuds, wrap them in foil, and pile them in the slow cooker. Set it to high and four hours later you’ve got melt-in-your-mouth potatoes.  

Results

In my view, the slow cooker beats the microwave in terms of getting potatoes to a good texture and taste, but time is definitely a big drawback. The potatoes might be just a touch more falling-apart tender than the ones from the Instant Pot (more on that below), but not enough to justify the hours of extra waiting. And as the other foil-wrap method, it feels wasteful. I like to conserve foil whenever I can. 

Rating: 7/10

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Method: Instant Pot  

Time: 26 minutes

About this method: I was initially skeptical about using the Instant Pot — especially after my caramelized onion test. Instant Pots are the gadget of the moment and they are excellent in some capacities, but that doesn’t mean they’re superior at cooking anything and everything. The highly rated instructions from Crunchy Creamy Sweet were straightforward enough: Add one cup of cold water to the bottom of the pot, drop in the metal rack insert, and place five medium potatoes (mine weighed between six and seven ounces each) on top — no oil, no foil, no fuss. Lock it, seal it, and set it to high pressure on manual for 14 minutes, then let the steam release naturally.

Results

These were the creamiest potatoes by far. The water steamed them, keeping the potato flesh so tender and moist that I almost mistook them for Yukon Golds. They were so good I didn’t even miss the crisp skin. The whole cooking process was fast, cleanup was easy, and the potatoes were cooked to fluffy perfection. If you’re a crispy skin ride or die, read on. Otherwise, you could happily start making your spuds this way all the time. 

Rating: 8.5/10

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Method: Brined, Then Oven-Baked 

Time: 55 minutes 

About this method: Leave it to America’s Test Kitchen to get baked potatoes down to a science. The secret, they say, is to get the internal temperature to 205°F and (weirdly, for a vegetable) to brine your potato skins. Dunking your spuds in a saltwater solution and then baking at a relatively high 450°F leaves a seasoned crust behind when the water evaporates. Placing the potatoes on a wire rack in a baking sheet allows the air to circulate all around, aiding this process. Brush on some oil near the end of cooking and the outside will taste like a potato chip.

Results

There’s no denying this method yielded the best-tasting combo of crispy skin and soft, fluffy interior — but you need to work for it, by brining, then baking, then oiling, then baking some more. Although it’s not really that hands-on, this method was the most active of any I tried. Still, if you want potato perfection, this is the way to go. Even eating the leftovers the next day, I could tell the difference.

Rating: 9/10