Potato baking is an inexact science. Potatoes can be baked at just about any oven temperature. Lower temperatures mean longer cooking times and higher temperatures, shorter cooking times. Potatoes can also be baked in a microwave. On camping trips, they can be wrapped in aluminum foil and baked in the coals of the campfire.
A baked potato is done when its skin is crisp without being hard and its flesh is just soft enough to give a little when gently squeezed. It does not matter if a potato bakes somewhat longer than it takes to reach this point. Potatoes do not overcook easily. However, if left in the oven for a long time past done, the potato’s skin will become very hard and its insides somewhat grainy.
Type of Potato to Bake
While any kind of potato can be baked, the most popular kind for baking is the russet potato. When baked to perfection, the russet potato’s skin becomes pleasantly crunchy and flavorful while its insides become nice and mealy. Russet potatoes are the most readily available potato in supermarkets. If you order baked potato in a restaurant, you will probably get a russet potato.
All the varieties of potato ideal for baking have coarse skin, thick as potato skins go, dry and mealy textures, and are usually long. Rounder potatoes with thinner skins do not come out as well when baked. They are better suited to soups, stews, and potato salads. Some varieties with a combination of baking and stewing traits also make decent baked potatoes. These varieties include Yukon Gold, Peruvian Blue, and Superior.
Preparing the Potato
No matter how you bake your potato, the process begins with preparing it for the oven. The steps are as follows:
1. Prepare the oven. If it is a conventional oven, preheat it to the desired temperature. If you will cook the potato over a campfire, the fire must be built up and then burn down until a bed of glowing coals is clearly visible. If you will be baking the potatoes alongside something else, such as a roast or pot pie, start the other dish first and add the potatoes at a moment that will get them ready at the same time. If, for instance, your roast has to cook two hours and the potatoes for one hour, add the potatoes after an hour of cooking the roast.
2. Scrub the potatoes under a trickle of cold tap water with a vegetable scrubbing brush or your hands. Pat dry.
3. With a sharp knife or a fork, stab each potato in at least four different places. This creates slits that will release air while the potato is baking. If you do not do this, the potato will fill up with hot air and explode in the oven.
4. Place the potatoes in the oven. In a conventional oven, they can be placed directly on the rack with no need for a baking dish, although some cooks prefer to wrap them in foil. In a microwave, they should be on a microwave safe plate. If the potatoes are to be baked over a campfire, wrap each individual potato in aluminum foil, dull side out, so that it is completely covered.
How long it takes a potato to bake is approximate, and it depends entirely on the potato’s size and on how it is being baked. In a conventional oven, a medium size potato takes about the following amounts of time to bake at the following temperatures:[http://www.all-about-potatoes.com/baked-potatoes.html]
400 F – 45 minutes
350 F – 60 minutes
325 F – 90 minutes
Smaller potatoes will take less time to cook and larger potatoes will take more. While potatoes could bake at temperatures as high as 450 F or as low as 225 F, between 300 F and 400 F is advisable.
In a microwave, an average size potato will take about 7 or 8 minutes on high. Two medium potatoes will take about 11 or 12 minutes. Some microwaves have a button specifically for baking potatoes. If there is a baked potato button, the microwave can sense the potato’s density and moisture and determine how long it takes to bake that particular potato.
Over a campfire, baked potatoes should be turned every 5 – 10 minutes to make sure that they cook evenly. Typically, it will take 30 minutes to an hour to bake a potato that way, depending on the size of the potato and how hot the coals are.
When a baked potato is done, it should cool for a few minutes before being cut and eaten. This is especially important if the potato has been microwaved. A few minutes at rest will finish the cooking and prevent the eater from getting burned.