What’s Wrong with Foil Wrapped Potatoes?
If you’ve never been taught how to make baked potatoes (also called jacket potatoes in the UK and sometimes here in Canada) and you’ve wandered through any grocery store, you’ve probably come to a solid conclusion – potatoes must be wrapped in foil.
I remember the first time I saw one of these foil-wrapped potatoes, after I had moved out on my own.
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Of course I did what any 19-year-old does – I called my mom.
“Do I need to buy aluminum foil to wrap potatoes? I don’t EVER remember doing that, but all the baking potatoes in the store are wrapped in foil.”
Mom told me what I’m going to tell you – step away from the wrapped potatoes. In fact, take a look at the PRICE on those potatoes first and then step away.
YES, you can, you absolutely can, make a baked potato without foil.
In fact, you should – if you want that crispy skin and fluffy potato flesh.
What Kind of Potatoes
Go to the produce department and pick up the biggest Russet potatoes you can find. I love the texture of a properly baked Russet, which is why I’ll always recommend them for baking. The skin crisps up the way you expect, and the starch in it creates the wonderfully fluffy insides.
What other kind to use? No other kind. Russets really are THE baking potato. And you probably don’t want them in a bag, either, because they’re usually small.
What Else Do I Need?
If you don’t have any at home, get yourself a bottle of olive oil. (If you only have canola oil, use that. But it won’t be *the best* potatoes. And coarse salt.
NO aluminum foil.
If you’re here to find out how to cook potatoes in foil, you’re in the wrong place. I’ll just tell you not to do it.
YES, you can bake potatoes without foil. In fact, you should always bake potatoes without foil!
Foil-wrapped baked potatoes are really steamed, with soggy skins. Blech.
If all you want is a cooked potato, a steamed potato, then you may as well microwave it. (No, I’m not serious. Don’t do that.) If you want crispy, delicious potato skin, do NOT wrap them in aluminum foil.
Three ingredients – baking potato, coarse salt, olive oil.
I buy most of my groceries at a restaurant supply store (with four growing children and this blog, I sometimes feel like I’m running a restaurant!) so I have HUGE potatoes.
They take longer to cook – the time increases depending on size – but the process is the same.
How to Make Baked Potatoes Without Foil
Scrub the potatoes very well while you preheat the oven. My recommendation for the best potatoes is 300F, but that takes longer than most people want, so we’ll compromise with 350F.
Cut off any scabby or weird spots with a paring knife.
Rub the potato all over with olive oil. (I’d take a picture but a wet potato looks exactly the same as an oiled potato.)
Put the potato on a plate and cover it with coarse salt.
It doesn’t have to be kosher salt. It can be, though. I just use coarse sea salt (because I like sea salt).
Put the potato in the oven directly on the rack.
You can put a baking sheet below it, on the lower rack but do NOT put the potatoes on the baking sheet. That will cause a nasty burnt spot on the bottom.
A 5 ounce potato will take about 45 minutes at 375 degrees F, if you’re in a hurry. The size of the potatoes certainly matters – larger potatoes take longer.
It will take 60 minutes at 350 degrees.
Do you want the absolutely PERFECT baked potato? Bake it for 90 minutes at 325 degrees.
Do NOT bake potatoes at 400F or 450F or anything crazy like that.
Potatoes are best when they’re roasted slowly. In fact, you can even lower the heat to 300F for 120 minutes if you’re slow roasting a stew or something similar. A longer cooking time and lower heat are always going to be better than high temperatures.
How Can I Tell If The Baked Potato is Done
If you’re the sort who has a probe thermometer in your kitchen, a perfectly done potato will be between 205F and 212F.
But you can also stick a fork in it. If the fork goes easily through the center, it’s done. Or if you gently squeeze it (with an oven mitt), it is … well, it’s squeezable.
A variation – let’s say that you had lots of coarse kosher salt and you didn’t mind wasting some.
It is perfectly fine to tuck your oiled (and pierced so they don’t explode) potato into a bed of salt, cover it up with more, and then slowly roast it at 300F or 250F. Obviously not something to do every day unless you own a salt mine.
But do try it at least once.
Add butter, salt, and black pepper. That’s all. This is a perfect food.
Just Slice and Eat?
NOOOOO! Hold up before you just slice the potato in half and plunk it on a plate. No, no, no.
Remove them from the oven. They’ll be hot, so use oven mitts. Use the mitts to gently squeeze and massage the potatoes – you’re sort of mashing them from the outside.
Now you can cut through the top, a slice right from end to end, pinch both ends and gently squeeze so that the middle pops open. And then add your toppings.
What I Can Do More Than Just Butter, Right?
While spuds are great with just butter, salt, and pepper, you can do SO much more. Don’t just think of them as a side dish – think of it as a starting point to a whole meal.
A dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of chives – classic!
Shredded Cheddar Cheese and bacon bits – yum!
But don’t just look at the examples you find at restaurants.
How about steamed broccoli with a sharp cheese sauce? Broccoli Cheese Soup – drizzle some of that on top.
Or top it with leftover chili.
Make up a batch of caramelized onions while your potatoes bake, and top them with that.
Or heat leftover beans – yes, they make a great topping.
Fry up a steak, slice it thinly, and top the potatoes with that and plenty of shredded cheese (with or without the onions!)
The sky really is the limit when it comes to potato toppings.
Leftovers? Cold baked potatoes can be cut into slices or chunks and fried.