The baked potato is an unlikely entry in Food Nirvana as it is common and most folks know how to bake a potato. Some do not. A grilled steak with a baked potato and a tossed salad is so American that I decided to cover the bases and provide what most of the Internet experts agree to be the best baked potato, with my upgrades and explanations.
A word about potatoes is in order. Use fresh Russet potatoes and do not refrigerate them as that will change the sugar and starch balance. Do not use any potato that has green color anywhere on the surface. Cut out any bad sections from the potato prior to baking. You should not have to remove any eyes as that infers you do not have a fresh potato, but in any case remove any eyes. Wash the potato in a spray of cool water to remove any dirt and then dry the potato with a dish towel or paper towel.
The goal is to make a baked potato that has a crisp skin and a flaky interior, such that you want to eat the skin as well as the interior of the potato.
1 medium large fresh Russet potato
1 tsp. peanut oil
1 tsp. Kosher salt
Set the oven to 420º F.
Use a fork to create 1" deep punctures in 12 different evenly spaced areas of the potato.
Lightly coat the potato with the peanut oil, wiping off any excess with a paper towel.
Rub the Kosher salt into the oiled potato skin surface.
Bake the potato for one hour on the middle shelf of the oven, turning it over after the first 30 minutes.
Remove the potato from the oven and serve it with butter, sour cream, etc.
My recommended baking temperature is anywhere from 20º F to 70º F hotter than what the experts recommend. Why? Well, they all coat the potato with oil and then inform you that if you do that the skin will not be crispy. Thus, I know that the higher baking temperature will produce a crisp and not burned surface. I also know that the higher temperature will assure that enough moisture is lost from the interior of the potato to make it flaky inside.
The length of time necessary to bake a potato depends on the size of the potato. The main goal is to lose enough moisture from the interior of the potato so that it is flaky when opened, not dense and wet. A small potato will be done in 40 minutes maximum. A medium potato will take about 50 minutes. A medium large potato will take an hour. A large potato will take an hour and 10 minutes. An extra large potato will take an hour and 20 minutes.
The depth of the punctures made in large and extra large potatoes prior to baking should be 1½" deep instead of the 1" deep recommended for a medium large potato in this recipe.
What about Sweet Potatoes? Well, we don’t eat the skins of sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes have to cook longer than a regular potato to become soft inside. They are punctured to avoid any possibility of them exploding due to internal steam pressure. They are best baked inside an aluminum foil wrap, which is something you never want to do with a regular potato. The idea is that all the moisture of the sweet potato is desirable to keep inside the foil wrap, helping cook it to become soft, and the aluminum foil seals in the moisture. That is just the opposite of the goal and the method used for baking a regular potato. The baking temperature used for regular potatoes is fine for sweet potatoes, but give the sweet potatoes an extra 20 minutes of baking time for each given size.