By Vanessa Greaves

'Taters, precious.

A baked potato can be a simple side dish topped with butter and herbs, or a hearty meal in itself, stuffed with whatever your hungry imagination has in mind. (Got leftover chili, stew, or vegetables? Tuck them into your baked potato.) But first, you need to bake a potato so it's tender and fluffy and ready to showcase those toppings. Here are five ways to bake whole potatoes, using an oven, microwave, slow cooker, grill, or air-fryer.

Pictured: Ultimate Twice Baked Potatoes | Photo by Allrecipes Magazine

1. How to Bake a Potato in the Oven

Great when you've got other things to do for an hour or so.
Turn the oven on to 350° F. (Note that the oven does not have to be fully up to temperature before you put the potato in. Convenient, right?) Scrub the potato with a vegetable brush. Prick all over with a fork or cut a deep slit on the top to release steam as it cooks. At this point, you can bake it three different ways:

  1. For crispy skin, place a potato directly on the middle oven rack and bake for 60 to 90 minutes.
  2. For tender skin, pat your potato dry and rub the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt (optional), place in a baking dish (with or without rack), and bake for 60 to 90 minutes. So that's how to bake a potato without foil.
  3. Here's how to bake a potato with foil. Oil and season the skin, wrap in foil, place on oven rack or in a baking dish, and bake for 60 to 90 minutes. The skin will be tender. Pro tip: Pierce the potato before wrapping it in foil. If you pierce it afterwards, you might push bits of foil into the potato. (Not exactly what you want in your baked potato.)

How long to bake potatoes? Total cooking time depends on the size of the potato; it's done when its starch has become tender and fluffy. To test, put on an oven glove and lightly squeeze the potato. It should easily give way to gentle pressure.

2. How to Bake a Potato in the Microwave

Great for cooks in a hurry.

Pictured: Microwave Baked Potato | Photo by Melissa Goff

Scrub the potato, prick all over with a fork, and place on a microwave-safe plate. How long does it take to bake a potato in the microwave? Again, it depends. Start by cooking the potato on full power for 5 minutes. Turn over and cook again for 5 minutes, or until the potato is soft when squeezed. Note the skin will not be crisp like an oven-baked or grilled potato.

3. How to Bake a Potato in the Slow Cooker

Great for when you need to keep your oven free, you don't want to heat up your kitchen, or you want potatoes to bake while you're away.

Pictured: Slow Cooker Baked Potatoes | Photo by bd.weld

Scrub potatoes and prick all over with a fork. Rub the skin with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and dried herbs (optional). Wrap with foil, and cook on High for 4½ to 5 hours, or on LOW for 7½ to 8 hours until soft.

4. How to Bake a Potato on the Grill

Great for camping or cookouts.

Pictured: Leslie's Salty Grilled Potatoes | Photo by lovestohost

Heat grill to medium-high. Scrub potatoes and boil for 5 minutes to jumpstart the cooking process. Or prick with a fork and microwave for 2 minutes, turn them over, and microwave for another 2 minutes. Rub skin with olive oil and season as desired. Now you can grill it a couple of different ways:

  1. Place potato directly on grill, close cover and cook over indirect heat for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until skin is crisp and potato is tender.
  2. Double wrap potato in heavy-duty foil and bury in hot coals for 30 to 60 minutes, or until tender.

5. How to Bake a Potato in an Air Fryer

Finally, you can bake a potato in the air fryer.

Pictured: Stuffed Air Fryer Potatoes | Photo by Soup Loving Nicole

Poke some holes in your scrubbed potatoes with a fork. Rub them with a little vegetable oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and other seasonings if you like, and place them in the air fryer basket. Cook at 390 degrees. How long does it take to bake a potato in the air fryer? Check after about 35 minutes. The air fryer will create a nice crispy skin.

Baked Potato Serving Ideas

  • Slice the potato in half to form two boats, make slits in the flesh, and top as desired. Or use the two halves to make twice-baked potatoes.
  • Cut a slit down along the top and squeeze both ends of the potato toward the center to fluff up the starch and release the steam. Top as desired with butter, sour cream, cheese, vegetables, chili, get the picture.

Best Potatoes for Baking

When it comes to baking, a russet potato is your best choice. Also known as an Idaho or baking potato (go figure), a russet potato contains the kind of starch that cooks up drier and flakier, making it ideal for soaking up butter, sour cream, chili, and whatever else you're pouring over your potato. Its thick skin also helps the potato create its own delicious, edible serving bowl.

Buying and Storing Potatoes

Choose dry, firm, smooth-skinned russet potatoes without cuts, bruises, sprouts, or hints of green. That greenish tinge is caused by a poisonous glycoalkaloid called solanine, that is caused when the potato is exposed to light during the growing cycle. Always cut the green parts away before cooking. The sprouts are harmless signs of growth, but should be cut out before baking. Store potatoes in a cool, dry, dark spot with ventilation (not in a plastic bag).

Other 'Tater Topics