The Best Ways To Cook A Baked Potato And Methods You Should Avoid

While you've most likely enjoyed and even made baked potatoes before, you may not know that they can be prepared in several different ways. I mean, sure, they are called baked potatoes, but that is not the only way you can cook this tasty dish. Whether you're looking for a fluffy, tender inside, crispy skin, or a fast way to get similar results, you have several options. Of course, some of them work better or are faster than others, but once you know what to expect, you can easily pick and choose the best method.

To compile this list of the best ways to cook a baked potato and the methods you should avoid, I considered my extensive experience making them at home and recommendations from reputable chefs and online cooking resources. I'll take a closer look at my methodology at the end, but for now, let's get to the good stuff.

Best: Baking

Many people believe the perfect baked potato is made in the oven. All you need is a dash of salt, a bit of oil, a few holes poked in the skin, and about 45 to 60 minutes in an oven heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. It is an easy, effective method that doesn't require any additional equipment or appliances; you can place them directly on the oven rack. Some people wrap them in foil or put a pan underneath to catch oil drippings, but neither is truly necessary. Either way, baking potatoes isn't fast, but the results are ideal. The skins get nice and crispy, especially when cooked without foil, and the flesh becomes perfectly soft.

It sounds wild since it's called a baked potato, but the oven alone isn't the absolute best method. It works great, even though it takes a considerable amount of time, but there's an extra step that brings this method to new heights: Brining the skins. When brined, the skins become extra crispy, and the inside stays fluffy and soft, just the way most of us like it. Don't worry — it's really easy. All you have to do is dunk your whole potatoes in a bath of salt water before sticking them in the oven. They won't be nearly as crispy as other methods without being brined, so don't skip this simple step. Besides, it only takes a couple of moments, so what do you have to lose?

Avoid: Grilling

Grilling baked potatoes certainly gets the job done in about as long as it takes to bake them, but it isn't ideal. Sure, if you're having a BBQ and grilling in the yard all day, potatoes make a fantastic addition to your meal, but there are definitely better techniques. On a grill, it is challenging to keep the temperature consistent due to uneven charcoal placement and varying temperatures within, so uneven cooking is highly likely. In addition, you'll need to wrap each potato in foil, which creates more waste, adds to the amount of prep required, and makes it harder to monitor progress while cooking.

Even if you manage to achieve a consistent temperature within your BBQ, grilling a whole potato dries out its flesh. As a result, you'll have to use quite a bit of butter and other ingredients to make it as palatable as other cooking techniques. Interestingly, you can rub half of a potato on the rack to stop food from sticking to the grill, but it certainly shouldn't be your go-to method when it comes to the perfect baked potato. If your grill is already fired up and you have the luxury of time, it isn't the worst thing you can do, but for the best baked potatoes, use a different method.

Best: Air frying

Air fryers are one of the handiest kitchen appliances around. It seems like almost every day, I learn about something new that can be air-fried to perfection and baked potatoes are one of them. When you air fry a baked potato, it comes out with fluffy flesh and deliciously crispy skin. Plus, it takes less time than the oven. As opposed to taking about an hour or more, an air fryer gets the job done in just over a half hour. Lastly, air-fried potatoes are generally considered a healthier option because you don't necessarily need any oil on the skin, leading to fewer calories and fat overall.

To air fry a whole potato, you'll want to poke several holes in the top with a fork, just like you would in the oven. There's also no need to wrap them in foil. Actually, leaving the foil off leads to much crispier skin, so don't bother. Place your ventilated potatoes in the air fryer basket and cook at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 35 to 40 minutes, and they should be all set. Of course, larger potatoes might take slightly longer, but thanks to a lack of foil, it will be easy to test and see when they are fork tender.

Avoid: Microwave

Using the microwave to make a baked potato isn't the worst thing that could happen. It is the fastest cooking method by far and is ridiculously simple, but just because it is fast doesn't mean it is one of the best options. The tastiest dishes are often worth the wait, and baked potatoes are a perfect example of why. A microwaved potato may have tender, moist flesh when done, but it is impossible to crisp the skin. Instead, it becomes soft and almost rubbery — so much so that I often don't eat the skin when it has been microwaved, even though it is generally one of my favorite parts about the dish.

If you don't care about crispy skin on your baked potatoes or are simply in a big hurry, the microwave is a fairly solid choice. As I mentioned, microwaving a baked potato leads to decent results inside. Depending on the size of the potato, it only takes about eight minutes, which is pretty impressive. Many microwaves even feature a potato setting, making it even easier. If you want the best of worlds, you can always finish a microwaved potato off in the oven for about 10 minutes to get somewhat crispy skin in a fraction of the time.

Best: Instant Pot

If you're like me, you probably never thought of making baked potatoes in an Instant Pot. But when you think about their extreme multifunctionality, it makes sense. They are steamers, slow cookers, rice cookers, pressure cookers, warmers, and sauteing devices, all rolled into one handy countertop appliance. I mean, is there anything they can't do? All jokes aside, Instant Pots are a fantastic choice for making tasty, tender baked potatoes. When they come out of the pot, they have a creamy, fluffy, moist consistency ideal for adding toppings and soaking up butter and cheese. This method is also surprisingly quick and energy-efficient compared to other cooking methods.

To make a baked potato in an Instant Pot, you'll want to start by poking holes in the top of the skin. If you're making more than one at a time, choose similarly sized potatoes to ensure even cooking results. I like to use the rack and add a little water to the bottom of the bowl. About 1 cup of water should be plenty. Then, I place the potatoes on the rack, seal the top, and set the machine to high pressure with a manual time setting. The cooking time varies from about 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Once the timer stops, leave them to rest. When the pressure indicator drops, release the steam, remove the lid, and enjoy.

Avoid: Campfire

Similar to grilling, cooking baked potatoes in a campfire is somewhat unreliable. Due to varying temperatures and almost constant changes in the fire and coals, uneven cooking results are nearly impossible to avoid. Using open flames also makes potatoes more challenging to handle and potentially dangerous. If you don't have metal tongs with a long handle for placement, rotation, and extraction, forget about it.

When cooking baked potatoes over a campfire, you absolutely need to wrap them in foil to prevent them from soaking up ash and char. A little smokiness and char can be good, but there's no way to regulate it in a campfire. Placing whole potatoes on a grill over the fire helps a bit, but we already know that's not the best method. Either way, foil makes it more challenging to monitor the cooking process, creates added waste, and prevents the skins from crisping. If you are camping, you can definitely make the campfire work if you want baked potatoes; it might even be fun. Just don't expect them to be done in a reasonable amount of time; they typically take about an hour to finish cooking.

Best: Slow cooker

Slow cookers are another phenomenal kitchen appliance that makes cooking an array of dishes super easy and convenient. They take a long time to cook things, but that's often part of the appeal. You simply fill them, set the temperature, and leave them for hours so you can come back for a delicious meal. Most people think of making stews, roasts, and soups in a slow cooker, but they are also surprisingly excellent for baked potatoes. They allow you to make several potatoes at once, more than your typical air fryer or Instant Pot, and the insides come out soft, moist, and fluffy, which is ideal for soaking up additional toppings. Typically, the skins crisp up, too. Not as much as in the air fryer or brining and baking, but they come out pretty nice.

Slow-cooker baked potatoes are prepped the same way as traditional baked potatoes. First, scrub and dry the potatoes. Then, poke holes and place them in the slow cooker. Next, sprinkle them with salt and some oil and close the lid. If cooking on low, they tend to take about six to eight hours. On the high-temperature setting, only about four hours is needed. I know, either way, it is ridiculously long, but you don't have to stick around and wait. This method is perfect if you are able to plan in advance and want something ready and waiting when you return from work or an extended outing.

A detailed explanation of my methodology

Potatoes are one of my favorite foods. Whether baked, fried, roasted, slow-cooked, or sauteed, I want to eat them all. As a result, I've experimented with making them in countless different ways, and that includes classic baked potatoes. While the above list of the best cooking methods and ones to avoid is largely fueled by personal experience, texture, taste, and convenience helped me determine the ranking as well.

I also considered top chef recommendations and Reddit forum suggestions that aligned with my experiences to bring you a well-rounded, informationally sound round-up of potential cooking techniques for baked potatoes. While I did lots of research, both in my kitchen and online, keep in mind that the type of potato you use will also play a role in taste and texture results. Even so, the cooking method you choose makes a monumental difference, so don't take it lightly.