Flaky, tender baked potatoes make a simple side dish or a meal on their own. Serve them simply with butter, salt and pepper, or top them with cheese, bacon, broccoli or chili. Although potatoes are often baked wrapped in foil, you don't have to use foil to get delicious results.
Preparation Is Key
Potatoes require some preparation before you bake them, regardless of the baking method. Scrub the potatoes under cool water with a vegetable brush to remove any dirt or soil on the skins. As a potato bakes, steam escapes. The escaping steam can cause the potato to explode if it isn't provided with an outlet. Pierce the potato on all sides with a fork or skewer before baking, and the interior will cook evenly without the potato bursting open.
Oil and Steam
If you like a crunchy skin, forget the foil and use cooking oil instead. Olive, vegetable or canola oil work equally well. Rub the entire prepared potato with the oil, coating the skin evenly, the bake it directly on the center oven rack at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Setting a cookie sheet on the rack beneath the potatoes catches any drips. Most potatoes require 45 to 60 minutes in the oven, and they're ready to serve when you can easily pierce them with a fork.
Some Like It Plain
Skipping the oil results in a softer skin. Simply bake the unwrapped, plain potatoes on the oven rack for 45 to 60 minutes, or until done. Rotate the potatoes once or twice during baking so the skin in contact with the rack doesn't burn or become tough. Handle the baked potatoes with pot holders or tongs to avoid burns, and cut them open carefully so escaping steam doesn't scald you.
Potatoes in a Flash
The microwave allows you to bake a potato without foil more quickly than in the oven, and it uses less energy if you only need to bake one or two. If your microwave doesn't have a potato setting, set it to medium power. Microwave the potato for about 20 minutes, turning it halfway through, or until it's soft and tender. Avoid microwaving at higher heat for less time, as this results in a tough skin and uneven cooking.