So you want to dress up a baked potato? Congrats! This humble starch is about to become the meal—or snack, no one's judging—of your savory, overstuffed, saucy dreams. These guidelines will help you bake and stuff the perfect potato for all your cravings. Let's get baking.
Baking the Potato
Any potato—sweet, Idaho, red—works for a baked potato, and if you have a method you love for baking, stick with it! Larger potatoes offer more surface area for toppings, but take longer to cook, while smaller baked potatoes can look cute on a platter to serve to guests. If you want to speed up your cooking process, use a fork to poke holes on all sides of the washed potato, and pop it in the microwave for three minutes, until steaming. Meanwhile, preheat an oven to 375° F, wrap your potatoes in aluminum foil, and let them bake for about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the potato. You'll know it's done when a fork or knife can easily poke through the center. Unwrapped potatoes in the oven will also develop a crisp crust, or try rubbing olive oil and spices on your potato for a tasty skin treat.
The Base Layer
Whether you're starting with a Yukon gold, dimpled Kennebec, hefty sweet potato, or even a cute selection of fingerlings, your starch is going to need splitting. Let the baked potato cool a bit before splitting it open—lengthwise, with a knife—to release some steam and create a nice pocket for your baked potato toppings. This first layer is your canvas, and a well-baked potato will absorb some of the base so you can taste it in each bite. Start by spreading a dollop of butter (dairy or plant-based) on the center of your split potato and letting it melt. Other creamy spreads like tahini, mayo, pesto, gravy, and more work to start building that flavor that will seep into the starchy insides of your baked potato.
The Main Event
The next layer (or layers, if you prefer) is going to be solid: Think protein, veg, or more starch. Pretty much anything works as the main component of a baked potato—steamed broccoli, chili, macaroni and cheese, taco meat, roasted peppers, and so much more. If it's delicious to you, it will work. Of course, baked potatoes are also a perfect way to reuse leftovers and give them a new life.
All of the best baked potatoes are topped with a sauce to ooze all over the main ingredients and over the outside. A simple cheese sauce is never a bad idea, nor is marinara, pesto, curry, chimichurri, or salsa. Heat it up (if relevant), and drizzle it generously over your potato. And why stop at one sauce? Consider multiple sauce drizzles for full flavor. If you're not into making cheese sauce, add thin-sliced or shredded cheese on top of the potato and pop it in a warm oven for five minutes to melt.
Here's where things get dolloped, sprinkled, and extra crispy. This last element adds another layer of texture and flavor to your baked potato, to elevate it from humble at-home dish to guest-worthy (or at least post-worthy) gold. Consider fried onions, furikake, sesame seeds, shredded or crumbled cheese, bacon bits, breadcrumbs, or nuts. Essentially, if it's in the toppings section of a salad bar, it belongs as the crown of your potato. This is also the time to add a dollop of sour cream, Greek yogurt, or ricotta, or perhaps some hummus or guacamole, depending on the theme of your baked potato.
Overwhelmed with options? Try these combos for the perfect upgraded baked potato:
Broccoli Cheddar Baked Potato = Butter + Steamed Broccoli + Cheese Sauce + Shredded Cheddar + Sour Cream
Pizza Baked Potato = Marinara Sauce + Melted Mozzarella + Sausage crumbles + Olives + Fresh Basil + Grated Parmesan
Bagel Style Baked Potato = Cream Cheese + Lox + Capers + Everything Bagel Seasoning
Chili Baked Potato = Butter + Chili + Sour Cream + Cheese + Crispy Onions
Veggie Lasagna Baked Potato = Marinara Sauce + Thinly Sliced Roasted Veggies + Ricotta + Pesto + Parmesan
Cheeseburger Baked Potato = Butter + Cooked Ground Beef + Melted Cheese + Pickles + Ketchup
Spicy Tuna Roll Baked Potato = Spicy Mayo + Tuna Salad + Nori Strips + Pickled Ginger + Sesame Seeds