How to Bake a Potato the Fast and Easy Way

Baked potato
J Shepherd/Photodisc/Getty Images

Ah, the humble baked potato. To some, it's a mere side dish, an accompaniment, something they serve at a fancy steakhouse almost as an afterthought, because they know they can't just bring the steak out all by itself.

To others it's a meal in itself, smothered with butter, sour cream, bacon and chopped fresh chives, maybe paired with a salad or bowl of soup.

The only problem is they take an hour to bake.

Not that you have to be actively cooking during that time, but you do have to remember to start them an hour in advance. If you're trying to get dinner on the table in a hurry, baked potatoes are out.

Or are they?

To save time, you can microwave a potato, and it'll certainly cook, but it'll turn soft and mealy. It's faster, sure, but you might as well not bother.

My baked potato technique involves baking the potato in the microwave for a few minutes, and then finishing it in the oven so that the skin gets nice and crisp. And to my mind, a crispy skin is the most important part of a baked potato — apart from the butter and other toppings.

What If You Don't Have a Microwave?

If you don't have a microwave, you're going to have to do it the conventional way, so follow the steps below, and simply bake your potatoes in the oven at 400°F for one hour. But obviously, five or six minutes in the microwave will shave 20 to 25 minutes off your total cooking time.

Maybe you can go borrow a neighbor's or something.

The best potatoes for baking are Russet potatoes, also known as baking potatoes or Idaho potatoes. They're nice and big and starchy, with the thick dark skin that gets so beautifully crispy in the oven.

By the way, careful readers will have noticed that nowhere in these steps do I make any mention of wrapping the potato in foil.

That's because potatoes baked in foil don't bake, they steam — which produces a totally different texture, and won't give the potato a crispy skin. So skip the foil  — especially in the microwave.

Here are the steps:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  2. Pour a generous handful of Kosher salt into a small bowl and keep it nearby.
  3. Scrub your potatoes with a brush under running water, then dry them off.
  4. With a fork, stab each potato in the center once, then flip it over and stab it on the other side.
  5. Microwave the potatoes on high for five to six minutes. You should detect the distinct aroma of potato in your kitchen at this point. Note that for up to two potatoes, five to six minutes in the microwave should be enough. If you're doing four, you might need more like 10 to 12 minutes. For more than four, you're best off microwaving them two at a time.
  6. Transfer the microwaved potatoes to a sheet pan. Careful, they're hot! Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over them, and smear it around so that the potatoes are evenly coated.
  7. Now reach for your Kosher salt. Your hands are now covered in oil, so aren't you glad you already poured the salt into a bowl? Sprinkle the salt generously over the potatoes and smear it around so that each potato is evenly coated. I know, they're hot. Be generous with the salt. Any excess will fall off.
  1. Transfer the oiled and salted potatoes to the oven and place them directly on the oven rack. You could place a sheet of foil or a baking sheet on the rack below them to catch any drippings. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the skins are crispy and a skewer slides easily into the potato.
  2. Remove the baked potatoes from the oven. Split them open and serve topped with butter, sour cream, fresh chives, and chopped bacon.