20 Best Tips And Tricks For The Ultimate Loaded Potatoes

When you experience a perfectly baked potato for the first time, you immediately understand why they're considered classic comfort food. The piping-hot steam that escapes, the shrinking slice of butter, and the savory-scented aroma that whets your appetite — these are only precursors to the potato heaven that awaits. Potatoes are flavor sponges, complementing any seasoning blend, and reaching new heights when loaded with toppings.

While potatoes are originally from South America, today's loaded baked potato wasn't invented until 1908 in Idaho. Easy to customize, it kept hungry railway workers fed after a tiresome day. Potatoes are filling but aren't as flavorful on their own, and loaded potatoes gave railway workers a choice of different savory toppings. There's simply no limit to what you can load your 'tates with. Luckily for you, today's forecast is cloudy with a chance of toppings, and we've put together a list of tips and tricks for making the ultimate loaded potatoes.

Russet potatoes are best for baking

If you wan to bake top-tier potatoes, then you have to make sure that you use the right variety. Russets are generally accepted as the best type of potato for baking baked potatoes specifically. They are thick-skinned and starch-heavy, which means they can take the intense heat without drying or burning. This lets you bake the skin to a nice crisp, while the interior remains moist and fluffy.

Russets are also pretty massive in size compared to other common varieties, and that makes them ideal potatoes for piling with tasty ingredients. Hearty enough to feed a starting line-up, if you are looking for a budget-friendly way to feed multiple mouths, you are already pretty much set with your Russets.

Pre-soak your potatoes for extra crispy skin

The feeling of biting into the crisp outer layer of a baked potato is like the first movement to a culinary concerto. Anticipation builds, setting the tone as the first taste of savory potato settles into the second movement. When you nail the ideal consistency, baked potatoes are like sweet music to your belly. That said, from picking the wrong variety to using refrigerated toppings, there's a multitude of ways you could be ruining your baked potatoes.

Fortunately, a salt-water brine will help you achieve perfectly crunchy skin. The salt in the brine breaks down the outer surface of the potato skin, allowing it to release additional moisture during the baking process. That prevents it from becoming soggy while cooking, leading to an extra crisp, and a pillowy potato consistency.

Evenly bake your potatoes by piercing them first

One of the most challenging things about baking potatoes is cooking them evenly. Spuds are like solid rock-like vegetables. The tough skin is why it's one of the best staple foods, and also why it can be tricky to prepare properly. And you may not realize this, but potatoes are composed of 79% water, according to Advances in Nutrition. Unless released, moisture will turn into steam, and your potato might become a spud missile.

Okay, to be real, the likelihood of your potato blowing up is low, but one thing that's almost a guarantee is it cooking unevenly. That's why you should always pierce your potato with a fork or knife several times before baking it. Without holes, you won't get to enjoy your delicious baked potatoes.

Use oil and salt in place of aluminum foil

There are several schools of thought when it comes to the best method of baking potatoes. Some believe sealing it in aluminum foil is the way to go, while others say potatoes should be baked directly on the rack. In truth, both methods can secure you satisfying results. Celebrity chef Alton Brown happens to think aluminum foil is a one-way ticket to limp, soggy, and gummy baked potatoes.

Foil has a tendency to trap moisture and make potatoes mushy. In order for it to bake evenly, steam needs to escape. That's why it's important to prick the skin first, followed by Alton Brown's technique: Coat each potato in cooking oil, season them with salt, and place them directly on the rack at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. That said, with a few pokes, aluminum foil works perfectly fine in the oven.

The teaspoon hack helps reduce cooking time

We all know the frustration of waiting over an hour for a potato to finish baking, only to pull it out and discover the inside uncooked. What's worse, imagine if you timed the toppings with the cooking duration; talk about annoying. Thankfully, someone invented a nifty way to speed up the baking process.

The hack that will cut time for your baked potatoes involves using a teaspoon as a heat conductor. It's super simple — all you have to do is pierce an opening large enough for the handle of the teaspoon to be inserted into the potato. Once it reaches the center, place the potato in the oven. The teaspoon will distribute the heat and shave off five to 20 minutes of cook time.

Patience is the key to perfectly baked potatoes

There's no shortage of tips and tricks you can learn about baking, and while using the right cookware and knowing the best temperature setting is important, one skill that doesn't get the attention it deserves is patience. Cooking is all about timing, and in order to get the best results, you need the self-control to say "no" to insistent hunger pangs. Trust us, we know how hard it is to wait for potatoes to bake, especially when the mouthwatering aroma hits your nostrils.

That's why patience is guaranteed to take baked potatoes to the next level. The slower and longer you cook them, the more flavor and texture develops. Once you've mastered patience, you'll unlock the true potential of baked potatoes.

Raise the temperature for extra-crispy baked potatoes

Another way to give spuds extra-crispy skin has to do with how you pre-cut them. Whether you prefer poking over pricking or slicing to stabbing, potatoes cook more evenly when moisture can escape. This next method forgoes the foil and oil for a more straight-cut approach: Slicing the potato across the length and width. It's a game-changing trick sure to level up your baked potato skills.

After slicing your spud in a cross pattern, set the oven temperature at 400 degrees Fahrenheit then place them directly on the oven rack. Before you know it, you'll be chomping into the tastiest crispy and crunchy skin. If you're looking for an additional bite, you can turn the temp up to 430 degrees Fahrenheit for a quick bake.

Twice-bake your potatoes for double the tastiness

To make the ultimate baked potatoes, you not only need prep and patience, but you also need the courage to go boldly where few cooks dare to go. Twice-baked potatoes require being cooked in the oven, well, twice. The extended wait alone can test a home chef's mettle, but if you can muster up the patience, you'll experience something truly unforgettable. To make twice-baked potatoes, just begin by following the same steps you use for regular baked potatoes. 

After they've cooled down, halve them and scoop out the potato flesh so the skin can be used as a bowl. Blend the potato filling with your choice of ingredients and place the mixture back in the skins. The final step before twice-baked nirvana is another 15 to 20 minutes in the oven.

Utilize this slow-cooking method for superior baked potatoes

If you thought twice-baked potatoes required patience, wait until you get a load of this super slow-cooked recipe. Using this method is sure to give you the crispiest, fluffiest spuds around. There's one caveat, though: you'll need around three and a half hours carved out in order to achieve the perfect consistency. We suggest cueing up your favorite binge-bender T.V. show or letting the kids ask you a thousand and one questions. Believe us, the wait is more than worth it.

You'll want to first preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, prepare the potatoes how you traditionally would, pricking, oiling, and seasoning them thoroughly. The potato should be slow-cooked for three full hours. While it bakes, make sure to get your toppings ready for a potato-tastic time.

Reduce bake time by using a microwave

We know patience is a lot to ask of someone when they're cooking something as delicious as loaded baked potatoes. The mouthwatering aroma whispers in your ear, beckoning you to come hither. Have you ever found yourself staring through the oven door window at your food as it painstakingly bakes? We know exactly how you feel. Fortunately, there's always a practical workaround.

If you don't have hours on hand to patiently wait for the slow-cooking oven, one way to avoid an impatient itch is to use a microwave. It can zap a potato in a fraction of the time, alleviating extra work after a tiresome day. It's as easy as sweet potato pie, all you gotta do is puncture it, lather it in oil, then toss it in the microwave for five minutes. Halfway through, flip it over and let it run for another five minutes. The only downside to using a microwave is that you won't get that delicious crispy skin.

Raise the bar with loaded potato skins

One of the tastiest parts of a potato isn't the flesh itself, it's the skin. A wholly nutritious root veggie, the skin is potassium-rich, contains half of the potato's total dietary fiber, and up to 12 times the antioxidants of the flesh. In other words, when you eat potato skins, delicious and nutritious are a packaged deal.

Potato skins are also great for loading with savory toppings. From afternoon hangs with the kids to game day gatherings, it's the perfect appetizer and a pub classic that's one of the best foods for soaking up beer. Perfect potato-skin ambiance aside, we recommend trying this loaded potato skins recipe. That means you can skip the rank smell of dried alcohol, avoid the pressure of impressing raucous tailgaters, and scarf down some spuds at home.

Whipped feta dip is a delicious potato topper

With an infinite amount of tasty toppings for potatoes, it can sometimes be overwhelming trying to decide which combo to go with. One ingredient that'll have you shouting from the mountaintops is cheese. It's an inarguable fact that steamy spuds and melty cheese are a match made in heaven. Whether you prefer the tangy and robust taste of sharp cheddar, or you're a devout Parmesan sprinkler, you simply can't go wrong.

Celebrity chef Ina Garten has her own unique way of elevating cheesy loaded potatoes. Her cheese of choice is crumbled Greek feta. Garten uses a food processor to blend it with cream cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. The result is a crave-worthy Ina Garten-invented creamy whip that goes beyond expectations.

Add mascarpone to the mix for extra cheesiness

Another cheese sure to put a big smile on your face is mascarpone. Originally from the culinary capital of Italy, this cheesy ingredient is made with only two simple components: heavy cream and citric (or tartaric) acid. It has a silky consistency that makes it deliciously spreadable. Similar in taste to cream and ricotta cheese, mascarpone is slightly sweeter, which makes it great for desserts and savory recipes.

For your taste buds to fully experience the magic of mascarpone's velvety texture, you must blend it into your baked potato. Lighter in texture than other cheeses, mascarpone has all the taste but none of the heavy aftereffects. We suggest adding classic ingredients like crispy bacon bits, sour cream, and seasoning with the mascarpone. It's an extra creamy and appetizing filling that you'll want to top everything with.

Boost your bake with bacon bits

As mentioned, potatoes are extremely versatile vegetables. The list of ingredients that pair well with potatoes is longer than a CVS receipt. Sitting somewhere near the top of the toppings list are bacon bits. These smoky, salty, and crispy flavor bombs are so legendary they've even inspired poems. When sprinkled atop a freshly baked potato, everyday 'tates transform into super spuds.

While you won't be leaping tall buildings in a single bound any time soon, bacon bits will definitely save the day. Whether used by itself or combined with other ingredients, bacon bits are a belly pleaser sure to upgrade potato night. You can also purchase pre-made bits or make it from scratch using fresh bacon. If pork isn't your thing, you should be able to find turkey, and even plant-based bacon bit options fairly easily.

Top your baked potato with veggies for added nutrition

Whether you're vegan, vegetarian, or simply looking to add more greens to your diet, we recommend loading them on a baked potato. Potatoes taste incredible piled atop a savory hodgepodge, and if there's something you can never have enough of, it's veggies. Cauliflower and broccoli florets are a dynamic and delicious duo. For a pop of color and tang, toss in some chopped red and yellow peppers. Literally any combination of veggies can be used as a potato-topper.

Sautéed butter spinach with chopped garlic will bring out your inner Popeye. Shaved Brussels sprouts mixed with thinly sliced red onion and diced carrots offer a little savory bite and some sweetness. If you miss the flavor of cheese, there are many suitable plant-based alternatives, as well.

Switch it up with a savory baked sweet potato

Russets may hold the crown in America's baked potato court, but sweet potatoes are every bit as scrumptious. While they share similarities, sweet potatoes are distinct in color and taste. They're most often used for desserts but can be just as amazing when paired with savory foods.

The salt balances out the sweetness, adding another dynamic to the traditional baked potato. Switch up the usual go-to and try a saucy mixture of ground beef and baked beans. Vegans can swap out the ground beef for plant-based crumble, or substitute it altogether with mushrooms. Just think of your kitchen as a laboratory and this as an exciting new experiment. To get you started, try out this fresh and healthy loaded sweet potato recipe.

Put a twist on things with tornado potatoes

Tornado potatoes may sound like some form of farmer's joke, but they're actually a fun and unique potato-cutting style. Sure to twist some heads and turn frowns upside down, these torrential 'tates are sliced and cooked to resemble a spiral tornado-like shape.

Luckily, you don't have to be a master chef to learn this cutting technique. First, skewer each potato right through the center; a wooden skewer will help hold the potato together while it cooks. Next, cut each in a downward spiral direction. Cutting downward ensures the potato remains whole. As a matter of fact, if you have a few Russets on hand, we've got the perfect loaded tornado potato recipe. Sweeping guests up in a whirlwind of flavor, you'll have a hard time keeping these treats on a platter.

Add cheese while baking for a extra melty deliciousness

We think you'll agree that the only thing that could possibly be better than cheese is melted cheese. There's something so satisfying about seeing the silky and savory delight drip down the side of a baked potato.

When fresh out of the oven, avoiding a burnt tongue is the only ward against its alluring spell. That's why you should only try out this cheese melting tip if you have serious self-control; yup, it's that good. According to Mexican celebrity chef Pati Jinich, the best way to elevate a baked potato is to add the cheese during the cooking process. Jinich suggests using Oaxacan cheese in particular because it's an awesome melting variety. Then after it's hot and ready, top it all off with crumbled cotija cheese.

Use a spicy topper for an extra kick of tasty

Hearty and filling, baked potatoes are great winter-season eats, and using a spicy topper can hold chilly temperatures at bay. You can fire things up with toppings of your choice, classic piquant ingredients include jalapeños, fiery homemade chili, and hot sauce. A stir-fry blend of veggies drizzled with sriracha will add a nice kick, or you can really turn up the heat with harissa-lathered chicken. It really depends on your desired spice level.

You'll become the talk of the town with this cheesy loaded potato skins with chorizo recipe. It only requires a few ingredients, and the ones with dairy can easily be swapped out for vegan-friendly ones. Either way, you're sure in for a treat.

Turn a foodie favorite into a loaded topping

If there's one takeaway from this list of tips and tricks, it's that there's no limit to how a baked potato can be enjoyed. You're literally invited to be as creative as you want; a simple recipe of only a few ingredients can be just as impressive as one with several. While Russets are the most recommended, there are many other crave-worthy varieties. Savory or sweet, plant-based or extra cheesy, these tantalizing tubers can be enjoyed day or night.

Top it with meat and beans for a boost of protein. Try a nutritious combo of chickpeas, kale, and quinoa. Add a couple of scoops of melted cheese and steak for a cheesesteak-style loaded potato. When you make a baked potato, if you load it, they will come.

Static Media owns and operates Tasting Table, The Daily Meal, and Mashed.