Learn the do's and don'ts for achieving a perfectly crisp-skinned and fluffy baked potato (hint: It’s not the microwave), then master our simple recipe.

What’s the secret to the perfect baked potato? While the answer seems like it would be simple, achieving the ideal spud—with a crispy outer skin and a steamy, pillowy pocket of bliss on the inside—is more complicated than you might realize. When you actually break down all of the factors, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. What type of potato should you use? How do you bake a potato in the oven? How long does a potato take to bake? Should I use the microwave? What about tin foil?

If you’re about to give up and take a visit to your nearest steakhouse, don’t do that—instead, read our handy baked potato primer. We’ll answer all your questions—and more—and we’ll show you to how craft the tastiest, crispiest spud you’ve ever eaten. Once you understand how to best utilize your oven’s dry, even heat, achieving the perfect baked potato is easy.

Before we reveal our baked potato secrets, let’s establish some ground rules. When baking a potato, you’ll want to keep in mind these seven essential guidelines:

1. DO choose the right potato.

The best potato for baking, hands down, is a Russet potato. Also called an Idaho potato, this high-starch, low-moisture spud is also ideal for mashing or deep-frying. Russets have thick outer skins that crisp up easily during baking, as opposed to more delicate varieties like red potatoes or fingerling potatoes.

2. DO set your oven to the right temperature.

Set the oven temperature too high, and the skin of the potato could burn before the inside is cooked. Set your temperature too low, however, your potatoes will take all day to cook. We found the sweet spot for baking potatoes to be between 400°F and 450°F. Depending on the size of your potato, expect it to bake for about an hour to an hour and a half within this temperature range.

3. DO know the difference between olive oil and butter.

You’ll want to stock olive oil and butter when making a baked potatoes, but keep in mind that these two ingredients aren’t necessarily interchangeable. Brushing your potato with olive oil (extra-virgin doesn’t have a high enough smoke point, so opt for regular olive oil) before it bakes helps crisp the skin while also boosting the flavor. On the other hand, we prefer to park a pat of butter on top of a sliced baked potato—then watch it melt into the soft, fluffy interior. We also love homemade compound butters for this application (try this flavor-packed Lemon Basil Butter recipe).

4. DO pile on the toppings!

Three Ways Stuffed Baked Potatoes

A baked potato is a blank canvas for an endless array of tasty toppings. From classic sour cream, crumbled bacon, and cheddar to Mediterranean-inspired tapenade, capers, and goat cheese, the only limit is your imagination. Baked potatoes also make a perfect vessel for leftovers—try chili, green bean casserole, creamed spinach, or chicken fajitas.

Here are a few of our favorite baked potato toppers to get you started. Mix and match them however you please!

5. DON'T forget to prick the skin with a fork.

Fail to do this, and your potato could explode in the oven. (Yes, we’re serious!) Pricking holes in your potato allows steam to escape while it bakes. Without an escape route, steam builds up inside the potato. And while your potato won’t always explode, we’d rather not take the risk.

6. DON'T wrap your potato in foil.

Wrapping your potato in tin foil creates a steamed effect that may help it cook a little faster, but you’ll lose the irresistibly crispy skin that makes a baked potato just so good. We bake our spuds directly on the oven rack so that they’re fully exposed to your oven’s dry-heat and able to crisp up more easily.

7. DON'T use the microwave.

Yes, it’s faster than the oven, but nuking your potato in the microwave is just about the worst thing you can do for it in terms of deliciousness. An oven cooks food evenly, a microwave does not. It doesn’t matter what you saw on the Internet, cook your potato in one of these things and the inside will be gummy and the skin will be soft and shriveled.

Now that you're armed with the general do’s and don’ts of baking a potato, it’s time to execute it. This foolproof recipe makes an easy weeknight side (or a fun/easy meal if you stuff it!) and lends itself to endless variations.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 4 Russet potatoes (at least ½ pound each)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Set your oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Gently scrub the potatoes under cold running water to remove any excess dirt. Pat dry completely and prick the outer skin in several places with a fork.
  3. Brush the potatoes generously with olive oil with a pastry brush, then dredge them in salt. You’ll need to use at least ½ cup salt, as the potatoes should be well-coated.
  4. Place potatoes directly on oven rack (you can place a sheet pan on the rack beneath if you're concerned about oil dripping) and bake until tender and crisp, about an hour to an hour and a half (depending on the size of your potato).
  5. Brush off excess salt from the skin, then dress up your spud with all of your favorite toppings.

If you're looking for a twist, give any of these delicious baked potato variations a try:

Craving a baked sweet potato? This helpful, step-by-step video shows you how to make the perfect baked sweet potato.

By Elizabeth Laseter and Elizabeth Lasseter