Good Potato, Bad Potato, and the Easy Baked Potato

Potatoes are my ultimate comfort food. I’ll take them any way I can get them, in any variety of potato. I like them as fries, hash browns, chips, country-style, scalloped, mashed, or baked; and I like them sweet, russet, or red. Basically, I love potatoes the way Bubba from Forrest Gump loves shrimp. And what’s not to love? They’re good for breakfast, for dinner, as a side dish, or as a main dish.

But let’s start with the basics: The Easy Baked Potato. The easy baked potato is versatile enough to be a side dish or a main course. Either way, you set it and forget it. I’ll provide you with two ways to cook it:

  1. In the oven: The total cook time may be over an hour, but total time spent on it is about 5 minutes. It’s a great Thursday night meal when you’re exhausted from the almost-finished work week, giving you time to veg out in front of the TV while your oven does most of the work.
  2. In the microwave: Though I prefer my potatoes oven-baked, this is for when you’re starving and need to eat 5 minutes ago.

You can't get much more comfort food with this easy baked potato. Not only is it a potato, but it's dripping with cheese and bacon bits.

But before we even get into how to cook it, let’s talk about how to choose a good potato versus a bad potato. When choosing a good potato, start with weight: find a potato that feels heavy. Once you found your heavy potato, look for a potato that is the most uniform in size and that has a nice oval shape. Avoid potatoes with blemishes, sunken spots, or decayed areas (usually found near the ends).

The perfect potato.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 good-looking potato (obviously)
  • Toppings, which in this recipe includes:
    • Butter
    • Salt and pepper
    • Sour Cream
    • Sharp cheddar cheese
    • Bacon bits
  • Other toppings could include (not all together, but as ideas):
    • Salsa (a Clinton fave)
    • BBQ sauce (a brother fave)
    • Blue cheese
    • Chicken
    • Shrimp
    • Bell peppers
    • Basically anything that sounds yummy

What you’ll need to do:

To cook in the oven:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. While it heats, scrub your potato nice and clean with a scrub brush. Then, use your paring knife to remove any imperfections – don’t forget you’ll be eating the skin (where Mom says all the vitamins are), so you don’t want any extra dirt or yucky stuff on there! Lastly, stab your potato all over with a fork to help it cook all the way through (about 10 times or until you have all your aggression out), wrap in aluminum foil, and stick it in the oven. Cook for an hour and 15 minutes.

To cook in the microwave:

  • Clean your potato and stab with a fork as described above, and then wrap in a wet paper towel (no aluminum foil in the microwave!). Cook on high for about 10 minutes.

When your potato is done (no matter how you cook it), slice multiple diagonal lines across the top of the potato (kind of similarly to the top of a loaf of bread), and then go back and slice diagonally across the top in the opposite direction – it’ll look like a diamond pattern across the top of the potato. This makes it easier to open the potato to stuff if full of all your goodies.

Tips for stuffing your potato with goodies: Make sure to stuff your potato with the goodies you want melted first. So I always add butter first, then cheese (because I want those melted) before I add the sour cream, bacon bits, and whatever else doesn’t need to be melted. While cheese on top of the sour cream probably looks prettier, it doesn’t get that gooey goodness that takes this to comfort food status.

I paired this easy baked potato with my "Brussels Sprouts with a Kick" for a simple, yummy, weeknight dinner.