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Baked spuds: To poke or not to poke?

  • c

My husband was just throwing some oil-coated bakers in the oven, and I asked him if he'd poked them. He hadn't yet, and then did so, then asked me, "Isn't that an old wives tale? Isn't only for microwaves or..."

The first time I learned about poking holes in potatoes before baking was long before I'd ever heard of a microwave, but that doesn't really mean anything.

I tried a search of the web in general and a search of Chowhounds, and couldn't find anything definitive.

In a microwave, the exploding potato story sort of makes sense. But in a conventional oven? Does anyone know?

I do it because that's what my Mom taught me. (Keep in mind, though, like the "cutting the ends of the ham" story, I thought you were supposed to cut the ends off the potatoes before baking because my Mom always did...and years later realized it was because she always bought #2 potatoes, and the ends were...questionable. I learned the poking thing from the same person.)

(Feel free to steer me toward an appropriate Chowhounds post if it exists. I couldn't find it on search.)

Thanks

Cady

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  1. I worked my way through college (decades ago) as a line cook in a fine dining establishment. There, we would wash the bakers real good, line them up on a sheet pan, and slide the pan into a convection oven. No poking needed at all.
    Same goes for now at home. Spuds go in the conventional oven and have never had a blow up. Microwave is a different thing though, poke away for sure!

    1. It doesn't happen often, but they WILL explode. Cleaning potato off every surface of your oven is a pain. Poking just takes a second, and doesn't change the texture any, so why not?

      1. I scrub, and I poke, and I still had one blow up on me once. It was a hideous mess! So now I poke more thoroughly.

        1. Oh my yes they will definitely blow up, especially if you leave them in a few minutes too long. That said, some of the best bakers I've ever made were using a really old method - soak potatoes in cold water for at least 20 minutes, then put in hot oven 400F or so. After about 20 to 30 minutes remove and poke really well (I usually poke two to three times on the front and back of each potato), then finish baking. This usually ends up with a nice cripsy skinned potato with lots of moist fluffy tater inside!

          1. Yes, they'll blow in a regular oven, too, so I use a paring knife that has a long, skinny point for it. We cook our potatoes a long time - DH says it's impossible to overcook a baked potato, and while he's not quite right, he's close. Crunchy skins are much-favored here, followed closely by chewy ones. So I don't find it's a question of how long they're baked, just, speaking from a science standpoint, lots of moisture and insufficient ventilation.

            And I also think poking needs to be fairly deep, especially in a large potato. That's why I use a knife instead of a fork; it's just easier.

            1. Biggest mess EVER in my oven was exploding, unpoked potatoes. I stab a couple of times with a paring knife without fail now.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Terrie H.

                What TerrieH says is so true. Once was enough for me to learn this.

              2. Basic science. If folks didn't poke, and they didn't explode, then they were lucky. Sometimes a good scrubbing removes a bit of the skin here ant here, hence a "scrub-poke," which provides spots for the build up of steam to escape.

                1. Thanks, guys. I love Chowhounds for stuff like this - even when a thorough search can't find the answer, a quick question here put the issue to bed.

                  (And this is probably a good thing, because if I know my husband, his next step would have been an "experiment"!)

                  Thanks again!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Cady

                    I understand this is years old but for future readers I would like to add some input.. although not proven many still believe poking your potatoes will prevent them from exploding so poke away if you prefer..

                    However keep in mind potatoes are grown either in dirt or under hay, usually composed with manure.. why state this fact? Well poking your potatoes (especially ones not properly washed) has the same chance of exposing you to a food borne illness as exploding.

                    "Ha! But I never gotten sick before!" Most food borne illnesses can be carried without symptoms for as much as 30 days before you feel it's effects.. So that morning the great Burger from the shady restaurant you went to the previous night messed you up to the point of creating a yelp account to warn the world... yeah it could have been your own poked potato from 3 weeks ago.

                    Point? Be more concerned about how well you wash your potatoes then how well you poke them. And although cooking them in foil is okay.. storing or holding them in foil is also a no-no.. but that's an article on its own.

                    1. re: chachime1

                      But they're also being cooked at a high heat for a long time. If you were eating them raw, it might possibly be a concern but not baked for an hour.

                      1. re: chowser

                        I prefer not to use "rare" examples but here it goes..

                        Clostridium botulinum the bacteria responsible for botulism (the deadliest natural or synthetic toxin known to man) is commonly found in dirt and on potatoes. The bacteria develops dormant "spores" that can survive temperatures well above 212°F for a few minutes. The exterior of your potatoes will definitely get to that temperature but the interior may not (actually the common recommended internal temperature is 210°F) leaving room for survival.

                        What your fork/knife may well do is push such bacteria not only into a "safe zone" but also a ideal for germination and growth. Ideal growth temperatures are as low as 36°F (refrigerated) and as high as 118°F (kept warm or sitting out). Main reason NOT to store them in foil.

                        Please note again point is to concern more about the washing of your potatoes then the poking/exploding of them.

                        1. re: chachime1

                          I would take the chance of poking and not having an exploding potato vs. getting botulism, given an average of 22 people got it from food last year (no stats on how many got it from poking baked potatoes).

                          http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/d...

                          If you're that worried, you can just not poke deep into the potato. I just pierce the skin, not stab it to the center.

                  2. i have been present when unpoked potatoes did explode
                    and
                    i have been present when an unpoked eggplant exploded.

                    (my, otherwise brilliant, cousin can't seem to learn. . . . .)

                    1. there was a passage in one of the Little House on the Prairie books where one of Laura's friends was injured by the shrapnel from a potato cooked in the ashes of a campfire, but nobody remembered to poke it...

                      1. Can't remember my grandmother EVER poking potatoes and also can't remember any explosions?

                        BUT have had THREE explode over past year or so and they WERE poked?? Go figure. With one, all I had left was the hollow skin after giving it a gentle squeeze to check for doneness. Glad I had oven mitt on for THAT!

                        1. I remember shortly after we got a
                          microwave when I was a kid my mother was cooking a spaghetti squash in the microwave. I guess she was inexperienced with microwaves and did not know that piercing the skin was needed. The microwave door blew open and spaghetti squash flew all over the kitchen.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: John E.

                            For some horrible reason that just made me laugh really really hard...!!