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baked russet potatoes: what is the function of oil and foil?

I see some baked russet potato recipies that call for coating the potato in oil before baking, while others say to coat the potato in foil. Some recipies call for both.

What effect do each of these components, oil and foil, have on the potato?

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  1. I love to eat the skin, so I always wrap my potatoes in foil before baking them. The foil makes the skins a little softer. Without the foil, the skins get harder and dried out. I've never tried rubbing the potatoes in butter or oil.

    2 Replies
    1. re: brandygirl

      It turns baked potatoes into steamed potatoes.

      1. re: rjbh20

        I love to eat the skin so I never wrap my potatoes. I give them a rub with oil and nice salt and bake and the skin is perfect for eating.

    2. the skin and outer layers will start to dry out if you do not remove the potato once it is done. I don't like to waste aluminum, so I don't do that. If i want a baked potato without it getting crusty I microwave it.

      1. I coat with oil and bake plain. I love the skin and his makes it a nice texture, I have only used foil when cooking potatoes in embers, which is great .

        1. I rub the skin with olive oil and sea salt because I eat the skin. Foil-wrapped potatoes are steamed, not baked. A baked potato should be dry with a mealy texture and you can only achieve that by letting the moisture out, not holding it in with foil.

          1. I love eating the skins, but unlike some others posting here (and nothing wrong with their choice) I like the skins crispy. So no foil for me. Occasionally some sort of fat (butter, oil) but usually I just bake them as they are and then scoop out the innards and eat the skins with either butter or sour cream and s/p.

            6 Replies
            1. re: LulusMom

              Yes, the skins are delicious without oiling, and foil defeats the purpose of baking a spud, IMO, unless it's directly in coals.

              1. re: LulusMom

                I think the skins are best oiled with bacon fat and lightly salted before baking.

                1. re: LulusMom

                  I find rubbing them with olive oil and some sea salt (even adding crushed rosemary) leaves the skins with a richer taste than the dry baking does while achieving a crispy skin. I too love adding butter and /or sour cream and s/p the only way to eat the skins, the best part of the potato.

                  1. re: LulusMom

                    <...I just bake them as they are and then scoop out the innards and eat the skins with either butter or sour cream and s/p.>

                    And may I add....YUM!!

                    Best. Skins. Ever. As a kid, I preferred these over the 'tater guts, and used to swap anyone who'd give up their skin.

                  2. Should potatoes for *mashed potatoes* be steamed, not boiled? I read that somewhere.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: BangorDin

                      I always boil them - never heard this before. Fascinated to hear what other say.

                        1. re: BangorDin

                          If they are small, and being cooked whole, boiling is okay. But if they're cut up, I don't want to dilute their flavor or nutrients with water, so I steam or microwave them. I'd bake them only if I was already using the oven for something else and could do the spuds simultaneously.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            I steam them also in this case.
                            I don't care for mashed potatoes from baked. I like baked potatoes to be very dry and flakey and to be eaten with some skin in each bite ( if organic).
                            I like mashed potatoes to be much less dry, so I
                            Boil them whole or steam them and use Yukon golds or other varieties for mashed.

                          2. re: BangorDin

                            I steam mine in my Kitchen Craft steamer/ricer. I've never boiled them. It came with a handled device to push the steamed potatoes through the holes in the steamer insert.

                          3. Oiling the skin makes it crisp as it bakes. If you like crispy baked potato skin, that's how it happens. If you don't, don't bother.

                            Wrapping the potato in foil means that it mostly steams, rather than bakes. (Sort of like what happens when you cook the potato in the microwave.) Definitely no chance of crispy skin that way. If you're cooking your potato in a fire, rather than an oven, foil protects it from getting ashes & char on it, otherwise it's not necessary, and not necessarily desirable.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: benbenberi

                              I follow James Beard's advice to bake potatoes long/high enough that the flesh just under the skin starts to caramelize.
                              Although I do not oil the skin, I assure you that it is then crunchy (possibly a semantic distinction from crispy) and delicious.

                            2. We like our potatoes washed and wrapped in foil and put in the fireplace to cook on the grate and then cook out steaks there also. Sweet or white potatoes are great that way. Also in the summer on the grill but in the coals. Have not oiled them and then wrapped them. We like the crusty skins. I wonder if they will srust? Will have to try that way now.

                              1. I prick mine, rub with olive oil, add sea salt and then roast in the oven directly on the rack (no baking sheet). This makes the skin a little crispy rather than mushy (which we love). I like to do them directly on the rack so that all sides get equally crispy...

                                (Put a sheet of foil on a lower rack to catch any drippings...)

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: jbsiegel

                                  I also prick mine and bake on the rack. I scrub them, pat dry, prick so they bake nice and mealy, rub with oil (not too much), then rub with a mixture of Penzeys Forward! or 4/S and Aleppo pepper. I used to try to let the skins dry after scrubbing but just patting them dry makes for skin that's just crispy enough. I use rather large spuds and bake them at 425º for an hour and 15 minutes, turning the potato halfway through baking. I use my ancient toaster oven if I'm only doing one.

                                  I use rice bran or peanut oil but I always mean to try ghee. Maybe someone here has tried it . . .?

                                2. I don’t care for a wet-skinned baked potato---having them come to the table in restaurants, all dripping when you peel off the foil---that’s a STEAMED potato, with none of the wonderful crispy salty skin. And microwaving them does not do the trick, either, but a good ten or fifteen minutes in the zapper, depending on size and number you’re cooking---will give those beauties such a head-start, steaming hot through and through and beginning to soften and cook from the inside---when even getting them HOT all through in a 350 oven takes a good thirty minutes. So I DO love a shortcut, if it comes out where I wanted to go. Just give them four or five little pokes in the top with the tip of a sharp knife before you set them into the microwave on a paper towel, and zap them for fifteen minutes or so.
                                  Have a tiny bowl with a tablespoon or so of any kind of oil ready when they come out of the microwave (handle carefully with a potholder---they are VERRRRY hot) and brush them all over with the oil. Then salt one side with slightly-coarse sea salt, turn them over and salt the other side, put them in a small pan or on a cookie sheet, and pop them in a 350 oven for perhaps twenty minutes---the time it takes to get everything dished up and on the table, and pour the tea.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: racheld

                                    "I don’t care for a wet-skinned baked potato---having them come to the table in restaurants, all dripping when you peel off the foil"

                                    Not my taste either but either way, I always have to wonder when in a restaurant whether or not the potato was scrubbed because I think appreciation of the skin (at least in public) is relatively recent. I use a veggie wash and scrubbie at home.

                                  2. Well really, if a potato is coated in oil, it's being roasted, not baked. Oil promotes fiercer caramelisation/crisping of the outer jacket, which is the essence of the roasting technique.

                                    Foil is to produce a soft jacket rather than a crisp one. Some people seem to like them that way. It also speeds the cooking process. I'd be with others who say that this is more of a "steamed" potato.

                                    A "proper" baked potato is neither oiled nor foiled, nor needs to be. Crisp skin on such a potato is a function of oven temperature, which should be HOT: 225 °C/435 °F. Size helps too, the bigger the potato, the crisper the eventual skin, although the baking time will be commensurately longer. Pricking is entirely unnecessary, btw, although it won't do any particular harm either.

                                    I've not tried it, but my suspicion is that starting a baked potato in the microwave, assuming no oil were then used, would lead to a less-crisp skin because some of the moisture would have been driven off in the initial microwaving. Just a hypothesis though.

                                    16 Replies
                                    1. re: AlexRast

                                      I agree with most of what you say, but can tell you from experience that pricking IS NECESSARY. A while back, on two different occasions, a potato has exploded in the oven. What a mess! In both cases, I had casually pricked them 3-4 times with a knife or fork, and perhaps not on all sides. It's analogous to exploding pyrex - you may go a lifetime without it happening, but once it does, you get cautious. At least one of the spuds was a Yukon Gold and in both cases I was baking something else in the oven at the same time, so I put a few potatoes directly on the rack, near the wall of the oven. The ones that blew up were in the rear corner, likely getting more heat than the others. I can't remember how hot the oven was but probably not more than 375F, if that. I don't recall what the main thing I was baking was, on either occasion. My approach to baking potatoes is to do them at whatever temp the other item(s) require. If the spuds need more time, I leave them in the turned-off oven. I like the flesh just under to the skin to start to caramelize, as did James Beard. I am now very careful to prick potatoes with a paring knife, all round, about a half-inch deep.

                                      I have occasionally done the microwave pre-cooking (not for the exploded ones, though)
                                      and found no difference in the crispness of the skin.

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        Hmm - my experience has never encountered an exploding potato, nor has anyone else I've known had one. Maybe it does happen, but thinking about the thermodynamics and mechanics involved I suspect this is a freakish thing. The skin of a potato is porous - and to create an explosion you'd have to have some condition that created a nonporous layer. Either that or somehow the heat in the centre of the potato would have to rise at extreme speed. Both of these seem unlikely in the oven.

                                        Thus in rather the same way that it's rather pointless to, e.g. take precautions against lightening strike or other low-but-finite-probability events, I'd think pricking, again, while doing no harm, is unnecessary. The random exploding potato can be cleaned up if necessary. I've had worse unexpected disasters overcome my oven.

                                        1. re: AlexRast

                                          This has happened to me, more than once. I think it is possible that it happens specifically when I take a potato out of the oven and squeeze it, decide it is not quite done, and put it back to bake a bit longer. Maybe. Not sure, though. Could it be that when the potato is baked (maybe with oil on the skin) it becomes non-porous?

                                          I have never been struck by lightning.

                                          1. re: AlexRast

                                            For the heck of it, I googled "baked potatoes explode", and got a bunch of hits, including an obliging one that committed suicide on Youtube. And cleanup IS a pain - because the oven is hot, the bits of potato burn and smoke in addition to sticking. It only takes a few seconds to prick them well enough to, presumably, prevent ruptured russets.

                                            1. re: AlexRast

                                              In all my years of potato baking I've had exactly one potato explode, in my oven. Because I got lazy and didn't take the extra seconds to poke some holes. One is all it takes to set the lesson in stone. Poke them. They like it.

                                              1. re: DuffyH

                                                I just remembered that I had one burst, too. It didn't result in major splatter or anything but I heard a "pop" from the other room and was pretty surprised when I saw what it was. That's when I made it a practice to poke.

                                                1. re: MacGuffin

                                                  Hi Mac,

                                                  We need jackets or ball caps for the club. With a logo.

                                                  A clubhouse would be nice, too.


                                                    1. re: MacGuffin

                                                      < ? >

                                                      Potato Pokers United - PPU
                                                      Potato Pokers United Against Rutptured Russets - PPUARR
                                                      with a nod to greygarious

                                                      1. re: DuffyH

                                                        Ah! Gotcha! (I'm thinking maybe aprons, too?)

                                                        1. re: MacGuffin

                                                          Oh, yes, aprons. With attached spud gloves.

                                                          1. re: DuffyH

                                                            Hey, "drop it like a hot potato" didn't just appear out of the ether. One should be prepared. :)

                                              2. re: AlexRast

                                                One of the very few times I didn't poke the potatoes, two of them exploded in the oven. I had it at a fairly high temperature, too, and the jetsam began to char and smoke pretty quickly. What a mess and a stink!
                                                I *always* prick the potatoes!

                                                1. re: AlexRast

                                                  Trust me, it does happen. And the same goes double for sweet potatoes. You never want to clean an oven where a sweet potato has exploded.

                                                  1. re: AlexRast

                                                    I am 54 years old. I have had baking potatoes explode on me three times. Clean up is a terrible mess, as it continues to bake on the element and on the sides of the oven until the oven cools down enough to be wiped out. It is easy enough to poke them to avoid this.

                                                    So, statistically, I have never been truck by lightening, but I have had potatoes explode three times.

                                                2. re: AlexRast

                                                  I never used to prick the potatoes Alex - had been cooking them that way for years. No oil - no foil, on the oven rack. Until one night when I had friends over for dinner and one of the potatoes exploded. Was very funny, we all had a really good laugh - but now I DO prick my potatoes!

                                                3. My dear late husband insisted it was impossible to overcook a baked potato. (Although he did once see some that he referred to as Charles Addams potatoes, charred nubs.) I come very close to that. The crisper the skin the better for me. Foil and brown paper are annoyances and I always deduct points for restaurants that use them. Especially steakhouses that charge separately for their sides. If I'm going to be paying $5 for a baked potato, then by golly I want it BAKED, not steamed.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: lemons

                                                    Funny about not being possible to overcook. I've discovered that I can adjust the cooking time/temp/potato size so that it fits nicely into my schedule. Sometimes cook for 90+ minutes, sometimes pick 'em smaller, crank the heat and cook shorter.

                                                    1. re: jbsiegel

                                                      Oh, absolutely. When I see a recipe for "baked potato" I just smile. My mother would just stick them in when she put the meatloaf in, maybe even as she was heating the oven, and that taught me about being cavalier about cooking times and temps.

                                                      But she never poked them. And I, too, had one explode - but the other one baking with it didn't. After that I poke them all.

                                                    2. re: lemons

                                                      "If I'm going to be paying $5 for a baked potato, then by golly I want it BAKED, not steamed."

                                                      I also expect to get butter when they ask if I want butter on my "baked" potato.

                                                    3. First, foil: Most foils used these days are microwave-usable. That's right, folks. The restaurant that you're paying a small fortune to for a great steak and a BAKED potato is using a microwavable foil that simply steams the potato, and after removing from the micro (fully cooked) the potato is thrown into an oven on high and "browned" a bit so you'll think it was actually baked. Faster and easier for the staff and most people don't know the difference. As for oil: just rub a a baking potato (palpably thick skin) with olive oil infused with rosemary and what you will get will make your mouth water AFTER you finish eating a GREAT potato. In fact, try this: take red potatoes, small ones and peel. Then roll them in olive oil and rosemary and pan roast with any meat roasting on a rack. Cook at about 425 degrees and let brown for about 30 minutes (also finishing the meat). The potatoes will taste almost as if they have a "baked potato" skin. What a taste! Just anoint the potatoes with the pan drippings and the flavor will knock you out!

                                                      6 Replies
                                                      1. re: DaSarge

                                                        Agree with the olive oil and rosemary. Fabulous.

                                                        1. re: DavidA06488

                                                          That DOES sound yummy. The problem is that my baked potatoes are invariably "loaded," i.e. with butter, sour cream, whatever appropriate cheese I have on hand, and chives. I don't think all that's a good pairing with olive oil and rosemary. :( Maybe I should shoot for a sheep's milk cheese and forgo everything else?

                                                          1. re: MacGuffin

                                                            True, but sometimes butter and s/p are the best. Maybe some grated Manchego?

                                                            1. re: DavidA06488

                                                              I prefer butter, Cottage Cheese with Chives and a lot of fresh cracked pepper. My second is plain Greek Yoghurt, feta and pepper.

                                                                1. re: DavidA06488

                                                                  Don't even need the Manchego. Butter and s & p are all that I ever use . . . and I NEVER use foil. I want a baked potato not a steamed potato. Coat potato in EVOO or butter, roll in some kosher salt and bake.

                                                          2. De Sarge is correct in the standard procedure of "baked" 'taters. It reduces time, loss and shortage. The fact that the vast majority of customers either can't or don't know how to tell the difference makes this practice work just as well as a thick bottom or wall on glasses at the bar. If I am at home my "Baked 'Taters" usually start in the micro with no foil or paper. I then coat, depending on the protein's seasoning with lemon-olive oil or rosemary-olive oil, etc. and wrap in foil. I then grill over low-med heat, gas or charcoal depending on the application and turn every time I turn the meat. The skin is crisp and the flavor is all through with the foil holding the vapors. I have also "Smoked" 'taters by putting them in the smoker with their glory showing. Didn't impress my wife and her friends much but my hunting buddy's liked it when I smoked a venison hind quarter with it.