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1. Avoid buying potatoes that are wrinkled, have begun to sprout or have green patches.
2. Choose potatoes with uniform shapes and sizes; they'll cook more evenly.
3. Store fresh, whole potatoes loose in a bin or rack (to allow air to circulate around them) in a cool (45° F to 50° F), dark place that is well ventilated. Kept this way, they should last for several weeks.
4. Always scrub potato skins well under cold, running water.
5. Prick potatoes with a fork before baking to shorten the baking time and to keep them from bursting.
6. Bake at 400° F for about one hour, or until tender.
7. Do not wrap potatoes in aluminum foil for baking. Foil holds in moisture and steams the potatoes, resulting in a "boiled" taste and texture.
8. Turn the potatoes over halfway through the baking time to prevent browning of the undersides where they touch the baking tray or oven rack.
9. To "bake" potatoes in the microwave, wash but don't dry them. Pierce, then wrap them in microwave-safe paper towels and place one inch apart on a microwave rack. Cook according to your oven's guidelines, turning potatoes once during cooking. Don't exceed the recommended cooking time because potatoes will continue to cook after they're removed from the oven.
10. A baked potato is ready when a fork easily pierces its skin. If the potato is hard, bake it a little longer. However, be careful not to overbake, or the under-skin will dry up.
12. If potatoes baked to doneness are being held for over 10 minutes before serving, wrap them in foil. This will enhance the appearance of the skin by reducing shriveling.
13. Great potato toppers include leftover stews, chili, cream-style soups, butter, sour cream, shredded cheese, crumbled bacon, gravy, chili and lightly cooked vegetables. Even frozen and canned veggies are topping winners.
14. By themselves, potatoes are low in fat and calories. You can keep them that way by serving them with low-fat toppings such as plain, nonfat yogurt with chopped scallions, low-fat cottage cheese and chives, stewed tomatoes, steamed broccoli florets or julienned carrots, spicy mustard or salsa.