As one of the most versatile ingredients in our pantries, potatoes occupy a special place in the heart of every Southerner. Because of its longstanding place in our cuisine, most of us learned how to cook potatoes from our mothers and grandmothers—which results in a debate over how to prepare a simple baked potato. Some will wrap them in aluminum foil while others roast them on a bed of salt. But among the most contested steps in the method of baking a potato, few come close to the age old pricking of a potato’s skin with a fork before baking it.
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Potatoes are packed with moisture. The smaller varieties of potatoes tend to have a higher water content, but regardless of size and color, all potatoes will develop significant amounts of steam in their insides as they bake. When the water molecules are heated above the boiling point, they vaporize inside the potato’s flesh and encourage an even cook. However, as the pressure builds in the potato from excess steam, it can force the potato to bust open as it bakes. This is because the skin of an average potato is sturdy enough to prevent most of the steam from escaping.
For this reason, our verdict on the debate is to indeed poke the potato skin with a fork or knife in a few places before you bake it. It’s important to note that not every baked potato will bust open if it is not pierced beforehand, but since you (and we) are unable to predict if a potato is liable to explode, it’s a good idea to pierce the surface as a precaution.
Extra Tip: we do not recommend wrapping a potato in aluminum foil when you bake it. This traps the steam that escapes from the potato in the thin space between the aluminum foil and the potato skin, making for a soggy potato skin rather than one that is crisp and delicious.