Do You Really Need to Prick a Potato Before Baking It?

Experts weigh in on the chances of a spud explosion.

Prick a Potato Before Baking
Photo: Banar Fil Ardhi / EyeEm/Getty Images

For most of us, it's second nature to poke a few holes in the skin of a potato before baking it. We learned early on that not doing so could result in scary consequences. A steamy, potato-ey explosion is not something anybody wants in their oven at dinner time.

According to conventional wisdom, a few quick jabs to a potato with a fork allows steam to escape as it cooks. But culinarians are divided as to the necessity of the prick. Has anybody actually experienced a baked potato explosion and lived to tell the tale? Is it just another cooking myth?

The great minds at Food52 recently set out to answer this debate once and for all.

After their own failed experiment at settling the prick or not-to-prick debate, they consulted a true potato expert: Brennan Smith, a faculty member of the School of Food Science at University of Idaho.

"Yes, it's good to prick them," Smith told Food52. "It pokes holes in the skin, which allows steam to escape. Otherwise, they could explode—it doesn't happen all the time, but it happens every once in a while. The potato is full of water it's trying to turn to steam, or water vapor. The skin acts like a pressure vessel. If you don't let the steam escape, it builds up pressure—if it gets to a certain point of pressure from the water trying to become water vapor, it can pop the skin."

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Smith added that an explosion is more likely to happen in a microwave than in an oven. Microwaves heat faster, giving the pressure less time to escape naturally.

And it doesn't matter what kind of potato you're working with either. Spuds of all shapes and sizes should get pricked.

In conclusion, will an un-pricked potato explode when you cook it? Maybe, but that's not a risk most of us are willing to take.

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