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If you don't prick holes in a potato before baking...


Fat Guy
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...what really happens? I've been given the dire warning that the potatoes will explode, but I forget about half the time and it seems to make no difference. What's the deal?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Not just prick holes, but deep enough holes.

I was baking some potatoes in their skin to turn into gnocchi. I always prick my potatoes with either a fork or a small paring knife. At about the time I thought the potatoes might be done, I slid my small paring knife into the center potato (of three) and determined they were done. I pulled the tray out of the oven and set them on the stovetop. The left potato was making an odd sort of whirring noise that I had never heard before.

Within about fifteen seconds, I head a muted "pop" noise and looked over to discover that the top half of my potato had blown itself off and was covering walls and floor with bits of fluffy potato shrapnel.

I was as surprised as anyone else. Kind of makes me wonder what would've happened had I used that particular potato to test for doneness instead of the one that I did.

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Like Steven I frequently baked potatoes without pricking them until one day I regretted my technique as I scraped potato off all the surfaces in my oven. :angry: I don't know if it's some particular potatoes or what but I prick them all now.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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I had a potato explode on me in a conventional oven several (maybe many) years ago. I hadn't pricked it, but it's just one data point out of the thousands of unexploded potatoes I've baked. My guess is that much depends on the integrity of the potato skin; porosity probably varies a great deal.

There is another reason to do it, however, and that's to allow more moisture to escape from the potato flesh, helping to ensure a dry, fluffy result. Since reading this (I can't remember where) I give my bakers 15 to 20 deep stabs with a fork prior to baking. It seems to help, though it might just be one of several self-delusions I carry about. It certainly doesn't hurt.

Dave Scantland
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Eat more chicken skin.

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I too have had them "explode" in both a regular oven and in the microwave.

This seems to happen more often with the Yukon Gold - possibly because I usually cut the eyes out of Idaho potatoes but the Yukons don't need it.

As I usually cut the ends off sweet potatoes, I seldom bothered to prick them but a few weeks ago I had one burst in the oven and the cleanup was annoying.

I have used an ancient ice pick as long as I can remember. The point is stuck in a cork when not in use to protect it as it is very fine and very sharp and it makes holes that are perfect in size (in my opinion).

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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My mom taught me to prick them with a fork and it never occurred to me to do it any other way . . . until the other night, when I was reading a cookbook from the early 1900s, and the author mentioned slitting potatoes with a knife! Well, that seemed like a stroke of genius to me. Because the problem is that the steam is causing the potato to expand, right? That's why the potato explodes. Such an elegant solution, one clean slit along the length of the potato, so fast, using the knife that's probably already in your hand. I tried it and it worked brilliantly and I'm never doing it with a fork again.

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Many years ago, my mother and I were out shopping and she called my teenaged brother at home to have him start some baked potatoes for supper. She instructed him to prick them with toothpicks so they wouldn't explode. We got home some time later and she checked the oven to see if he had followed her instructions and there were four potatoes looking like porcupines bristling with toothpicks.

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I've always thought this was only a microwave issue. I suppose I'll continue to live dangerously and bake my potatoes in the oven without pricking them.

My parents used to slice off one end of the potato when I was young, but at some point they stopped doing it. I gathered it was to make them easier to handle. I think they picked it up from Graham Kerr.

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Definitely not just a microwave thing! I have vivid memories of reading one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books in which folks at a cookout put their potatoes into a fire. An unpricked potato explodes, seriously burning a boy's eye. That scene made a big impression on me as a kid, and I've always pricked my potatoes.

Plus, it's fun to stab something repeatedly with a fork.

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Like others, I've had more than one potato explode in the oven when I haven't stabbed them. I don't cook them in the microwave, ever, so I can't speak to that. And I can't say the percentage that wouldn't have exploded without stabbing, since I always do. The first couple that slimed our oven when I was a snot-nosed, know-it-all, novice teen-age cook cured me of ever trying non-stabbed again.

Especially when *I* had to clean up the potato guts out of the (non-self cleaning) oven.

--Roberta--

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I would assume the probability of a potato exploding would be based on its water content, skin thickness and age like a corn kernel. Some are going to be more likely to pop than others.

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

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I thought that it was only an issue in the microwave because of the way it cooks from inside out and the steam build up will lead to explosion. Could be an old wive's tale...

A little off-topic but this belief is, indeed, a fallacy but for a different reason.

Microwaves do not cook food from the inside out. See the last paragraph under "Principles" in the Wikipedia entry: Microwave oven

That being said, I've been a potato pricker all my life. Never understood why it had to be done but see now it's an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure (or time spent cleaning the oven).

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

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Tim Oliver

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I used to poke holes in potatoes--two shallowish stabs with a fork--but then fell out of the habit; I was never given a reason for doing it in the first place. I've never had a potato explode, but this doesn't surprise me (despite the poke-or-explode warning), because when I was still poking holes, they always sealed up quite quickly. Slits and cut surfaces close up quickly too, so my question is, 'Has anyone had a potato that has been poked, slit, or sliced explode?'

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
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mscioscia@egstaff.org

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I stick a knife into my potatoes and cut a slit about an inch long... it's a lot less hassle than poking them with a fork, and an awful lot faster! If I'm microwaving them and I don't need them to be whole, I'll cut the whole potato in half and lay them face-down on the plate so that they cook more evenly (and faster) and with zero chance of a potato explosion.

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i've never had a potato explode, but i do pierce them with a fork. i suspect the people who never had one explode even though they skip the piercing are doing something else to damage the skin, such as scrubbing them extra hard.

popcorn pops because the kernel's hull is so tough that steam builds inside up until it suddenly bursts. damaged popcornkernels and regular dried corn cant hold in the steam well enough for that effect.

a bit off topic, but chestnuts can create even more destructive shrapnel.

i have had a chestnut explode, despite being slit. i was frying them on my porch, and its shell embedded into the drywall ceiling above. if you dont cut chestnuts at all, the results can be even more dramatic. one author said when he cooked chestnuts for the first time, he put the un-slit chestnuts to roast in his fireplace and then went off to another room. soon he heard noise like that of machine gun fire, and ran in to see exploded chestnut fragments all over the room.

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