How to Quickly Cook a Potato

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2014

Do potato nails (rods that are inserted into baking potatoes to decrease the cooking time) really work?

Here’s the theory: Baked potatoes typically cook from the outside in, requiring about 75 minutes in a 350-degree oven to cook through. A piece of metal stuck through to its center will conduct heat, thus speeding up the process. Though most potato nails are made of aluminum, there are also stainless-steel versions available.

To test the theory, we selected three potatoes of the same weight. We left one alone as a control, impaled one on an aluminum potato nail, and threaded the third on a stainless-steel skewer (an easy stand-in for a stainless-steel potato nail). We baked them all in the same 350-degree oven, rotating them after 30 minutes. True enough, the aluminum-studded potato finished first, the stainless-steel assist came in second, and the control potato took the longest. The surprise? There was only a 7-minute difference between the speediest potato and the slowest.

We wondered if more nails would speed things up enough to make it worthwhile. Unfortunately, no. Even a potato that had been run through with an absurd five nails cooked only 11 minutes faster than an intact potato.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Potato nails aren’t really worth the investment. If you want to quickly cook a potato, here’s what we recommend. Poke a potato several times with a fork and then microwave it until it is slightly soft, 6 to 12 minutes, flipping it halfway through microwaving. Transfer the potato to a 450-degree oven and bake it directly on the middle rack until a skewer glides easily through the flesh, about 20 minutes.

NOT SO STUDLY: Even five nails made little difference in cooking time.