Everyone knows that you're supposed to prick your potato with a fork before baking it, but will a potato explode if you don't poke holes in it? We did some digging to discover whether this habit was just one of those unquestioned practices we picked up from our parents or a truly preventative measure against a shattered spud.
Several other sites have embarked on the same quest to discover whether a potato will actually explode if you haven't poked holes in it. The results: inconclusive. "Everyone knows that you have to prick potatoes before baking them so steam doesn’t build up inside and cause them to explode," Cooks Illustrated reported. "Well, we baked 40 potatoes without doing this, and not one exploded. But since it takes so little effort, here’s one time we’ll err on the side of caution. It could be the 41st one that explodes." We certainly see their point!
Though it's true that sticking your spud doesn't require that much extra energy, it can be a pain in the patoot to have to pierce your potato a dozen times — and then repeat it for every hungry mouth who also wants a baked potato. So is it really, really necessary? Time to consult the experts.
"Yes, it’s good to prick them," Brennan Smith, who teaches at the School of Food Science at the University of Idaho, 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."
Smith recommends poking all varieties of potatoes before baking — sweet, white-flesh, yellow-flesh, and even tiny spuds, like fingerlings. Another word of caution from Smith: Microwaved potatoes are more likely to burst because the appliance heats them faster, leaving less time for pressure to escape naturally. Guess we'll be grabbing a fork and taking a few extra seconds per potato just to play it safe.