Will a Baked Potato Really Explode If You Don't Prick It?

To prick, or not to prick?

September 27, 2018
Explosions just waiting to happen? Photo by Rocky Luten

A few weeks back, we came across a hotline question that rocked our worlds:

“I am wondering: Is it really necessary to prick potatoes and sweet potatoes before baking them? In what context? Or is this just a cooking myth from days of yore?”

Our team Slack channel lit up like a Christmas tree. Between two recipe developers and three food editors with more than 100 years of collective cooking experience/obsession, we had zero hard answers—and zero incidents of potato explosion among us. So we turned to science.

A Half-Baked Experiment

Finding potatoes of roughly equal sizes was more than half the battle. Photo by Ella Quittner

Initially, we thought that an experiment could provide the answer. We scoured the produce bins for two white potatoes and two sweet potatoes of equal sizes. Into the oven they went, at 425° F, one of each variety pricked all around with the tines of a fork about an inch and a half deep. The sweet potatoes took about 45 minutes to fully cook through, while the Russets (aka Idaho potatoes) took a little over an hour.

Photo by Ella Quittner

The results of this "experiment" were largely underwhelming—no explosions occurred, and all four potatoes had a very similar internal texture. (The only real difference was the darkening of the flesh of the Russet I'd pricked, due to an oxidizing reaction that occurred when I let it sit out for a half hour before baking.) If anything, the pricked Russet potato had a slightly less soft center, which I think would've been mitigated by another five minutes in the oven.

With a sample size of four, we're not surprised that we didn't get conclusive information. But greater experiments, like the one Cook's Illustrated ran in its journey to the perfect baked potato, have yielded equally blurry answers:

Everyone knows that you have to prick potatoes before baking them so steam doesn’t build up inside and cause them to explode. 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.
Cook's Illustrated

Unsatisfied with the results of our great potato bake-off, we called in the big guns, straight from potato country.

Expert Advice

"Yes, it’s good to prick them," says Brennan Smith, a faculty member of the School of Food Science at University of Idaho. "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."

According to Smith, this is more likely to happen in a microwave than in an oven, because the rate of heating is faster, and there's less time for the pressure to escape naturally.

There's no material difference, he says, when it comes to the type of potato—sweet, or one of the white- or yellow-fleshed varieties. Both should get pricked.

And the tiny ones, like fingerlings or new potatoes?

"They have more surface area—more than likely, they’ll be less prone to explode," Smith tells me.

So, will a baked potato explode if you don't prick it? The answer's a firm "maybe." Or more accurately, "sometimes." If you don't want to risk it, just prick it.

Got potatoes on the brain?

Which kitchen theories would you like to see debunked? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.


Phoebe July 14, 2023
When 2 unpoked baked potatoes exploded in my oven, it sounded like a couple of small bombs went off. It left a really big mess of clinging hard tater parts all over my oven. Cleaning it all off took over an hour. I had never ever not poked my potatoes before. I wish I had poked them that time. Such a mess for no reason.
Madmoizelle March 23, 2023
The very idea of pricking potatoes before oven baking them is a complete stranger to me?! Must be an American thing because as a French person I never heard of it. Maybe the variety itself (never heard of russet potatoes here)? Maybe the temperature (could never comprehend conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius)? Whichever it is, really, I never heard of the potato pricking thingy in France o_0 I understand the microwave pricking (just like you cannot cook eggs in a microwave within their shells) although cooking potatoes in a microwave seems weird in itself to me... I don't deny other people's experiences of exploding potatoes but it didn't happen to me or to anyone I know...
old S. July 14, 2022
i was going to sign up for your cooking wisdom - until i saw this article -- you have GOT to be kidding me? Ok, you tested 40 potatoes -- will you assure the readers that they won't have Number 41-- will you send your little testers to clean up their ovens or call 911 for their burnt hands- hmph-- nice try - what a stupid ass -waiting for a lawsuit this article is.
SIU_Avalanche December 9, 2019
It was the funniest thing (until I had to clean it up). Potato placed in microwave with only 1 hole poked (stabbed it with a paring knife). After 3-4 minutes, I heard what sounded like a whoopee cushion from the kitchen. Went to the microwave and the ENTIRE guts of the potato had been emptied all around the microwave (turntable was on, of course!!). It left the skin almost perfect - and empty.
Patricia P. September 4, 2019
I have,had an explosion once in my oven, and what a mess! Worse yet, if I had open oven at the wrong moment I could have been hit in the face with. A hot substant that would stick to my skin. Not worth the risk. I have been cooking. For 60 years...once is too many.
Julie M. November 15, 2018
I exploded a russet in my best friend's oven while I was dog sitting! The ONE time I didn't prick a potato......
Marit G. October 19, 2018
I think most potatoes don't explode because we pierce the skin while scrubbing them! Thicker skinned ones do explode. I once had the inside of the oven covered in mashed potatoes as I forgot to prick them, 6 spuds said bang, bang etc. awful cleaning up job
kitchenyoda October 10, 2018
YES! Potatoes can explode in the oven. Even WHEN you prick them. I have been baking potatoes in the oven for over forty years. I always give them a quick couple of pricks with a fork before putting them into a 450 degree oven. Last year, for the first time, I had a potato bomb go off in my oven -- potato confetti everywhere. All of the other potatoes in that batch were fine. Now, I make sure I prick them a little more deeply, and on all sides, before putting into the oven. Take the precaution! Cleaning baked potato confetti out of the oven was not fun.
Stephanie W. September 30, 2018
We heard a loud pop in the kitchen but I didn't figure out what it was until I checked the potatoes, later. Mashed, burning potatoes all over the oven!
A.S. September 28, 2018
Yes, I had a russet explode potato fluff all over my toaster oven a couple months ago. I had even pricked it but just not enough I guess.
Ella Q. September 28, 2018
A cautionary tale! I'll be pricking from here on out.
Kay T. September 28, 2018
Exploding potatoes...yikes. I've baked sweet, and russet potatoes for 60 years in the oven..mainly because the microwaved potatoes loose their appeal and taste to me. I do pierce potatoes that go in the microwave. When cooked in oven, no piercing, I butter the skins, wrap in foil, and cook at 500degrees for at least an hour. Maybe I've just been extremely fortunate, but none of them had a cracked skin or a blowout! Thank goodness!!!
Ella Q. September 28, 2018
I feel so lucky, too! I’ll be pricking from now on...
Carol S. September 28, 2018
Just a week or two ago, roasted a pan of little new potatoes from my garden. I forgot to prick them, and 2-3 burst! There were bits of potato all over the oven. :(
Ella Q. September 28, 2018
Good to know! I never prick tiny potatoes, but will now (when I don’t halve them).
Lisa S. September 27, 2018
I had a russet explode when it hit the cold plate from the hot oven. The result was second degree burns to my thighs. Yes they will explode on occasion! Better to be safe than sorry.
Ella Q. September 28, 2018
I’m so sorry, Lisa! Agree, better safe than sorry.
Mary C. September 27, 2018
Yep i had one explode all over the oven.
Rosemary September 27, 2018
The last time I put small potatoes into the microwave without pricking was, indeed, the last time I'll do that. At least, purple potato flesh is easy to track down in the white oven interior. I have also seen (fortunately not my oven) russets explode in the oven.
Liam F. September 27, 2018
Conduct this experiment again using a microwave instead of an oven. They will explode!
Frodis September 27, 2018
Yeah, I've seen it once over the years. Left shredded potato over the inside of the oven. There has got to be a better way to make hash browns!
Ella Q. September 28, 2018
Ha! Agreed.
Paul D. September 27, 2018
Busy steakhouses cook several thousand baked potatoes and sweet potatoes every week, and pricking isn’t in the procedure. In 20 years in the business though, I’ve seen hundreds pop on their own or with just a slight bump upon removal from the oven. A pricked skin may be a safer route, but I doubt it would allow for the ultra-fluffy texture we all want from our spud!
Smaug September 27, 2018
I find it hard to believe that anyone has baked any significant number of potatoes (or sweet potatoes) without exploding one. It's usually not spectacular- just a little pop opening a crack in the skin and some of the flesh oozing out, but not what you want.
Paul W. September 27, 2018
I never heard of exploding potato's until it happend to me. I heard a loud thump in the kitchen, did'nt think much of it till i opened the oven, the site was horrific and it took over an hour to clean up the carnage.
Eric K. September 27, 2018
Scary! And good to know...