I recently wrote an article here complaining that even though everyone agrees on what a good french fry is like, and even though it's not hard to make a good french fry, most of the fries you actually get are not good.
I have a similar complaint about baked potatoes. Restaurant baked potatoes are uniformly terrible, even when you pay $10 for them at an expensive steakhouse. The potato is supposed to steam inside its skin and become soft and fluffy inside, and crisp on the outside. Instead you almost always get a potato that is not too different from raw.
The bad fries are a mystery. It only takes a few minutes longer to make really good fries, and I don't understand why more people don't do it. The baked potatoes are easier to understand. Making a good baked potato takes a lot of time. It doesn't require skill or attention, just patience.
The recipe is: heat the oven to around 350°. Start with a big starchy potato, the kind with dusty brown skin. Wash, dry, and oil the potato, prick it with a fork, and put it naked into the oven. (No foil! Unless you want your baked potato to be a steamed potato instead.)
And then add the secret ingredients: time and heat. Many recipes advise baking the potato for an hour. This is not enough. Once the potato goes into the oven, leave it there, for at least ninety minutes, maybe a hundred and twenty. If it's in a pan you might want to turn it over once. It's probably better to just put it on the rack, then you don't need to turn it.
The exact time and temperature is not that important. This is not rocket science; it is just a potato. The proper cooking time is not a fleeting instant, it is a long afternoon, an easy target. At some point the potato will begin to overcook, but not for a long time, and if it does, it will happen very gradually. The skin will stay crisp and the inside will stay fluffy; only a thin shell in between will dry out too much, and even if it does you may not find it objectionable; some people like it that way. I suppose eventually the entire potato would char and catch fire, but you would have to work really hard to leave it in the oven that long.
The other key point is to take the baked potato out of the oven and deliver it to the table at the moment you are about to eat it, and not any sooner. The baking time is quite flexible, as long as you don't take it out too soon. So don't say “oh, the recipe said to bake it for 90 minutes”, and then take it out after exactly 90 minutes and let it sit around for a quarter hour before you serve it. Leave it in the oven until serving time, and when everything else is ready, then take it out and drop it on the plate.
Restaurant chefs have years of training and practice in the culinary arts, and because of this they cook many things much better than the rest of us. But how much advantage do they derive from their training and practice when baking a potato? Pretty close to zero.
Restaurants, by their nature, are really good at some kinds of food, much less good at others. The baked potato is very ill-suited to restaurant-style preparation methods. It takes a long time to cook, but unlike many long-cooking foods, such as stew or soup, it can't be prepared in advance and then reheated. (The outside, which should be the best part, would get tough and leathery.) The baked potato is best when served on the instant, but unless the restaurant had a whole oven devoted to potatoes in different stages of doneness, circulating in and out in shifts through the day, and unless they invested the attention and trouble to keep track of all those potatoes, putting in new ones and taking out the old ones every half hour or so, they wouldn't be able to produce a well-baked potato at the moment they needed to deliver it to the table.
And if the restaurant did go to all that trouble, what then? They wouldn't be able to charge enough to pay them back for the time and trouble, because it is just a potato, and who is going to pay a lot of money for a potato?
So baked potatoes are a dish that you can do at home better than a restaurant can, and you might as well. Let's all create a better world by cooking better baked potatoes.