This customizable baked potato bar is perfect for fall

This Customizable Baked Potato Bar Is Perfect For Fall
Meleyna Nomura/TNS

Whether cobbled together from leftovers in the fridge for a weeknight dinner, or served as an over-the-top spread for a party, a baked potato bar is always a crowd-pleaser.

The best way to enjoy a baked potato is with a spread of custom toppings (aka a baked potato bar). It’s the ultimate meal. Whether you cobble together leftovers in the fridge for a Tuesday dinner or prepare an over-the-top spread for a crowd, there are few people a baked potato bar wouldn’t delight.

From microwaving to slow cooking to air frying, there’s no shortage of ways to prepare a baked potato. This recipe sticks to the classic oven-baked method, but feel free to swap in a different cooking technique depending on the amount of time and appliances you have at your disposal.

Baked potato bar toppings

The flexibility of a baked potato bar is a huge part of the appeal. If serving a few people, it’s a great way to stretch a little leftover protein into a fun, hands-on meal. A few pieces of leftover steak or bowl of beans that would have been enough for just one person is now dinner for all. Here are a few “themes” to get you inspired.

Classic: Bacon, sour cream, sharp cheddar, chopped chives

Taco: Taco meat or canned chili beans, salsa, sour cream, chopped cilantro, lime wedges

Corned beef: Corned beef, butter, sauerkraut, sharp cheddar, chopped fresh dill

Cubano-inspired: Roasted pork, Swiss cheese, equal parts mayonnaise and Dijon mustard mixed together, chopped pickles

Italian-inspired: Italian sausage, Alfredo sauce, chopped artichoke hearts (canned or thawed frozen), Parmesan cheese

Chili cheese: Chili, sour cream, sharp cheddar, diced red onion

Broccoli and cheese: Ham, steamed broccoli, cheddar sauce

Buffalo chicken: Shredded chicken, butter, Buffalo sauce, blue cheese crumbles, diced celery

BBQ pork: Pulled pork, queso, pickled jalapenos

BBQ chicken: Shredded rotisserie chicken, barbecue sauce, pepper Jack cheese, canned fried onions, bread-and-butter pickles

Vegan queso: Soyrizo, vegan queso, canned green chiles

Garlic butter salmon: Salmon, creme fraiche, steamed asparagus, garlic butter sauce, lemon wedge

Lentil dal: Lentil dal, yogurt, pickled onions, cilantro

Carne asada: Chopped steak, Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole

Turkey club: Roasted turkey, cheese sauce, bacon bits, chopped tomato

Mushroom melt: Sauteed garlicky mushrooms, Swiss cheese, caramelized onions

Cheeseburger: Ground beef or turkey, cheddar cheese, fry sauce, chopped onion, relish

How to prepare a baked potato bar for a crowd

A baked potato bar is an excellent way to feed a party of people. Baked potatoes are a crowd-pleaser, with the bonus of being naturally vegan and gluten-free. Ensuring there are a variety of topping choices allows your guests to make their own plate based on their own dietary needs.

This recipe serves four, but the number of potatoes you make is limited only by the capacity of your oven. The cooking time won’t increase by much, if at all. When thinking about toppings, make sure to keep larger quantities of classic toppings like butter, cheese, and sour cream on hand. But generally, the larger variety of other toppings you offer the less of each you’ll typically needed.

To keep baked potatoes warm for a crowd, you can either cook them from start to finish in the slow cooker, or load the already-baked potatoes into the slow cooker and keep on warm for up to an hour. Any longer and the risk for food poisoning increases. If you think your guests will stagger their eating times, you can always bake a second batch of potatoes. Put them in halfway through the cooking time of the first batch, or right after the first batch is done cooking.

How to prepare a baked potato ahead of time

When building a baked potato bar around leftovers, most of the work is already done! Baking the potatoes does take an hour, but it’s mostly hands-off time. If you’re short on time, try microwaving your potatoes.

If you’re putting together a baked potato bar for a larger number of people, quite a lot of the prep can be done ahead of time. Proteins, sauces, and stews can typically be made a day or two ahead of time and reheated. Cheese and vegetables can be grated and chopped ahead of time. Plate everything up and reheat while the potatoes bake and your guests arrive.

Baked Potato Bar

Serves 4

  • 4 medium russet potatoes (about 7 ounces each)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Topping options:

  • 4 ounces grated cheese (about 1 cup), such as sharp cheddar, Swiss, pepper jack, or blue
  • 1/2 to 1 cup cooked vegetables, such as canned green chiles, steamed broccoli, sauteed peppers
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garnishes, such as cilantro, raw or pickled red onion, or cooked bacon bits
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked protein, such as chili beans, sausage, pulled pork, or shredded chicken
  • 1/4 to 3/4 cup sauces or relishes, such as sour cream, salsa, alfredo sauce, barbecue sauce, buffalo hot sauce

1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 425 F. Scrub 4 medium russet potatoes under running water with a vegetable brush. Dry with a kitchen towel. Prick each potato all over with a fork. Use your hands to rub with 1 teaspoon olive oil over all the potatoes. Season all over with 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper.

2. Place directly on the oven rack and bake until knife tender, 50 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, cut 2 tablespoons unsalted butter into 4 pieces. Prepare the toppings as needed: Grate cheese, prep and cook vegetables and proteins, and chop garnishes. Right before serving, warm any proteins or sauces.

3. Carefully remove the potatoes from the oven. Split each potato lengthwise with a knife. Use a kitchen towel to carefully push the two ends of the potato toward each other, exposing and fluffing the flesh. Place a piece of butter on each potato. Season the potatoes with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Add toppings as desired.

Recipe notes: Leftover potatoes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to four days. Reheat directly on the oven rack in a 325 F oven until warmed through.

(Meleyna Nomura is a contributor to TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit any comments or questions to editorial@thekitchn.com.)