Ask Dr. Potato
Baking Potatoes for a Large Group
Our company is hosting a luncheon for about 80 volunteers. We want to do a baked potato bar and serve hot potatoes and toppings. The problem is we do not have an oven at work so we will need to bake the potatoes this night before the event. I would like your suggestions on how many potatoes we each should take home to bake (12? 20? How many can fit in a standard oven?), how long that baking time should be for medium-sized potatoes, and how to keep them warm until lunch? Can potatoes be baked the night before and reheated in the morning or do they need to be baked fresh and kept warm?
First of all, don’t bake in aluminum foil. This steams the potato, traps the moisture inside, and the inside of the potato will be soggy. The potatoes are fully baked when the internal temperature is 210°F (this will take about 1 hour at 400°F). Try to place the potatoes directly on the oven rack, in single layers for even air distribution. Once baked, you can use a hot mitt to grab the potato and place each in a square of foil and then wrap. This will help seal in the dry heat of the oven.
Each person could take home what will fit in their cooler, which is more important than the amount to put in the oven. Once baked, either the crock pot or a beverage cooler will work. For the beverage cooler, I have found that if I boil a pot of water and put it into the cooler a few minutes before taking the potatoes out of the oven that the heat will make the plastic and insulation warm. Then when you drain off the water and add the hot potatoes they will stay warm for a couple of hours.
However, baking potatoes the same day works best. Tell the volunteers to wash the potatoes the night before and put them in the oven without turning it on. Then, the next morning, turn on the oven first thing when you get up.