Planning a baked potato bar for your next get-together is an easy way to keep your sanity the day of the event because so much of it can be prepared ahead of time. Toppings can be planned ahead and stored until the big day and the potatoes can be baked until tender the morning of the party and then simply warmed through just before they are ready to hit the buffet table.
Baked potato bars are not only easy on the host, they also appeal to nearly everyone including picky eaters, carnivores and vegetarians, the health conscious, and those who prefer to indulge because a wide variety of toppings can be served to win over nearly anyone.
It’s also an easy way to offer a healthful buffet table since countless vegetables can be included and the baked potato itself is a nutritious base from which to begin. Consider planning a baked potato bar for your next get-together. It works just as well for a crowd or a small gathering and is a fun way to bring everyone together as they load up their potatoes.
- Decide what ingredients you will offer as toppings. Be sure to include a variety of options to appeal to the pickiest eaters as well as those who you know will get creative with their flavor combinations.
- Include a few cheese options such as crumbled feta, goat cheese, and blue cheese along with shredded cheddar, Gruyere, and Monterey Jack; proteins could include shredded chicken, beef, or pork, fried and crumbled bacon bits, crumbled smoked salmon, and barbecued shrimp; vegetable ideas include caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, grilled bell peppers and corn removed from the husk, and chopped broccoli and tomatoes; sauces could include BBQ, ranch, honey mustard, salsa, pesto, and Sriracha; condiment ideas are thinly sliced scallions and chives, capers, toasted pumpkin seeds, sour cream, black beans, sliced avocado or guacamole, and pickled jalapeño slices.
- Prepare as many of the ingredients the day ahead as possible. Refrigerate or keep at room temperature until party day.
- Decide what potatoes you would like to serve. Larger potatoes such as Idaho are always successful and plan for two potatoes per person. Mix it up with the addition of a few baked sweet potatoes.
- Prepare the potatoes the morning of the party by first preheating the oven to 400 °F and scrubbing the potatoes under cold running water to remove all debris. Pat dry with a paper towel then poke a few holes in the potatoes using a fork to release air while they bake and avoid cracking or bursting.
- Coat each potato with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Wrap each potato separately in a double layer of aluminum foil and bake until fork tender, approximately 50-60 minutes, depending upon size. Keep the potatoes wrapped in the foil until guests arrive to keep them as warm as possible. Reheat them if necessary by baking for five minutes to warm through.
- Gather bowls, spoons, forks, napkins, serving platters, and sheet trays the day ahead. On the morning of the party, arrange everything decoratively in your potato bar space and ready the sheet trays by lining them with a layer of aluminum foil. You can use these for the potato creations that need to be twice-baked.
- Write on a chalkboard or pretty piece of paper a list of ingredients and if you’re extra motivated, include a list of flavor combination ideas.
- A half hour before guests arrive, unwrap the potatoes and using a sharp paring knife, slice an “X” lengthwise on the surface of each potato so they’ll easily open for guests to stuff.
- Arrange the potatoes on a serving platter along with the toppings and garnishes in a line alongside them. Begin with a plate of softened butter along with salt and pepper. Next, place the proteins, the vegetables, the condiments, the sauces, and finally the garnishes.
- If guests would like to bake their potato once it’s loaded, let them know to transfer it to the prepared sheet tray once it’s ready. Be sure that each topping bowl or plate includes a fork or spoon and that at the end of the line, there’s a stack of napkins. Baked potatoes can be messy, but that’s the fun of it!
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