An easy peasy, please-everybody party spread.
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There are lots of wonderful ways to feed a group of people when you host a party, but one of the best options in terms of making it exciting for guests and easy on yourself is to set up a baked potato bar. Try it for the big game and score points for MVP (most valuable potato).
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, then simply warmed through just before they are ready to hit the buffet table. You can even add an easy option for any keto guests without making much extra work for yourself!
That’s part of the beauty of baked potato bars: They’re 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. Here’s how to do it.
Decide on Your Toppings
The first step to planning the perfect baked potato bar is deciding what ingredients you will offer as toppings. Be sure to include a variety of options from each category to appeal to the pickiest eaters as well as those who you know will get creative with their flavor combinations. Here are some delicious ideas…
Cheese: crumbled feta; goat cheese; blue cheese; shredded cheddar (sharp, smoked, etc.); gruyere; Monterey Jack
Proteins: shredded chicken (plain, barbecue, or Buffalo); shredded beef or pork (even shredded jackfruit for a vegan option); fried and crumbled bacon bits; slices of cooked sausage; crumbled smoked salmon; barbecued shrimp
Veggies: caramelized onions; sauteed mushrooms; grilled or roasted bell peppers, corn, or broccoli; chopped tomatoes
Extras: thinly sliced scallions and chives; capers; toasted pumpkin seeds; sour cream; black beans; sliced avocado or guacamole; pickled jalapeño slices
Decide what potatoes you would like to serve too. Larger potatoes such as Idaho are always successful, and plan for two potatoes per person if they’re the main event. Mix it up with the addition of a few baked sweet potatoes and/or baby potatoes.
Keto Concession: If you need to cater to any keto eaters, you can simply roast some quartered heads of cauliflower as a low-carb potato stand-in; it hardly adds any extra work, and will taste just as great with all your toppings while making your guests feel extra welcome (just be sure to note you’ll have the alternative available when you send your invites).
Get Set Up Ahead of Time
Prepare as many of the ingredients the day ahead as possible; cheese can be shredded, proteins and veggies cooked, scallions chopped. Store them all in small to medium bowls with lids (or tightly covered with foil or plastic wrap) and refrigerate or keep at room temperature until party day.
You can also gather your plates, spoons, forks, napkins, serving platters, and sheet trays the day ahead. On the morning of the party, or even the day before, arrange everything decoratively in your potato bar space and ready the sheet trays by lining them with a layer of aluminum foil or parchment. 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.
An alternative way to present your spread is on a platter if you have one big enough—behold, the baked potato board.
Prep Your Potatoes
Prepare the potatoes the morning of the party:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 °F. Scrub 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.
2. 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.
3. Keep the potatoes wrapped in the foil to stay warm until guests arrive. Reheat them if necessary by baking for five minutes to warm through.
Build Your Baked Potato Bar
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 kosher salt and pepper. Next, place the proteins, the vegetables, the condiments and sauces, and finally the garnishes. (Be sure to warm up any proteins or veggies that need it just before it’s time to eat.)
If guests would like to bake their potato again 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 half the fun of it!
Baked Potato Recipes
Here are some specific baked potato recipes to use as inspiration when it comes to topping ideas.
You can’t go wrong with the combination of cheese, sour cream, scallions, and bacon, especially when the combination is loaded onto a baked potato and baked until bubbly and irresistible like it is in this recipe. Get our Fully Loaded Twice Baked Potatoes recipe.
Sweet potatoes take well to all the same toppings as regular russets; this combo of bacon, jalapeños, and cheese would also be great with some black beans and/or sour cream. Get our Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes with Bacon, Jalapeños, and Monterey Jack recipe.
If your family is into saucy, spicy food then this is the perfect recipe for them. The chicken makes it feel substantial, and the coleslaw makes it addictively crunchy and creamy. This is one you’ll turn to again and again as a quick weeknight recipe. (And while it’s technically a potato skin recipe, it works just as well with baked potatoes.) Get our Barbecue Chicken Chicken and Coleslaw Baked Potato recipe.
If you’re looking for an exquisite recipe addition for your next brunch or tea party, look no further than this lovely baked baby potato recipe stuffed with garlicky smoked paprika aioli and diced pepper. Add smoked salmon or even caviar if you’re feeling generous! Get our Mini Baked Potatoes with Aioli and Pimientos recipe.
Don’t neglect more uncommon toppings for your baked potato bar like toasted nuts and fresh herbs; crème fraîche is a nice alternative to sour cream or cream cheese too. Get the Twice-Cooked Sweet Potatoes with Rosemary, Hazelnuts, and Crème Fraîche recipe.
This is an inexpensive recipe using a few easy to source ingredients that tastes much more substantial and satisfying than its price would suggest. It’s also a nice way to sneak broccoli into a recipe that your kids will actually devour. Get the Broccoli Cheddar Baked Potatoes recipe.
This recipe is the perfect way to serve grilled sausage and vegetables tucked into the tidy and fun delivery system of a baked potato. The pop of color from the grilled vegetables also makes it aesthetically appealing and the grilled flavor drives this one home for the win. Get the Baked Potatoes Stuffed with Chicken Sausage and Grilled Vegetables recipe.
Jody Eddy is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. She has cooked at Jean Georges, The Fat Duck, and Tabla and is the former editor of Art Culinaire Magazine.