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EVERYTHING you need to set up a Potato Bar

You’d think this would be easy.

When I was first assigned to coordinate a potato bar, I thought ‘this is a no-brainer piece of cake.’   Yes, well not so much.  I realized I had far more questions than answers.  For example:  how many potatoes come in a large bag of potatoes?  (it depends, see below)  How many potatoes can I fit into my 30 inch oven? (34-38 (16 ounce potatoes) on 2 racks)  Does an oven-full of potatoes take longer to cook than a single potato? (yes, but not much)  Should I wrap the potatoes in foil prior to cooking? (no, see below for why)  And exactly how much sour cream should I buy to go with them? (2 tablespoons per person).

It took me several potato bars to figure all this out.  Allow me to share my hard-won knowledge with you.

 

How many Potatoes do I need for my Potato Bar?

That should be a pretty easy question to answer, right?  Well yes, if you were ordering potatoes by count.  Not so much when you have to purchase them by weight.  No worries.  Let’s start with the basics.

The absolute smallest size potatoes you would want are 5-6 ounces.  I would only use potatoes this small if I was serving multiple other items and the potatoes were just one of the choices.   Unless the potatoes are specified as “Jumbo”, these 5-6 ounce potatoes are probably the size you’re going to get in a 10 pound bad of potatoes.  Here’s what a 10 pound bag of 5-6 ounce potatoes looks like.

10 pounds of Potatoes

This 10 pound bag of potatoes from Sam’s Club:

holds 28 medium size potatoes.

If the Baked Potato Bar is the main thing you’re serving, you really want a 10 – 16 ounce potato.  These are often sold as “Jumbo” potatoes and there are generally 15 – 17 Jumbo potatoes in a 10 pound bag.

Another option is to order 50 pound boxes of potatoes.  These 50 pound boxes are often specified by “count”.  You’ll want a 70 to 100 count which will yield you 70 to 100 potatoes which are 10 to 14 ounces in size, which is the size you’re looking for if potatoes are the main thing you’re serving.   If in doubt, call the merchant and ask them the count per 50 pound box.   Here’s a great page from the Idaho Potato Commission which shows you potato sizes.

So how does this all translate to your large-quantity potato purchase?   If you’re planning a potato bar for 100, with potatoes as the main thing you’re serving, you can safely order 7 (10 pound) bags of JUMBO potatoes from Sam’s or COSTCO.  You’ll end up with approximately 112 potatoes.  These potatoes are 10 – 16 ounces in size and should be just what you want.   NOTE: When buying 100 potatoes, assume 2-3 are going to have to be discarded due to condition.

 

In summary:

A 10 pound bag of Jumbo Russet Baking Potatoes = about 15 – 17 potatoes.

A 10 pound bag of Regular Russet Potatoes = about 26 – 28 potatoes.

A 50 pound box of Russet Baking Potatoes = about 70 – 100 potatoes depending on size.  That’s a large variance, so contact the merchant and ask what size potatoes you’re buying and the average count of the box.

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What’s the best way to bake a large amount of potatoes?

You have 4 options.  Your circumstances may dictate the method, but if you have a choice, I’ve listed your options in order of preference.

 Quantity this method will produce in 1 batchTime to Cook at 400 degrees
Convection Oven (not your regular oven)
(30 inch)
17-19 (16 ounce) potatoes per rack. 2 racks will hold 34-38 (16 ounce) potatoes.50 - 55 minutes.

Bake at 375.
(Depending on potato size. Check the smaller potatoes after 50 minutes and remove them when done. Larger potatoes may take 1 hour.)
Regular Oven
(30 inch)
17-19 potatoes per rack. 2 racks will hold 34-38 (16 ounce) potatoes.
1 hour - 1 hour 15 minutes.

Bake at 400.
(Depending on potato size. Check the smaller potatoes after an hour and remove them when done. Larger potatoes may take 1 hour and 15 minutes.)
Roaster Oven
(18 quart)
16-20 (14 - 16 ounce) potatoes

OR - 1 (10-pound) bag of No. 1 potatoes (28-30 in the bag)
1 hour and 45 minutes
Cooler Depends on size of cooler.1 hour and 15 - 30 minutes (with 30 of those minutes spent in the oven and the remainder in the cooler completing cooking.)
Camp Fire Varies depending on amount of coals available and size of fire pit.1 hour

Cooking nestled among coals

How do I Bake a lot of Potatoes in a Conventional (Regular) Oven or a Convection Oven?

Step 1 – Prep the Potatoes

Prep potatoes.  (See below for Steps to Prep Potatoes).

Step 2 – Load the Potatoes into the Oven(s)

As long as the potatoes are cooked in single layers on each rack (not stacked in a pan), the cooking time is not so much impacted by potato quantity as potato size.
CONVENTIONAL (Regular) OVEN:  Preheat your conventional oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Sort your potatoes by size.
Smaller potatoes will be done in 1 hour
Larger ones may take 1 hour 15 – 20 minutes
CONVECTION OVEN:  Preheat your convection oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Smaller potatoes will be done in 50 minutes
Larger ones may take 55 – 60 minutes
If applicable, sort your potatoes into 2 categories: large and small.  Place all the smaller potatoes together on the rack, nearer the front as, these may be done earlier.  In a 30 inch oven you should be able to place approximately 17 – 19 (16 ounce) potatoes directly on the racks in single layers for even air distribution.  With 2 racks per oven you should be able to cook approximately 34 – 38 potatoes per oven at a time.
NOTE: Altitude does not effect the cooking time or temperature.

Step 3 – Bake the Potatoes

Bake potatoes for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until soft.  Pierce potatoes with a sharp knife to be sure they are soft all the way through. If potatoes are not done, set the timer for an additional 10 minutes and check again.  The potatoes are fully baked when the internal temperature is 210°F (this will take about 1 hour at 400°F).
NOTE:The time it takes for baking really varies based on the actual temperature calibration of each individual oven and the size of the potatoes.   Larger potatoes take longer.
Baking potatoes at a mountain altitude will not affect the baking time of potatoes.

Step 4 – Remove and Wrap the Potatoes

Once baked, if not serving immediately, 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.  I like to gently roll the wrapped potatoes (with the oven mitt) to help ‘fluff’ them.   These should stay warm for up to 15-20 minutes without any further action.

How do I Bake Potatoes in a Roaster Oven?

Step 1 – Prep the Potatoes

Prep potatoes.  (See below for Steps to Prep Potatoes).

Step 2 – Pre-heat the Roaster

Preheat your electric roaster to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The lid should be on the roaster while it’s pre-heating.

Step 3 – Load the Potatoes and Cook

Place rack in roaster.   Stack potatoes on the rack, taking care that potatoes do not touch sides of roaster.  You should be able to fit approximately 16 – 20 potatoes in 2 layers in an 18 quart roaster oven.
Bake potatoes in the roaster for 1.5 to 2 hours, until soft. Check potatoes with a fork or knife to be sure they are soft all the way through.  Or use the squeeze test.

Step 4 – Remove and Wrap the Potatoes

Once the internal temperature of the potato reaches 210 degrees F, they’re done baking.  Remove the baked potatoes and serve, or turn off the roaster and leave the lid on to keep them warm.   If some potatoes are not done, return them to the roaster for an additional 10 minutes and check again.
Once baked, if not serving immediately, 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.  I like to gently roll the wrapped potatoes (with the oven mitt) to help ‘fluff’ them.  These should stay warm for up to 15-20 minutes without any further action.

Here’s how to serve a Great Salad for A Large Group

Can I Bake Potatoes in a Cooler?

Yes you can – but you have to par-bake (partially bake) the potatoes first.  They will finish cooking in the cooler and can be held this way and retain their heat for up to xxxx hours.  You’ll want to bring a several extra large aluminum baking pans to the event to have a way to transport the potatoes from the cooler and to serve them from.  Here’s how:

Step 1 – Prep the Potatoes

 Prep potatoes.  (See below for Steps to Prep Potatoes).

Step 2 – Cook and Hold the Potatoes

Preheat the oven to its highest setting (generally 500 degrees Fahrenheit).  Place the potatoes in the oven in a single layer on each rack and bake for 30 minutes.  With an oven mitt, remove the potatoes and immediately place in a large plastic insulated ice chest.  Bake the next batch and when done, add to the ice chest with the first batch of potatoes.  The potatoes are not completely cooked when removed from the oven.  They require a minimum of 45 minutes in the ice chest to finish cooking.
The potatoes can be kept in the chest for up to 2 hours if you do not open the ice chest until ready to serve.

Cook your Corn in a Cooler too!

How do I Bake Potatoes in a Campfire?

There are some secrets to cooking a great baked potato on the campfire.  If you’re not careful you can end up with burnt and or uncooked potatoes.  Here’s how to avoid those pitfalls and consistently turn out great potatoes every time.

Step 1 – Build a Fire to create perfect coals to bake your potatoes

You’ll want to start the fire at least 60 or even 90 minutes before you want to start cooking.  Keep adding wood so that you have a hot fire. It doesn’t have to be big – just hot.  You don’t need a roaring inferno.  A small, well-tended fire will create good hot coals – and use less wood. Let the fire burn, leaving it alone (this is a good time to do your prep.) and in about an hour you should have plenty of hot coals.  Using tongs and/or campfire gloves, move the coals to one side of the fire or fire ring, spreading them out to an even layer, large enough to accommodate your potatoes. This is where you’ll be doing your cooking.

Step 2 – Gather your Supplies

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • fist-sized potatoes (at least one per person)
  • aluminum foil
  • butter
  • salt
  • tools
  • a small spade with a long handle
  • a set of tongs
  • a pair of old oven mitts – or – even better – a campfire glove

Using these tools allows you to cook over a campfire without worrying about getting burned.

Step 3 – Prep the Potatoes

Prep the potatoes.  (See below for how to prep the potatoes).   The potatoes should not be chilled and should instead be stored at room temperature so they don’t have to get warm before they start to bake.
Slice the potato open (lengthwise). Fill the potato with butter. You do this now as it helps prevent the potato from drying out when it is cooking in the campfire. You can also add some flavoring at this point.  For example, add some garlic salt into the potato if you want a garlic potato or Lawry’s Seasoned Salt.  Once the potatoes are prepped, wrap the potato tightly in foil (shiny side on the inside).  Make sure you prick the potatoes PRIOR to wrapping in foil so the ashes don’t get into the potatoes.
To save time, prep the potatoes the night before and wrap them in foil.

Step 4 – Stoke the Fire

Add more wood to the other side of the fire ring.  This will ensure a supply of new coals. Keep tending the flames and moving the new coals as needed to replenish your coal bed. Once your coals are ready, you can begin cooking.

Step 5 – Put the Potatoes in the Hot Coals

The first secret is not to put the potato directly into the fire.  Now that the flames have died down and you have moved the red glowing coals off to the side, this is where we will put our potatoes.  

You’ll want to be careful!  Those coals are hot!   Use the spade or tongs to place the potatoes on top of the coals.

Now just be patient.  The reason you’re putting the potatoes in the coals and not the flames is so you don’t get burnt potatoes.  But cooking in the coals will take a bit longer.   It should take your potatoes about 1 hour to cook in the hot coals.

While the potatoes are cooking, you might want to keep the fire going on the other side to supply yourself with fresh coals – especially if you are cooking for a crowd.

Step 7

Baked potatoes take a while to cook. Expect them to take at least 45 minutes. Give them a turn every now and then or reposition them in the embers. A good pair of BBQ tongs works well here as well as a pair of hot gloves (Hot Gloves on Amazon). To test if the potato is cooked, don’t unwrap the foil (as you could get ash over the potato). Instead, with Hot Glove on, push your finger into the side of the wrapped potato. If the potato feels soft and your finger leaves a dent, then the potato is probably cooked.

What’s the Best Way to Prep Potatoes for Baking?

(Answer: Do it the NIGHT BEFORE)

Step 1

Scrub all dirt and any eyes from the potatoes with a vegetable brush under cold running water. Rinse potatoes thoroughly and use a paring knife to remove any black spots or eyes.

Step 2

Use the paring knife to poke several holes in each potato to prevent them from bursting as they cook.

Step 3

Mix 1 cup of canola oil and seasonings of your choice in a large bowl.  Roll each potato in the mixture and set aside in large aluminum roasting pans at room temperature until ready to bake.  (NOTE: You will not be baking the potatoes in these pans, but you can use them for transport and serving.)   The potatoes should not be chilled.  They should be stored at room temperature so they don’t have to get warm before they start to bake.

Step 4

Finally, unless you’re cooking them in a campfire, DON’T wrap the potatoes in aluminum foil.  This steams the potato, traps the moisture inside, and the inside of the potato will be soggy.  Don’t do it!   If NOT cooking in a campfire, you can wrap them in foil AFTER baking if you need to hold them for later serving.

How do I Keep Baked Potatoes Warm?

Holding a FEW Baked Potatoes

For regular meals or small groups, it’s best to plan to serve your potatoes within 15 minutes from the time it is finished baking.  However, if you need to hold your potato for longer than 15 minutes:

  • for small groups at home, the best method for holding a baked potato is in a warming drawer if you have one available.   If not, wrap it in foil and put it in a cooler.   Do not plan to hold the potatoes in a low oven because the dry heat is going to take a lot of the moisture out of them.

Holding MANY Baked Potatoes for a Short Time

  • Wrapping a baked potato in foil and placing it in an insulated cooler immediately after it has been baked will allow you to hold it for up to 20 – 30 minutes.   After wrapping in foil, roll your potatoes with a slight pressure from the palm of your hand to make them more fluffy when eaten.

Holding MANY Baked Potatoes for a LONGER Time

  • METHOD 1:  You can hold potatoes for up to 2 hours using this method.  30 minutes before taking the potatoes out of the oven,  start a large pot of water cooking over high heat.  When boiling, carefully and pour the water into the cooler.  Shut the cooler and let it sit a few minutes then carefully drain off the water.   Immediately shut the cooler.  The heat will make the plastic and insulation warm.   Using oven mitts, add the hot potatoes directly from the oven into the cooler.  They will stay warm for about 30 – 45 minutes.  Do not plan to hold the potatoes more than 2 hours after baking, the skins wrinkle and the quality degrades.   You could also use an old clean blanket and cover up all the foil wrapped potatoes inside it to gain a little more time.

  • METHOD 2: Preheat the oven to its highest setting (generally 500 degrees Fahrenheit).  Place the potatoes in the oven in a single layer on each rack and bake for 30 minutes.  With an oven mitt, remove the potatoes and immediately place in a large plastic insulated ice chest.  Bake the next batch and when done, add to the ice chest with the first batch of potatoes.  The potatoes are not completely cooked when removed from the oven.  They require a minimum of 45 minutes in the ice chest to finish cooking.  The potatoes can be kept in the chest for up to 2-3 hours if you do not open the ice chest until ready to serve.

What (and How Much) Toppings do I need?

My Basic Potato Bar for Activities or Events

  • salt (NOTE: When serving groups larger than 50, I always use individually salt packets to speed up the serving line.)
  • pepper (NOTE: When serving groups larger than 50, I always use individually wrapped pepper packets to speed up the serving line.)
  • seasoned salt (NOTE: just set out 1 or 2 small shakers)
  • butter (NOTE: When serving groups smaller than 50, I use whipped butter.  When serving groups larger than 50, I always use individually wrapped butter pats to speed up the serving line.  Plan on 1 pat per person and you’ll have leftovers.)
  • sour cream  (NOTE: To make the sour cream easier to serve and to speed up the serving line, I always thin it with 1/4 – 1/2 cup of milk per 5 pound container.  Plan on an average serving of 2 tablespoons per person and you will have leftovers. A large (5 pound) tub of sour cream, thinned with 1/4 – 1/2 cup milk contains approximately 40-50 servings. )
  • cheese sauce  (NOTE:  A typical serving size of cheese is 3 tablespoons (2 1/4 ounces of queso), which is about 1/4 cup or 1 ladle-full. Even heated, the cheese sauce straight out of the can is far too thick to eat, let alone serve, effectively.  You’ll need to thin a (6 pound, a 11 ounce can) can of the sauce down with 3 cups (24 ounces) of water.  1 (6 pounds, 11 ounces) can of cheese sauce plus 24 ounces of water has a total weight of 8 pounds 3 ounces – and serves 50 – 60 people.
  • chili (see my recipe for Best Ever Chili)  NOTE: A large (108 ounce) can of Chili, thinned with 2 cups water, contains approximately 50 -60 servings. Plan on an average of 1/4 cup per person.
  • steamed broccoli  (NOTE: 2 pounds of broccoli florets (approximately  4-5 cups) serves about 16-20 people. Plan on about 3 out of 10 taking the broccoli.)
  • Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing  (NOTE:  1 (2 pack – 40 ounce each (80 ounces total)) Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing + 1/4 cup (2 ounces) Milk per each (40 ounce) container of dressing SERVES 100 – 120.    For faster serving, mix dressing with milk then pour thinned dressing into 2-4 squeeze bottles (label these “Ranch Dressing” or pour it back into the original dressing bottles.
  • salsa (NOTE: Plan on an average of 2 tablespoons per person.)
  • Super Spud Sauce – See recipe below.
  • chopped green onions
  • bacon bits (if budget permits)

Super Spud Sauce

Makes about 45 ounces.

7.5  (3/4 cup or 6 ounce) servings.

Assume an uptake of 1 out of 4 or 5 people – serves 20 – 30.

 

1 pound hamburger

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 (22.6 ounce) large can Cream of Mushroom Soup

1 (8 ounce) brick of cream cheese

1/2 cup milk

  1.  In a medium skillet add hamburger. Cook over medium heat, breaking up into small pieces. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon onion powder, and 1 teaspoon garlic powder. When brown drain fat.
  2. Add Cream of Mushroom soup and cream cheese to browned hamburger. Cook over med heat working the cream cheese into the hamburger mixture until cream cheese is melted.
  3. Add milk to dilute.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer over med-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring often.
  5. Serve over baked potatoes (great over rice, as well).

Optional toppings: Sliced black olives, onions, shredded cheddar cheese & sour cream.

 

Additional Options for a more Fancy Potato Bar

Cheese:

  • shredded cheddar cheese
  • shredded Monterey jack
  • crumbled blue cheese or feta cheese
  • grated Parmesan

Meats:

  • seasoned taco meat
  • pulled pork (see my recipe for Pulled Pork for a Large Group or COMING SOON: Carnitas)
  • shredded beef
  • chopped ham
  • chopped salami or pepperoni

Vegetables:

  • steamed broccoli in a cheese sauce
  • grilled corn
  • beans (canned black beans or chili beans)
  • chopped fresh tomatoes
  • chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • sauteed spinach
  • sauteed mushrooms
  • grilled onions
  • roasted red peppers
  • sliced jalapenos (fresh or from a jar)
  • thawed frozen peas (no need to cook them)

Sauces & dressings:

  • barbecue sauce
  • gravy
  • Alfredo sauce
  • marinara sauce – or other red Italian sauce (COMING SOON: see my recipe for Marinara Sauce)

Fresh herbs and seasonings:

  • chopped fresh basil, cilantro, oregano, or dill
  • crushed red pepper
  • seasoned salt
  • chopped chives

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