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 bag 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, then you really want a 10 – 14 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 – 14 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.
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 batch||Time to Cook at 400 degrees|
|Convection Oven (not your regular oven)|
|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.)
|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.)
|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
Step 2 – Load the Potatoes into the Oven(s)
Step 3 – Bake the Potatoes
Step 4 – Remove and Wrap the Potatoes
How do I Bake Potatoes in a Roaster Oven?
Step 1 – Prep the Potatoes
Step 2 – Pre-heat the Roaster
Step 3 – Load the Potatoes and Cook
Step 4 – Remove and Wrap the Potatoes
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 several 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
Step 2 – Cook and Hold the Potatoes
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
- 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
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.
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)
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.
Use the paring knife to poke several holes in each potato to prevent them from bursting as they cook.
How do I know if my Baked Potatoes are Done
The best way is to pick a few at random and take their temperature. The center of a perfectly done baked potato should be 205 degrees. At that temperature your potato will have the perfect fluffy interior. Just use an instant-read thermometer to take its temperature. It may sound fussy, but it’s the only way to guarantee that you’re getting uniformly done potatoes.
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)
Makes about 45 ounces. About 20 servings. Assume an uptake of 1 out of 2 people
- 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
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.
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.
Add milk and mix well.
Reduce heat and simmer over med-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring often.
Serve over baked potatoes (great over rice, as well).
Additional Options for a more Fancy Potato Bar
- shredded cheddar cheese
- shredded Monterey jack
- crumbled blue cheese or feta cheese
- grated Parmesan
- 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
- 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
- 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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