Why Do Potatoes Take So Long to Cook?

by Charlie
Why Do Potatoes Take So Long to Cook

Potatoes are a great, extremely versatile food that is both healthy and can be eaten in many different ways. Baked, boiled, roasted – these are all popular methods of cooking, but they take a long time. Why?

Why do potatoes take so long to cook? Potatoes take a long time to cook because they are very dense vegetables, and they are full of starch. The heat does not travel into the potato very quickly, and the center takes a long time to heat up. Until they get hot, potatoes will not cook.

What Makes Potatoes Cook So Slowly?

A potato cooks slowly because it is a very dense vegetable. If you do not cut the potato, it is a spherical or oval object, which means that the heat has a long way to travel in order to reach the center of the object.

Potatoes also have a low surface area ratio to their mass, which again means they do not cook quickly, because only a small percentage of the potato is in contact with the heat – the outside.

If you are putting potatoes into a cold oven or cold water, you will also need to wait for the heating method to reach temperature before the potatoes are really even cooking. This alone can take quite some time, so don’t be surprised if the potato seems to take forever to cook.

How Can You Make Potatoes Cook Faster?

The slowness of cooking potatoes is a big factor that puts many people off making them – you might feel like it takes forever to make dinner. Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do to speed things up.

What you need to do will depend on how you are cooking the potato, so let’s look at the different methods for making your dinner hit the table faster.

Speed Up Oven Baking

There are two ways in which you can reduce the amount of time it takes to bake a potato.

Method one: Turn up the oven heat. This needs to be done with care, because you don’t want to burn the potatoes, but knocking the temperature up a few notches can be sufficient for making your potatoes cook more quickly.

Method two: Pierce the potatoes. If you break the skin of the potatoes, heat will be able to enter, and steam can escape, which makes the potato cook more quickly. An even more effective option is to use a long, metal spike, pierced through the potato.

You can buy metal spikes specifically for this purpose, and they massively increase the speed with which potatoes will bake. This is because the metal will get very hot, and it transfers this heat directly into the center of the potato. Because both the center and the outside get heated, the cooking time will drop massively.

Speeding up an oven baked potato can be tricky, because you don’t want to cut the potatoes up. A baked potato should be whole, and many people also enjoy larger potatoes when it comes to baked potatoes.

These two factors make baked potatoes one of the slowest methods of cooking potatoes, especially if you do really large ones, so use the above methods to make this quicker and easier.

Speed Up Boiling

If you want to make your potatoes boil faster, it’s simple – you just have to chop them smaller. The smaller your pieces of potato are, the faster the heat can travel through them, and the more quickly they will be cooked.

You can also make boiling quicker by heating water in a kettle if you have one. This is often more efficient than heating water in a pan. Add the potatoes to your pan and then pour the boiling water over the top. You will not then have to wait for the water to come to a boil before the potatoes start to cook – they will go straight into hot water.

It also helps to put a lid on the pan so that the heat is trapped and steam doesn’t escape. This will use less energy and encourage the potatoes to boil much more quickly. Just make sure you keep an eye on it and turn the heat down if it is going to boil over.

If you are going to mash your potatoes, you can cut them up really small. If you plan to eat them as boiled potatoes, you might want to leave them in larger pieces.

Speed Up Roasting

It can be tricky to speed up roasted potatoes without ruining them, but one great option is to parboil them first. Note that you do not want to fully cook them; you should just soften them to a degree.

This can be done on the stovetop. You should then drain the potatoes and pat them dry. Heat the oil in the oven so that they are going straight into very hot fat, and once they are in the oven, do not open the oven door until you think they are ready (unless you need to turn them).

All of these things maximize the heat applied to the potato and help it to cook more quickly.

You can increase this by cutting the potatoes up into smaller chunks, too. However, this does have a limit with roasted potatoes; if you make them too small, you won’t have a nice fluffy inside, and they may burn.

Can You Microwave Potatoes?

If you really want a quick meal, try baking your potatoes in the microwave. They may not taste as great as they do in the oven, but they are still pretty good, and they will cook much more quickly. You must pierce the potatoes in several places before you microwave them, or the steam will build up and they may explode.

You can always crisp the potatoes up in the oven afterward if you like.

Final Thoughts

Potatoes take a long time to cook because they are so dense and they have a fairly small surface area. You can speed cooking times up by cutting your potatoes up small, or driving spikes into them to convey heat into the center of the potato.

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