16 Unexpected Toppings To Level Up Your Baked Potato

Baked potatoes with toppings
Baked potatoes with toppings - Static Media / Shutterstock / Getty

A baked potato is one of the few dishes that can be either a side or a whole meal. While you certainly can keep this spud simple and slather it with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of salt, there's an entire universe of baked potato toppings out there waiting to be explored. We're not talking about the "safe" scoop of sour cream or a pinch of scallions, either. Instead, we're looking at all the unconventional toppings that will take your tater to a new level.

Before listing these odd (yet flavorful) additions, we must ask: What makes a good baked potato topping? In rounding up these accompaniments, we looked for ingredients that added an element of flavor, like a burst of acidity or umami, to help amp up the relatively bleak flavor of the potato. We also sought out bold textures, since the standard baked potato only has a little bit of crunchiness from the skin. Here are some of our favorite, tasty findings.

Read more: 23 Types Of Potatoes And When To Use Them

1. Smoked Fish

Smoked fish on slate
Smoked fish on slate - 4kodiak/Getty Images

Something from the sea is likely not the first ingredient you think to add to your baked potato. However, smoked fish is a great ingredient to add instead of bacon because it will add balance to your creamy elements, like sour cream and cheese, and help amplify the saltiness rubbed on the outside of your spuds. Plus, fish products often don't have the same heaviness as bacon -- they will leave you feeling light and satisfied rather than in the mood to veg-out on the couch for the foreseeable future.

Although most people's minds will immediately dart to smoked salmon, you can also swap it out for smoked haddock, mackerel, or trout. Or, make fish butter for your next batch of baked potatoes by mixing your favorite smoked fish into a compound butter with herbs. Use the leftover butter to add to the top of your rice, toast, or as a spread on slices of crusty bread.

2. Ranch Dressing And Ham

Ranch dressing with lemon and herbs
Ranch dressing with lemon and herbs - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

It's reasonable to think that the fast food offerings in the U.S. are very different from those outside the 50 states. For example, Puerto Rico is home to Wendy's most unique baked potato toppings -- and it puts the bacon and cheese combination to shame. The papa asada at the chain's restaurants features ham and ranch dressing instead of the usual accompaniments. Although this combination may seem a little out there, especially if you've lived your life thus far without exploring more creative toppings, it really works well with the spud.

The ranch has acidic notes that mimic those of the sour cream, along with a special creaminess that helps offset some of the potato's richness and heaviness. The ham soaks up all this flavor and acts as the meaty element that makes the baked potato so satisfying to enjoy. And the best part is that you won't have to take a trip to the Caribbean to try this pairing on your next baked potato.

3. Pulled Pork

Pulled pork with forks
Pulled pork with forks - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Pulled pork is one of those foods that you appreciate all the more when it's on your fork. Although there are tons of ways to use leftover pulled pork, one of our favorite methods to highlight this protein is to pile it high on a baked potato. Baked potatoes are relatively bland and carby, so they will easily soak up all of that flavorful barbecue sauce and juices from the meat. We also love that you can use either a sweet, white, or yellow potato for this recipe -- and pair it with a ton of flavorful accompaniments to make it into a whole meal.

When many people think of pulled pork, their minds first go to barbecue sauce. While this sweet, tangy sauce is perfect for pairing with cheddar or scallions, you can also change up your pulled pork dinners by altering the spice rub or the sauce on the meat. Or, skip the pork and go with a shredded chicken instead.

4. Celery Salt

Bowl with spoon and salt
Bowl with spoon and salt - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Salt is a must-have ingredient for baked potatoes, even if you're not yet comfortable with venturing into more unconventional toppings. But instead of just grabbing the jar of Morton salt from your spice cabinet, use a sprinkle of celery salt for an aromatic boost. Celery salt is complex; it has punchy, peppery notes combined with a subtle floral flavor that will give your baked potato an edge.

If you don't have a shaker of celery salt in your cabinet, you don't have to rush out to your local grocery store to get it -- as long as you have celery leaves in your fridge. Dehydrate the leaves before crushing them with plain salt, or play around with seasoned or smoked salt. When you're ready to serve, add a sprinkle of your new favorite spice to the top of your potato and dig in.

5. Shellfish

Baked potato with shrimp
Baked potato with shrimp - eugena-klykova/Shutterstock

When you think of seafood and potatoes together, you probably think of a clam bake or seafood boil. But what if we told you that shellfish could be equally delicious when paired with a crisp baked potato?

You can upgrade your next loaded baked potato with a creamy seafood topping. The seafood itself varies based on the recipe, but some ideas for starters include lobster tails, crab meat, and shrimp. Then, you'll want to hit your seafood with a generous dash of garlic powder or go for a flavorful Old Bay or Cajun base. After everything is seasoned, you'll want to mix your cooked seafood with a creamy ingredient, like heavy cream, sour cream, or even mayonnaise. Add cheese, if desired, and then pile this shellfish-forward filling onto your baked potato. Not only is it a dose of protein, but it's also a little bit more elaborate of a dinner for a hot summer evening.

6. Avocado

Baked sweet potatoes with avocado
Baked sweet potatoes with avocado - DronG/Shutterstock

We put a lot of creamy stuff on baked potatoes, from sour cream to cheese. But this topping is guaranteed to make you consider why you never thought about adding it to your spuds before. Instead of sour cream, top your baked potatoes with avocado.

There are tons of different ways to prepare avocado for your russets or sweet potatoes. You can chop the fruit into small chunks and mix it with tomatoes and onions, or go for a creamier style and plop a spoonful of homemade guacamole, seasoned to your liking, on top. From there, you can make different variations on your recipe with other ingredients. If you're eating a baked potato for breakfast, for example, add a fried egg and crumbled bacon to the top of your baked potato with the avocado. Or, make a burrito bowl out of your spud by spooning in seasoned meat, beans, and corn with guac and sour cream. Not only do you get a healthy dose of fat with this fruit, but also an electric pop of color that will make your starch stand out.

7. Cream Cheese

Bowl of cream cheese
Bowl of cream cheese - Basilios1/Getty Images

We can assure you we're not confusing the starchiness of a baked potato with that of a bagel. But cream cheese makes a great topping for both, especially if you're making your baked potato as a part of your breakfast spread. If you do it right, your baked potato will become your new favorite way to enjoy cream cheese and lox. It's an ideal pairing because the creaminess and fattiness of the schmear will balance out the salty, crispy potato skins. You'll also appreciate that this spread has a bit of a thicker texture than sour cream, which means it will stay perfectly nestled inside of your potato rather than sloshing off the sides and onto your plate.

There are a ton of great pairings for cream cheese and baked potatoes. The first is smoked salmon or trout, for a bagel and lox-inspired treat. You can also keep things simple with a sprinkle of everything bagel seasoning on top, or get fancy with sliced red onions and dill.

8. Frozen Dinner

Frozen dinners on blue background
Frozen dinners on blue background - Csa Images/Getty Images

Frozen dinners may seem like a dish of the past, but they still have some utility in the modern household. For example, you can use your leftover frozen dinner to top your baked potato.

Although it might seem unbelievable, think of the basics of a frozen dinner. A teriyaki beef meal will help infuse some Asian flavors into your side dish, while the meat will make it super satisfying to eat. Meatloaf might be another great addition to your baked potato, though you may have to do some chopping to get it to fit inside of the sliced open spud. You can also make a kid-friendly baked potato by stuffing it with chopped chicken nuggets -- just make sure to leave the pudding cup out of it.

Not all frozen dinners will work for this hack since many already contain potato-based sides. Adding frozen mashed potatoes to your baked taters, for example, is just redundant.

9. Canned Tuna

Canned tuna on plate
Canned tuna on plate - Kritchai7752/Shutterstock

Canned tuna has seen a renaissance in recent years. People are finally figuring out its utility and how to use it outside of tuna salad. One of the best uses for canned tuna is stuffing it inside baked potatoes for an easy, elevated dinner.

We recommend taking more of a tuna melt approach with these potatoes instead of just plopping the protein on top, straight from the can. Once your spuds are baked to perfection and split in half, scoop the soft, carby interior out and mix it with the canned fish. From there, you can add the mixture back to your spuds, top with a sprinkle of cheese, and bake until crispy.

If you don't like the flavor of tuna on its own, you can add a twist with fresh herbs or incorporate a sauce into the mixture to help subdue the fishy flavor. You may also consider adding some kidney or white beans for extra protein.

10. Hot Dog

Hot dogs on grill
Hot dogs on grill - Grandriver/Getty Images

A hot dog-filled baked potato is just about as kid-friendly as can be. This bonfire night-inspired meal is perfect for hot summer evenings or when you're trying to convince the youngest eaters in your house to try new versions of potatoes that aren't just french fries.

Hot dogs tend to be on the large side, so you'll want to ensure you use a large enough baked potato to capture all that meaty goodness. Then, once your hot dogs are done cooking on the grill (which can be a shared cooking surface for your potatoes), you can cut your spuds in half and stick the hot dog in between.

The hot dog is a great addition, but its accompaniments are even better. Pile your dog high with sauerkraut, chopped white onions, or chili and cheese for the hot dog and loaded potato mashup you didn't know you needed.

11. Hummus

Beet hummus on sweet potatoes
Beet hummus on sweet potatoes - zi3000/Shutterstock

Hummus is a great option for potlucks and comes in many different varieties to suit any palate. Its simple ingredient list and flavor choices also make it an excellent way to elevate your baked potatoes.

This bean-based spread often leans savory, thanks to the tahini and olive oil. You'll also find a refreshing burst of acidity from the lemon juice. From there, you can experiment with store-bought flavors or DIY versions made with garlic, roasted red peppers, or chili oil. Or, give your hummus a colorful pink twist by adding beets.

Once you've slathered hummus into your sweet or regular potato, you'll want to add some crunchy or bright toppings to help balance out the one-note texture of the hummus and soft potato flesh. For a Mediterranean-inspired potato, you can add a sprinkle of chopped garlic on top, crispy chickpeas, crumbled feta, and fresh dill. Or stick to charred corn, chipotle, and cotija cheese for a Tex-Mex recipe.

12. Corned Beef

Corned beef and cabbage
Corned beef and cabbage - Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

When you have corned beef around, every meal can feel like St. Patrick's Day. Leftover corned beef can make for robust baked potatoes that will leave you feeling satisfied after every bite. The pairing is so excellent because the salty, fatty notes of the meat pair well with the relatively bland flavor of the spuds. However, you do have to be careful when adding extra salt to your baked potato because the meat is already cured.

After your potato is baked, cover it with thinly shredded corned beef. If you want to let the meat flavor seep down into the potato, you might also consider removing some of the starchy filling, mashing it with the meat, and adding it back into the shells for an excellent Irish twice-baked potato. Alternatively, you can also transform your baked potato into a modern, tater-inspired take on a Reuben sandwich by piling on the sauerkraut and Swiss cheese.

13. Pesto

Pesto sauce with ingredients
Pesto sauce with ingredients - sweet marshmallow/Shutterstock

Pesto is one of our favorite condiments because it concentrates the herby notes of basil, umami Parmesan, decadent pine nuts, and good olive oil into a singular sauce. But don't just stick to adding pesto to your pasta when there's an even more creative way to use it: as a topping for your baked potatoes.

Pesto may be the flavorful sauce that your baked potatoes have been missing, and one that's relatively easy to pair with your spuds. If you like the unadulterated, fresh flavor of pesto, you'll want to drizzle a spoonful on top of your potato once you've pulled it out of the oven and are ready to serve. But to tame the bright basil, you can also bake your potatoes with a coating of pesto.

Pesto naturally pairs well with other umami-rich toppings, like a sprinkle of Parmesan. But you can also incorporate other summery ingredients -- like fire-roasted red peppers and tomatoes -- into your spread.

14. Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt in jar
Greek yogurt in jar - olepeshkina/Shutterstock

Greek yogurt is an excellent protein-packed baked potato topping that everyone should start using more often in the kitchen. This dairy product has a tanginess similar to sour cream but with the added benefit of extra protein. You can also alter the acidity of your yogurt by adding extra lemon or lime juice. Or make it especially rich by adding a splash of heavy cream before you add it on top of your potatoes.

You can combine Greek yogurt with cheeses -- like rich cream cheese or salty feta -- to add a more cheese-like flavor to your topping. Or, if you want to use Greek yogurt as a base for flavors and spices, consider whipping it with chipotle, paprika, or other ingredients to add more complex flavor notes to your spuds. Save the rest of your Greek yogurt to whip into a dip to serve alongside your meal, or craft a protein-rich dessert that will leave you feeling full.

15. Mascarpone

Mascarpone cheese in bowl
Mascarpone cheese in bowl - Milanfoto/Getty Images

Many people are familiar with mascarpone in desserts, like Italian tiramisu. But this decadent, thick cheese actually has much more utility in your kitchen than you realize. For one, it's a great ingredient to try on twice-baked potatoes.

This Italian soft cheese has a similar texture to that of cream cheese. Some minor differences set the two apart — mostly that mascarpone is slightly more sweet and acidic. But mascarpone's thickness and creaminess give it a texture that's like a cross between butter and sour cream. Considering these are two of the best toppings you can put on your baked potatoes, it's reasonable to think that mascarpone would be a terrific addition, too.

You'll want to scoop out the inside of your baked potatoes, mix the cheese with your other additions (like bacon, chives, and cheddar), and return the filling to its rightful place before finishing baking in the oven.

16. Pickled Red Onions

Red onions in a jar
Red onions in a jar - Knape/Getty Images

Baked potatoes (and the usual toppings like butter, bacon, chili, and cheese) lack acidic or crunchy qualities. But there's one ingredient that delivers on these two facets of a good baked potato -- and it brings a whole lot of color, too.

The iconic, pink-hued pickled red onions are an excellent addition to your baked potato. They're an especially valuable culinary asset for folks who like a mild onion flavor but don't like the wave of bitterness that comes with raw red onions or even scallions. Plus, the acidity of the pickled red onions will ground the heaviness of your potato and its other decadent toppings.

Pickled red onions make a solid addition to regular or baked sweet potatoes, including our shawarma-ish stuffed sweet potatoes. We recommend pairing this punchy condiment with rich and decadent toppings like butter, hummus, or a drizzle of olive oil.

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