Why Do Potatoes Take So Long To Cook?

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Potatoes are the easiest way to bulk up any meal. They are particularly susceptible to a range of flavours, making them a tasty pairing for various meats, sauces and other vegetables. But incorporating potatoes into a meal can be difficult because of how long they take to cook. Why is that? 

Potatoes take so long to cook because of how dense they are. Potatoes are also highly starchy, even the varieties that are less starchy. It takes a while for the heat to reach the centre of a potato and cook it. 

What Is The Quickest Way To Cook Potatoes?

How you choose to cook your potatoes can make them cook faster or take longer. 

The quickest way to cook your potatoes is to part-cook them in the microwave on very high heat. Depending on your microwave, you will only need to wait 3-5 minutes for the potatoes to cook through. 

Before you cook them, you will need to stab the potatoes with plenty of holes to make the heat reach the centre of the potato quicker. 

You can also use the same method to cook potatoes in the oven. But because the heat of an oven distributes differently from a microwave, you will need to use a slightly lower heat to prevent burning the potatoes. 

This will mean that the potatoes will take between 10-15 minutes to cook. 

While effective, cooking a potato in a microwave does mean that it will be harder to flavour as you will need to cook the potato with the skin on. 

Should Potatoes Be Boiled With The Lid On? 

The most common way to cook potatoes is to boil them on the stove. Despite being the most common method, it is also one of the longest. 

Ultimately, you will end up with wonderfully tender potatoes, but you will be waiting a long time for those results. That is why you should leave the lid on your potatoes when you boil them.

You want to lock as much heat into the boiling pot as possible when boiling the potatoes to make them cook faster. This is because the heat will circulate better without a break in the cycle, reserving more heat to cook the potatoes. 

Boiling Potatoes Without Lid

Why Your Potatoes Aren’t Cooked Properly 

A common issue people encounter when cooking potatoes is leaving them to cook for a long time and still finding the centre of the potatoes hard. This is the sign of an undercooked potato. 

But how can your potatoes be undercooked when cooked for so long?

One of the reasons may be that the variety of potato you use is too acidic. The cell walls of a potato are full of pectin and cellulose, which you need to break down to soften the potato. 

But an acidic potato or a dish with too much acidity will prevent the cell walls from breaking as quickly. 

You can easily combat this by not cooking raw potatoes directly in tomato or lemon-based sauces, as they will be full of acidity. Or add extra salt into boiling potato water to help fight the potato’s natural acid. 

Another reason your potatoes are still not cooked may be how you cook them.

When the outside of your potatoes is soft, but the inside is still hard, that is a sign that you are cooking your potatoes at too high of a heat. Harsh heat is not very thorough, only targeting the immediate outside of the potato. 

Lower the temperature of your oven or stove and leave the potatoes to cook for a little longer, and you will notice a difference. 

How To Cook Potatoes Quickly

The last thing you want to do on a busy weeknight is waiting for your potatoes to cook. There are only so many ways to cook a potato that will provide the right flavours and textures you need for your meal. 

That being said, there are a few tips you can keep in mind that will help to quicken the potato cooking process: 

  • Pre-Boil The Water – Dropping raw potatoes into cold water will significantly lengthen the time they take to cook, as the water will first need to get hot enough to boil and then hot enough to cook the potatoes. To cut out the wait time, boil your water in a kettle to get it perfectly hot and then add the water to a heated pan. Then add in your potatoes. 
  • Use Smaller Potato Pieces – This tip will only work if you do not need whole potatoes for your recipe. Cutting your potato into smaller pieces will limit the amount of starch and density the heat has to cut through to cook the potato.
Small Cooked Potato Cubes
  • Par-Boil The Potatoes – If you find that roasting or frying your potatoes takes too long, you can always partly cook them before roasting or frying them. Cut the potatoes into your desired shape and size. Boil them until you can stab them with a fork with little resistance. Then cook and flavour them however you wish. 

The best way to cook potatoes quickly is to combine the above. Cut potatoes into small cubes before par-boiling in already boiling water.

Potato Cooking FAQs

Do you still have questions about cooking potatoes (and why they take so damn long to cook)? Check these FAQs out:

Why Do Baked Potatoes Take So Long To Cook?

Potatoes are dense, starchy foods. Baked potatoes are left whole to cook through so it takes a long time for the heat to penetrate through to the centre of the potato.

How Long Does It Take to Steam Potatoes?

It will take between 10 and 15 minutes to steam chunks of potatoes. This will need to be reduced for small cubes and increased for whole potatoes – especially if left unpeeled.

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