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How to Cook Sweet Potatoes

Created December 8, 2016
Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon Honey
Sweet and slightly nutty, there’s no wrong way to eat these taters.

What is a Sweet Potato?

Often associated with Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes have come to be known as an American classic. Considered a root vegetable, these colorful spuds are in season during November and December, but are widely available a grocery stores year-round. In addition to their sweeter taste, sweet potatoes are longer and thinner than their white potatoes counterparts. Their skin can range from brown to a reddish color and their flesh isn’t always orange—you can find potatoes with white innards or even purple. As an added bonus, they’re chock-full of nutrients. Just one sweet potato (skin included) is an excellent source of beta-carotene, vitamin C and fiber—all while being low in calories.

Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams
Let’s get one thing straight: a sweet potato is not a yam. And when you think you’re eating a yam, you’re probably eating a sweet potato. Huh? Yeah. This terminology mix-up goes back years, and chances are, your grocery store still uses the two words interchangeably. So, why the confusion? Sweet potatoes can typically be categorized into two varieties: firm and soft. Firm varieties of sweet potatoes were introduced to U.S. markets first, so when soft sweet potatoes were brought in, there was a need to differentiate the two varieties. Softer varieties became to be known as “yams,” and are still labeled as such today.

But the fact is, it’s pretty hard to purchase a true yam in the United States because they are rarely available here save for a few markets. Yams have thick, scaly skin and rounded ends and come from Africa and Asia. Sweet potatoes originally came from Central or South America and have tapered ends.

Sweet Potatoes on a baking sheet.

Types of Sweet Potatoes

Now you may be wondering, “What are all of those other colored potatoes at the grocery store masquerading as yams?” All sweet potatoes! There are actually hundreds of varieties of sweet potatoes ranging from white and mild to deep orange or even purple. Some common varieties that can be found in grocery stores nationwide are:

Beauregard Sweet Potatoes: With dark reddish skin and buttery orange flesh, Beauregard sweet potatoes are one of the most popular sweet potato varieties, and are ideal for any cooking method—baking, frying, boiling, etc.

Covington Sweet Potatoes: With super sweet orange flesh and reddish skin, these sweet potatoes are very popular in the South and are best suited for side dishes and desserts.

Jewel Sweet Potatoes: Another popular variety of sweet potatoes, jewels have copper skin, orange flesh and are great for traditional sweet potato dishes like sweet potato casserole.

O’Henry Sweet Potatoes: O’Henry sweet potatoes are lighter-skinned and have paler flesh, looking similar to regular potatoes. They’re still sweet, though, and taste great in soups and stews.

How to Cook Sweet Potatoes

There are many methods you can use to cook sweet potatoes, the most popular being roasting, boiling and mashing and in the slow cooker.

How to Roast Sweet Potatoes
Coat sweet potatoes in a mixture of butter, cinnamon, lemon peel and honey. Bake in your trusty 13x9-inch pan and you’ll have a delicious, no-fail side dish.

How to Make Mashed Sweet Potatoes
This is one of the most popular (and easiest!) ways to serve sweet potatoes. Simply boil and mash the potatoes with salt, pepper and butter. For a flavor boost, cook some chopped apples, cinnamon and sugar in a skillet and add it to the mashed sweet potatoes.

How to Make Sweet Potatoes in the Slow Cooker
Let the slow cooker do the hard work in this easy recipe for sweet potato casserole. Simmer potatoes, butter sugar and pumpkin pie spice for a casserole that’ll be bursting with flavor. Add some marshmallows before serving to get that holiday feel.

Pro tip: Low on time? You can also make sweet potatoes in the microwave. Pierce whole potatoes with a fork several times and cook in the microwave for 8 to 12 minutes, turning once halfway through. Let the potatoes stand for one minute. Serve with butter, margarine, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey or even seasonings like cinnamon, allspice or nutmeg.

What to Make with Sweet Potatoes

One of the best things about sweet potatoes is their versatility. Sweet potato soup, sweet potato casserole, sweet potato pie—these spuds don’t have to be limited to any one meal or course. You can eat ‘em from morning ‘til night given the right recipes.

Arguably one of the most popular times of year to eat sweet potatoes in America is—you guessed it—Thanksgiving. And no Thanksgiving feast is complete without sweet potato casserole.

How to Make Sweet Potato Casserole


  • 3 (15 oz) cans of sweet potatoes, drained
  • ¼ cup margarine or butter, melted
  • ¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 15 large marshmallows


  • 2-quart glass baking dish

First, heat the oven to 350°F and spray a 2-quart glass baking dish with cooking spray. Place the sweet potatoes in the sprayed baking dish. Pour margarine over the potatoes and then sprinkle with brown sugar and salt. Top with marshmallows.

Sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until potatoes are thoroughly heated and marshmallows are lightly browned.

Marshmallow-Topped Sweet Potatoes

Pro tip: If the marshmallows become too brown, cover loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes of baking time.

What to Do with Leftover Sweet Potatoes

Cooked sweet potatoes can be kept in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days. Mashed sweet potatoes keep fairly well and can be stored in the freezer for up to a year.

If you want to put those leftover mashed sweet potatoes to immediate use, you can make muffins, pie or even stuffed crescents.

So now you know how to cook sweet potatoes. Here’s how to make everything else.