How to Cook Sweet Potatoes

How to Cook Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes aren’t just for pies anymore.

Like regular potatoes, they’re one of the most versatile veggies out there: You can add them to a breakfast scramble, toss them on a salad for lunch, or stuff them for a quick and satisfying dinner. Sweet potatoes can even satisfy your sweet tooth as part of a healthier dessert.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty cooking details, let’s take a closer look at this tasty tuber.

Yam vs. Sweet Potato

First things first: A yam is not a sweet potato, and a sweet potato is not a yam.

Sweet potatoes and yams are from two different plant families. Sweet potato skin and flesh come in a variety of colors, but most people are familiar with the red skin/orange flesh combo.

Yams often have dark brown, bark-like skin (they can also come in purple), with white flesh that’s more firm and starchier than sweet potato flesh, which is more moist and sweeter.

Yams are generally imported to the U.S. from Africa and Asia, and usually found in specialty grocery stores, rather than your market down the street.

So why do people use the terms interchangeably? The most common theory is that in the 1800s, sweet potatoes were called “yams,” short for “nyami,” the African word for “to eat.”

Sweet Potato chunks on cutting board

Sweet Potato Nutrition

medium baked sweet potato (114 g) contains 2 grams of protein, 24 g of carbohydrates, less than 1 g of fat, and 4 g of fiber.

In addition, one medium sweet potato delivers 438 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin A and 37 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C.

It contains minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.

How to Buy, Store, and Prep Sweet Potatoes

How long do sweet potatoes stay fresh? How can you spot a “good” one? Here are the sweet potato basics you need to know.

Buying Sweet Potatoes

  • Look for firm sweet potatoes with clean, relatively smooth skin.
  • Avoid potatoes that are soft, or brown/black spots.

Storing Sweet Potatoes

  • At room temperature, sweet potatoes will most likely last one to two weeks. Ideally, store sweet potatoes in a cool, dark, well-ventilated space; they can be safely stored this way for three to four months.
  • Don’t refrigerate them, because cold temperatures will convert the potatoes’ starch into sugar, which may affect the flavor.

Prepping Sweet Potatoes

  • Wash them right before you cook with them. Don’t wash them sooner — water may get trapped in the eyes of the potato and get musty or moldy.
  • Use a food-safe scrub brush — not the same one you use to clean around the house, obviously — to dislodge any dirt.
  • If your sweet potatoes have “eyes,” or sprouts, don’t toss them — just scoop them out with your peeler or a knife.

Woman putting food in oven

How to Cook Sweet Potatoes

For optimal texture, baking sweet potatoes in the oven — or toaster oven, if you’re only making one or two — is your best bet.

How to Bake Sweet Potatoes in the Oven

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  2. Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet.
  3. Pierce each sweet potato three to four times with a fork.
  4. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until tender.

Pro tip: If you want to get fancy, cut your sweet potatoes into small cubes and toss with oil, herbs, and spices before you roast them. Or slice them and spice them for homemade sweet potato fries.

How to Cook Sweet Potatoes in the Microwave

Note: You can cook a sweet potato in the microwave — but it may cook unevenly, and the result can be a “gummy”-like texture if you get the timing wrong.

Depending on how fancy/not fancy your microwave is, you may want to experiment with cooking time until you get your preferred texture. But in general:

  1. Place sweet potatoes on a microwavable plate.
  2. Pierce each sweet potato three to four times with a fork.
  3. Microwave on HIGH for 5 to 8 minutes, rotating halfway through.

How to Bake Sweet Potatoes in Foil

When you bake a sweet potato in foil, it traps the potato’s moisture — so it’s more like steaming it than baking it.

This can leave you with slightly soft potato skins, but it’s great in a pinch — for example, if you’re cooking a big meal and your oven is already full.

If you wrap each potato in aluminum foil, you can place them right on the rack around or between large pans that hog precious oven real estate.

Cooking a sweet potato in foil is the same as baking it on a sheet:

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  2. Pierce each sweet potato three to four times with a fork. Wrap each individually in foil.
  3. Place directly on the oven rack and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until tender.

Mashed sweet potatoes in a pot

The Bottom Line

Sweet potatoes are an easy-to-cook, healthy base for just about any meal. Bake a few at the start of the week to save time and then chop, mash, or puree them when you’re ready.

Lili Ladaga


Lili Ladaga loves libraries, potato chips (in moderation, of course!), her rescue mutt Max, Pilates, photography, and traveling.