Candied yams are a classic Southern side dish! Sweet potatoes are chopped up and sugared down, then put into the oven to become tender, caramelized, and oh, so wonderful.
“There is an idea prevalent that anybody can cook sweet potatoes, this is a very great mistake, and the many, many dishes of illy cooked potatoes that are placed before me as I travel over the South, prompt me to believe that these recipes will be of value.” -George Washington Carver
As you can see, candied yams are no joke. George Washington Carver literally studied sweet potatoes for 45 years. They're a big part of the African American community, our Thanksgivings and fall meals are full of sweet potato pies, sweet potato casseroles, and of course... candied yams. Mmm!
I watched my grandma (and my mama as well) chop up and roast sweet potatoes into sweet, syrupy candied yams every Thanksgiving of my childhood. So this candied yams recipe is generational. At least 3 deep, probably more.
We are talking about real, Southern candied yams. Soul food candied yams. Not the one under all the marshmallows. Did you know that the candied yams with marshmallows were created by the creator of marshmallows to promote their own product? Crazy!
These little jewels come from the oven tender with caramelized brown sugar and amazing buttery syrup, it cannot be duplicated with a stovetop recipe; not to mention the deeper, more intense flavor you get from roasting the sweet potatoes, it can only come from the oven, trust me.
What are Candied Yams?
Candied yams are a well-loved Southern dish that is on the Thanksgiving table of every single American Southerner. The yams are sliced or chopped into pieces and coated in a mixture of sugar, butter, and spices before being roasted in a hot oven for about an hour until they're perfectly soft, not mushy, with serious caramelization and have created tons of delicious syrup.
What is the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?
Candied yams are not made actual yams. The "yams" are actually just a softer type of sweet potatoes. True yams are starchier, tougher, and drier tubers that are native to Africa.
Real yams look more like yucca, with brown treebark-like skin and white, starchy insides. The sweet potatoes we know as 'yams' are orange-fleshed sweet potatoes which are easy to find at the local grocery store, and some variations have deeper sweeter flavors. Which is why they're great for pies and candied yams.
What's in it?
To make candied yams you need...
Sweet potatoes. There are three common types in the grocery store: Beauregard (from Louisiana, very sweet), Garnet (deeper orange-reddish color, gives off a little 'pumpkin' vibes in terms of flavor), and Jewel (more earthy in flavor and mildly sweet). I like using Beauregard and Garnet sweet potatoes for my candied yams recipe.
Unsalted butter. Don't use salted butter, since we want to control the flavor of our candied yams.
Ground ginger. It gives a hint of vibrancy to this sweet, syrupy dish. It's not traditional, but it definitely adds great flavor.
Vanilla Extract. It adds that warm, comforting base of vanilla flavor to the syrup.
Kosher Salt. Always need salt to balance sugary things!
How to Make Southern Candied Yams
- Chop 3-6 sweet potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Use as many as will fit in a 9x13 baking pan.
- Mix melted butter, sugar, spices, vanilla, and salt together, then toss the butter mixture all over the sweet potatoes. Make sure to get it all over the potatoes so they all get some good, sweet, spicy flavor.
- Bake for an hour. The sweet potatoes will magically turn into candied yams: soft, sweet, with some browned caramelized bits and tons of delicious syrup that you serve with the yams.
- Let cool slightly, because candied yams fresh out of the oven are molten hot!
Don't think this is just for Thanksgiving, candied yams are good anytime you can find a good batch of sweet potatoes in your market. They are literally addictive, so flavorful and sweet; so be sure to make a double batch because any group you're making this for will eat them up before you get a taste.
My family has been making this every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas for generations, and it's the first thing gone every time (it also is okay for the candied yams to 'touch' the mac and cheese and green beans on your dinner plate. Unlike the collard greens.)
Or check out my Thanksgiving category for more amazing recipes.
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- 4-6 large sweet potatoes, peeled and largely cubed
- 8 tbsp (64 g) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup (190 g) dark brown sugar
- 1 (15 mL) tbsp vanilla extract, optional
- 1 tsp (5 g) ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp (3 g) ground ginger
- 1 tsp (5 g) kosher salt
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
- In a 9x13 oven-safe dish, stir together melted butter, sugar, vanilla, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, and kosher salt well.
- Use your clean hands or a large spoon to toss the sweet potatoes in the butter-sugar mixture in the pan. Make sure each sweet potato chunk is well coated in the mixture and the potatoes are laying in an even layer. It's okay if it's not in one thin layer.
- Bake the candied yams in the preheated oven for an hour, until potatoes are fork-tender, the sugar and potatoes have caramelized, and there is syrup in the dish.
- Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 251Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 31mgSodium: 118mgCarbohydrates: 36gFiber: 2gSugar: 27gProtein: 1g
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.