Old Fashioned Candied Sweet Potatoes (Authentic Southern Recipe!)

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Southern candied yams are a classic soul food dish that is perfect for Thanksgiving. Fork tender sweet potatoes chopped up and baked in the oven covered in a buttery, spiced brown sugar glaze. This holiday tradition is the best candied yams recipe since it requires minimal prep and no fuss.

Want more sweet potato recipes? Try my sweet potato casserole with brown sugar streusel, crockpot candied yams, or sweet potato chiffon pie!

“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

candied sweet potatoes that are tender and fully baked with a buttery syrup in their baking dish

My Grandma Reid's Southern Candied Yams Recipe

Y'all, I love myself some holidays, but Thanksgiving is my all time favorite. I get to cook nostalgic meals, I get my friends and family around and I get to feed 'em! Nothing makes me happier than sharing my recipes and food with everyone.

Candied sweet potatoes (aka, candied yams) are one of my all-time favorite holiday sides, and a serving dish filled with them has been on our holiday table every single year for generations. 

My grandma taught me how to make these old fashioned sweet potatoes when I was a little girl in her kitchen in Georgia, peeling potatoes and covering them in butter, spices, and brown sugar, before they went into the oven.

Yes, y'all. These are my Grandma Reid's yams. You know, my grandma who lives in the outskirts of a town in Georgia? She makes the best old fashioned candied sweet potatoes you will ever eat.

Sweet, well-rounded in flavor, with a rich, buttery syrup, they're baked in the oven until the yams are tender and the sugar and butter has given them a shiny candy coating.

It's a southern tradition wrapped in simple ingredients and a candied glaze with a buttery caramel toffee flavor that really sings this time of year, a great recipe to add to your fall comfort meals.

Don't think that we only make them for Thanksgiving, either. It's the perfect holiday side dish that goes phenomenally with Christmas dinner and Easter, too, but is simple enough to be a fuss-free Sunday dinner side.

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Why You'll Love this Old Fashioned Candied Sweet Potato Recipe

  • True, Authentic, Southern Soul Food - this recipe is many generations old. If you've never had southern soul food before, this is the recipe to try!
  • Hands Off, Flavor On - chop up the sweet potatoes and stir together the butter mixture, then bake. That's it!
  • Easy, Beginner-Friendly Holiday Side Dish - if you are hosting for the first time or bringing a dish to Friendsgiving, don't sweat it! I've got step-by-step instructions in this post, and it's literally the easiest thing ever!
  • Make Ahead Perfection - Make the candied yams the day before, then reheat in the oven and serve. So simple and easy!

History of the Sweet Potato in the United States

Sweet potatoes, which originated in South America (modern Peru, actually), have tan skin, orange flesh, and grew well in Southern U.S. soil as a crop (and are now farmed mostly in North Carolina and Louisiana).

Black folks who were enslaved at the time would work the crops and create dishes like sweet potato pie with them, which is why they are so common as an ingredients in Southern and Black American cuisines.

a slice of southern sweet potato pie on a plate with a dollop of whipped cream on top

The origins of sweet potato dishes come from Europe around the 16th century, but unfortunately they never wrote down which potato they used while making sweet potato recipes so we aren't sure which type of potato they were using.

The orange flesh sweet potato wasn't officially called the 'sweet potato' until the 1740's.

Sweet potato recipes were in many cookbooks in the 1800's, but sugar was considered an expensive luxury only used in holiday baking and recipes, so it was something special. It became a classic thanksgiving side dish because of this, especially in African American homes since they already had the recipes!

What are Southern Candied Yams?

Candied sweet potatoes have been a classic holiday side dish for centuries, popular especially in the American South. It's different from the sweet potato casserole with the mini marshmallows on top that's well known in the Northern states. That is not candied yams, leave your marshmallow topping for the casserole.

It's the soul food version: chopped up or sliced sweet potatoes that are coated in a mixture of butter, brown sugar, spices, and sometimes other ingredients like orange juice, that are baked or slowly cooked to become fork tender and syrupy.

overhead view of half a baking dish filled with soul food candied yams

I really love my grandma's candied yams recipe, because baking the sweet potatoes brings out their natural sweetness and bakes the candied glaze right onto the potatoes.

In my opinion it's the best way to make candied yams, but I'll admit I'm biased.

What Is The Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes?

We need to clear the air: candied yams are not made with true yams. They're made with sweet potatoes.

The true yam is not indigenous to the United States, but originate in Africa and Asia. They're a different root vegetable, starchy with brown bark-like skin and tougher white flesh, used in savory dishes.

Sweet potatoes are called 'yams' because when the enslaved Africans in the U.S. had to make dishes to keep up with fine dining European trends coming to the U.S., oftentimes desserts using potatoes and pumpkins, the only crop that could match were sweet potatoes. 

And sweet potatoes resembled the African yam a little, at least on the outside. 

If you see the sign 'yams' at the grocery store nowadays, you'll usually see the white flesh from where the yam was chopped exposed, with darker brown bark-like skin, that is a real yam, not the sweet potato you're looking for.

Choosing Sweet Potatoes for Candied Yams

The three most common sweet potato varieties in the U.S. are the Beauregard, the Jewel, and the Garnet. All of these are fantastic to use in this recipe, with some slight changes in each potato.

  • Beauregards are really common to find at the store and sweet with brown skin.
  • Garnets have more moisture, which is great for baking in sweet potato pie, for yams, or sweet potato fries, and have a purple-ish reddish skin.
  • Jewels are somewhere in the middle.

When picking out sweet potatoes at the store look for ones that are small or medium in size, the larger ones are starchy and tougher.

They should feel firm and have smoother skin with no stab wounds or cracks or wrinkles.

Store the fresh potatoes in a dark, cool environment. Light makes them think they're outside and they'll try to sprout. A bottom cabinet or dark corner of your pantry (or in a box in that back corner of the pantry) will do great.


Casserole dish - a baking dish that can hold the candied yams in an even layer. I use a 9-by-13 inch baking dish.

Vegetable peeler - you'll need to remove the skin from the sweet potatoes.

A sharp knife - a dull knife will make chopping the potatoes dangerous.

Ingredients Needed

ingredients for homemade candied yams: chopped fresh sweet potatoes, vanilla extract, sugar, butter, and spices
  • Fresh Sweet Potatoes - Remember: choose small or medium sized potatoes that feel firm with smooth skin. Large sweet potatoes are too starchy. No wrinkles or war wounds!
  • Brown Sugar - Bonus points for dark brown sugar (if you have run out of brown sugar, don't worry! I have a DIY brown sugar recipe using granulated sugar). White sugar is also usable, but it won't have that
  • A stick of Butter - You can use salted butter if that's what you have on hand, I just like unsalted butter because you can control the salt content better.
  • Spices -  Ground cinnamon is a must, but I also add ground ginger and freshly ground nutmeg. Classic fall flavors. You can totally use cloves or pumpkin pie spice as well. Don't forget a hearty pinch of salt. All sweet things need a little salt to balance out all that sugar.
  • Vanilla Extract - Whenever I forget the vanilla it's always a taste of 'something is missing but I can't put my finger on it'. Don't forget the vanilla!

So simple and yet such a delicious family recipe. Honestly, that's what soul food is all about.

How to Make Candied Sweet Potatoes

This is an easy candied yams recipe, no need to run to the specialty stores or do anything crazy. It's probably going to be the most simple dish you'll make for Thanksgiving dinner, coated in a delicious sugar syrup and flavored with vanilla extract and warm spices.

sweet potatoes cut into large chunks sitting in a casserole dish to make candied yams

Step 1 | Cut the sweet potatoes into bite-sized pieces.

butter, warm spices, and sugar mixed in a bowl to make the syrup mixture for candied sweet potatoes

Step 2 | Mix together the spices, brown sugar, and melted butter. This is how we create the perfect candied glaze.

someone in a green sweater mixing the butter and sugar mixture with sliced sweet potatoes to make southern candied yams

Step 3 | Stir the sweet potatoes in the sugar and butter mixture. You really want to try to get that sugar mixture into every little nook and cranny! Bake for 1 hour in your casserole dish.

candied sweet potatoes that are tender and fully baked with a buttery syrup in their baking dish

Step 4 | Your candied yams are done when you can pierce the sliced potatoes with a fork and the butter and sugar mixture has turned into a sugary syrup.

As you see, with just a handful of ingredients you have homemade candied yams and the perfect addition to your thanksgiving dinner or Easter supper!

The best part is that you just leave it alone in the oven for about an hour and boom, it's done! Super important when you're already so busy making the rest of your holiday meal, right?

Serving Suggestions for Southern Candied Sweet Potatoes

There's magic that occurs when the candied yams and the southern baked mac and cheese touch on your Thanksgiving plate. I'm so serious!

If you don't have a tray of these southern honey butter biscuits (or just go old school classic with their buttermilk biscuit sisters!), you need a tray of my favorite Sister Schubert yeast rolls copycat recipe. They are no-knead, so buttery, and a reader-favorite for years!

If you've never had real southern slow cooked green beans with the hamhock, honey!! you are missing out! They're incredibly simple, a dump and go recipe that everyone loves.

Variations, Tips and Tricks

  • You can really make this recipe your own: add in orange zest, or add other spices. A little cayenne for some heat won't hurt you, either!
  • Want vegan yams? Swap in vegan butter!
  •  For a fun, delicious topping, make my candied pecan recipe to put on top of the sweet potatoes!
  • If you're trying to lower the processed sugar amount, you can swap in maple syrup, agave nectar, or honey.
  • Don't have the room in the oven for yams? Try making crock pot candied yams! They're just as easy.
  • For the best results, use smaller sweet potatoes. They're less starchy than the big ones, which means they have a sweet flavor!
  • Use pumpkin pie spices if you like!
a baking dish full of baked southern candied sweet potatoes with a wooden spoon scooping them up

Make Ahead Candied Sweet Potatoes for Holiday Meals

My candied sweet potatoes are the perfect make-ahead dish that can be made at least a day in advance.

Just bake, then wait until the potatoes are room temperature before you cover in in plastic wrap and place in the fridge.

Then about 15 minutes before serving, remove the plastic wrap, cover the oven-safe dish in aluminum foil and bake the candied yams up in a 325 degree F oven until the butter mixture is melted and the yams are warmed through.

You can also make ahead before baking them! Chop up the potatoes, coat them in brown sugar, cover in plastic wrap and set them in the fridge up to 2-3 days ahead of time.

Then the day of, continue with baking the candied yams, though it may take up to an hour and 15 minutes to cook through because of the cold temperature of the sweet potatoes.

Storage and Reheating Instructions

Storage: Store any leftover candied yams cooled to room temperature in an airtight container. Keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Reheat: Reheat the candied sweet potatoes in a casserole dish in a low oven (325 degrees F) covered in aluminum foil until warmed through and the buttery syrup has melted again.

a very close view of the candied sweet potatoes in a baking dish


Can I use canned yams?

Canned yams (canned sweet potatoes) can be used in theory, but they will not get the same results as using fresh sweet potatoes. They are much more wet and release more moisture, so your candied yams may come out mushy.

For the absolute best results, use fresh sweet potatoes.

Do I need to boil sweet potatoes for candied yams?

Some people like to par-cook the sweet potatoes by boiling them in their skins, but I don't. No need to pre cook and par boil in this recipe, only bake.

How do you know when candied yams are done?

The sweet potatoes will be fork tender when done, you'll be able to pierce a piece with a fork and taste it. It should not taste raw in the middle or feel hard.

Why are sweet potatoes called 'yams'? Are sweet potatoes the same as yams?

Because enslaved Africans trafficked to the US would call sweet potatoes 'yams' as they looked so similar to the root vegetable that they ate at home in Africa but did not have in the US. Real yams are very starchy, with white flesh and a dark brown, bark-like skin.

So while fresh yams and sweet potatoes are different root vegetables, their names have been used interchangeably to describe this classic southern dish.

Are baked or boiled candied yams better?

In my professional Southern opinion, baking sweet potatoes is a million times better than boiling them when you're making candied yams.

I really feel that you get so much flavor by roasting in the oven versus cooking them on the stove top or boiling them.

Roasting the sweet potatoes caramelizes their natural sugars, intensifying their sweet flavor, and the candied mixture reduces, coats each piece, and creates a buttery, golden brown syrup. 

Boiling your potatoes can overcook them, leading to really mushy sweet potatoes. 

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📖 Recipe

candied sweet potatoes that are tender and fully baked with a buttery syrup in their baking dish

Old Fashioned Candied Sweet Potatoes

Eden Westbrook
Southern candied yams are a classic holiday dish that is the perfect addition to your Thanksgiving table. Fork tender sweet potatoes chopped up and baked in the oven covered in a buttery, spiced brown sugar glaze. This soul food style recipe is a holiday tradition that's been in my family for generations!
4.58 from 241 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Course Thanksgiving
Cuisine African American
Servings 8 servings
Calories 272 kcal


  • 6 medium sized sweet potatoes peeled and largely cubed
  • 8 tablespoon 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt


  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  • In a small bowl, stir together melted butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, and kosher salt well.
  • Use your clean hands or a large spoon to mix the butter-sugar mixture and sweet potatoes in a baking dish or casserole dish. 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 layer.
  • Bake the candied yams in the preheated oven for 55 minutes, until potatoes are fork-tender, the sugar and potatoes have caramelized, and there is syrup in the dish.
  • Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.


Storage: Cool your southern candied yams to room temperature before transferring them into an airtight container. Keep them in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Reheat: Reheat the candied sweet potatoes in a casserole dish in a low oven (325 degrees F) covered in aluminum foil until warmed through and the buttery syrup has melted again.

Make Ahead Instructions

Candied yams can be made ahead of time completely the day before. Bake in the casserole dish and keep in the fridge, then reheat in a low oven (325 degrees F) covered in aluminum foil until warmed through and the buttery syrup has melted again.
They can also be made ahead up to the baking part. Cover the sweet potatoes in the brown sugar-butter mixture, cover, and place in the fridge up to three days in advance. Bake the day of and serve hot! Easy and simple.


Serving: 1gCalories: 272kcalCarbohydrates: 41gProtein: 2gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 7gPolyunsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 31mgSodium: 286mgFiber: 3gSugar: 28g
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  1. I was looking for a candied sweet potato recipe to serve with Easter dinner and was thrilled when i saw your recipe.
    They turned out exactly like my grandmother used to make. The sweet potatoes were coated nice and by the end of the baking time had that thick caramel glaze. I will be using this recipe for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    1. Eden Westbrook says:

      Oh my heart. I love to hear this, CD! I'm happy to hear you'll be coming back around for seconds and thirds. Love that this was such a hit! xo,Eden

  2. So grateful to have found your site. Question, if I am adding marshmallows, at what point should I had them? At the 30 min cooking point or maybe the last 10 minutes?

    1. Eden Westbrook says:

      Hi LT. I have never made southern candied yams with marshmallows, those are reserved for northern style sweet potato casserole.

  3. Thank you for sharing this recipe! I just have one question before I make this, while in the oven does it need to be covered?

    1. Eden Westbrook says:

      Hi, no the dish does not need to be covered.

  4. Kathryn A Pinto says:

    So glad I found this site... I was looking for soul food mac and cheese, came across candied yams, and now I was to try all Eden's recipes!

  5. These are so yummy! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Oven baked is the best way to do it! This is basically how my family makes candied yams. I see you only use brown sugar and not any white. I'll try it that way next time I make mine

  7. Pingback: (Soul Food) Southern Baked Macaroni and Cheese | Sweet Tea & Thyme