My creamy and crunchy old-fashioned sweet potato casserole recipe with crunchy pecan topping is a southern side dish that will look perfect on your holiday table this year! Not only is it easy to make, it's also fabulous to make ahead of time so your holidays are stress-free!
Looking for sweet potato dishes? Try my grandma's old fashioned candied yams (I also have a crockpot yams recipe!), or my southern sweet potato pie, or try a twist on it with bourbon sweet potato pie with bruléed top!
The Best Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe - a Make Ahead Side Dish for Thanksgiving!
It's my favorite, favorite time of the year!
I'm giving y'all all the good stuff this year: creamy mashed potatoes drizzled with turkey neck gravy, the juiciest roast turkey that only takes 90 minutes in the oven, and the butteriest rolls you'll ever eat. Make sure you don't miss a thing!
Thanksgiving is the time to really show out on your home cooking skills, but even if you don't really have any (and I'm not judging, friend) this southern sweet potato casserole is an ideal classic holiday dish for you to whip up and set right beside your aunt's green bean casserole with pride for Thanksgiving dinner.
I absolutely love this dish; it's creamy, sweet with a crunchy topping all at the same time, with a yummy pecan streusel topping that people will end up fighting over to get that last bit in the corner!
And I know exactly how busy the holiday season is, which is why this recipe is specifically made to be ideal as a make-ahead side. Whip up the dish, set aside the crumble topping, and you're ready to bake it together the day of! Easy and simple, right?
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- The Best Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe - a Make Ahead Side Dish for Thanksgiving!
- Why You'll Love this Recipe
- Origins of Sweet Potato Casserole
- Baking vs. Boiling Sweet Potatoes
- How to Make Sweet Potato Casserole
- How to Make Old-Fashioned Sweet Potato Casserole Ahead of Time
- Variations and Substitutions
- Pro Tips
- Storage, Freezing, and Reheating
- More Holiday Recipes
- 📖 Recipe
Why You'll Love this Recipe
- Extremely Easy - if this is your first time making a holiday meal, this recipe is no sweat. Even for the most beginner cook!
- Full of Autumnal Flavor - a little cinnamon, some nutmeg, and the natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes all come together for the perfect side dish at your family gatherings.
- A True Southern Thanksgiving Classic - this is a family favorite recipe, (my family actually calls it sweet potato soufflé) and it's been around for centuries!
- Make it Ahead of Time - you can bake this the next day (or the day after) so you have more time with family members and less time in the kitchen!
Origins of Sweet Potato Casserole
The traditional sweet potato casserole is a classic Southern holiday dish that is originally made without marshmallows. The marshmallow topping was actually a marketing ploy by...a marshmallow company. Yep.
A form of sweet potato casserole has been around since 1795, found in old cookbooks from the Deep South perfumed with rose water, then it veered in a more sweet direction with cinnamon and whipped egg whites.
When a marshmallow company wanted people to use their product in everyday life, they pushed out the sweet potato-marshmallow dish in a cookbook and it ended up sticking around, especially in the north. Which is why we see sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows as a Thanksgiving dish now!
- Casserole Dish - get one that comes with a lid for easy leftover storage.
- Baking Sheet
- Potato Ricer - you can use a potato masher, but using the ricer removes the strings from the sweet potato!
- Handheld Electric Mixer
- Medium and Large Mixing Bowl
Full ingredients, measurements, and printable instructions are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
For the Sweet Potato Mixture
- Fresh Sweet Potatoes - you don't want to use canned yams here, fresh sweet potatoes have the best flavor and you have more control over it.
- Brown Sugar - light brown sugar or dark brown sugar is just fine.
- Cinnamon and Nutmeg
- Large Eggs - Make sure they're room temperature. Having room temperature ingredients allows your baked goods to cook evenly!
- Kosher Salt
- Vanilla Extract
For the Pecan Topping
- Chopped Pecans
- All Purpose Flour
- More Cinnamon
- Brown Sugar
- Kosher Salt
- Unsalted butter
Baking vs. Boiling Sweet Potatoes
Baking sweet potatoes is a hill I stand on and refuse to move from. Sweet potatoes are best when baked, with their natural sugars caramelizing and the flavors becoming sweeter and more pronounced.
You also reduce the amount of water in the potatoes themselves, instead of them absorbing water like when they're boiled.
So instead of becoming waterlogged and losing flavor (and making a soupy sweet potato casserole!), we have more intense flavors and sweeter potatoes.
How to Make Sweet Potato Casserole
Make the Sweet Potato Layer
Step 1 | Bake your sweet potatoes in a large baking dish or sheet for an hour, or until the sweet potatoes are tender. Poke 'em with a fork, it should easily poke through.
Step 2 | Let those potatoes cool so you can mash them! Peel the sweet potatoes and mash with your potato ricer or masher into a large bowl.
Step 3 | Use a hand mixer or whisk to mix the brown sugar, eggs, spices, butter, and vanilla into the mashed sweet potato until it's all creamy and homogenous.
Step 4 | Now take that sweet potato mixture and pour it into your greased casserole dish.
Step 5 | Make the topping by using a fork to put together the topping ingredients. We want a chunky, lumpy mixture, really just everything lumping together with the flour and butter.
Step 6 | Sprinkle the pecan crumble evenly all over the sweet potato layer. Bake for at least 50 minutes, until the brown sugar and pecan topping is crunchy and golden brown.
How to Make Old-Fashioned Sweet Potato Casserole Ahead of Time
I know how busy the holidays are, friend. Your stove is covered in pans, the oven is full of turkey or macaroni (or both!), the counters are loaded with prep work, and it's a lot. So let's make it easier: prepare the sweet potato casserole ahead of time!
Whip up the sweet potato layer and put it in the casserole dish. Cover it with a lid or plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Make the crumbly topping and keep it in a zip top bag in the fridge, too.
Thanksgiving day, put the casserole in the oven and bake!
Variations and Substitutions
- I won't be mad at you for using mini marshmallows as a topping! They will brown faster, so have some foil ready to cover them during baking.
- Instead of vanilla, flavor your casserole with some maple syrup!
- Use alternative flours like coconut or almond flour for a gluten free casserole.
- Try other nuts like almonds or walnuts in your topping.
- Add ground ginger to the sweet potato filling for even more flavor!
Don't add the eggs to hot mashed sweet potatoes! You'll end up with streaks of cooked eggs in your casserole.
Storage, Freezing, and Reheating
Prepare the sweet potato casserole filling and spread it into a freezer-safe baking dish. Wrap the dish tightly with plastic wrap and aluminum foil and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
When you're ready to bake the casserole, remove it from the freezer and allow to safely thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Make the streusel topping and place on top of the sweet potato filling and bake as directed.
If you see an old southern recipe calling for 'yams', know that they are not actual yams but sweet potatoes. True yams are starchier, tougher, and drier tubers that are native to Africa and parts of Asia.
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.
No, a sweet potato casserole is different than candied yams. Candied yams are chopped potatoes baked with a buttery syrup, while sweet potato casserole is mashed sweet potatoes baked with eggs, spices, and other ingredients.
I wouldn't use canned sweet potatoes for this recipe. They're very watery and don't hold as much flavor!
No. This means you have way too much liquid in your ingredients, possibly from boiling your potatoes or using canned yams.
More Holiday Recipes
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Sweet Potato Layer
- 6-8 medium sweet potatoes
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
Brown Sugar and Pecan Topping
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 cup pecans, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 375° F (190° C). Spray a 9x13 oven-safe baking dish with non-stick spray or grease it with a little butter.
- Bake the sweet potatoes for 45-60 minutes, until they are easily pierced with a fork. Let them cool for 10 minutes before mashing.
- Use a potato ricer or masher to mash the sweet potatoes into a large mixing bowl.
- Combine the sweet potatoes, brown sugar, kosher salt, butter, spices, vanilla extract, and eggs with a hand mixer until the sweet potato mixture is creamy and homogenous.
- Pour the sweet potato mixture into your prepared baking dish. Set it aside.
- Mix the pecan topping ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl with a rubber spatula or with clean hands, it doesn't have to be perfectly well mixed, but just barely coming together. Sprinkle the mixture generously and evenly over sweet potatoes in the baking dish.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 50-55 minutes, the topping should be brown and crunchy. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.
How to Freeze Sweet Potato Casserole
Prepare the sweet potato casserole filling and spread it into a freezer-safe baking dish. Cool completely, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and aluminum foil and store in the freezer up to 3 months. When ready to bake, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Make streusel topping mixture and place on top of casserole and bake as directed.
Make Ahead Instructions
Prepare all the ingredients, put the sweet potato filling in the baking dish and cover it. Keep the topping separate and covered as well. Keep both in the fridge for up to 3 days. Sprinkle the topping over the filling and bake when you need it!
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 273Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 58mgSodium: 104mgCarbohydrates: 34gFiber: 3gSugar: 21gProtein: 4g
All nutrition facts are estimations. Please see a physician for any health-related inquiries.
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.