How to Cook Yams
Thanksgiving may be the most popular time to serve yams, but you can cook up this tasty and super-versatile veggie year-round. To help you take advantage of this nutritious superfood, we gathered our best tips and yam recipes, including casseroles, fries, baked yams, yam desserts and candied yams. We'll tell you how long to cook yams using each cooking method and give you some time-saving tips from our Test Kitchen pros.
Think you're cooking yams to take to Thanksgiving dinner this year? Eh, you're probably cooking sweet potatoes. Let us explain.
Actual yams, found largely in Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, are very different than the vegetable we think of as a yam. The U.S. version, is, in fact, a variation of a sweet potato! Way back when, produce shippers dubbed orange-fleshed sweet potatoes "yams" to differentiate them from standard potatoes, and the name has stuck. But most yams you'll find in the grocery store are actually sweet potatoes.
Regardless of what you call them, yams (or sweet potatoes) are delicious superfoods that can be used in savory and sweet dishes. Keep reading for advice on how to cook yams perfectly, no matter what kind of dish you want to use them in.
Ways to Cook Yams
Yams can be used in many ways. For side dishes, they're often boiled or baked (peeled or unpeeled). They can be added to soups, stews, and braises. Sometimes boiled yams are mashed to serve as a side dish or for use as an ingredient in quick breads and pies.
Read on for instructions on how to cook yams in popular ways and for our favorite yam—or sweet potato—recipes.
How to Boil and Mash Yams
The most common way to cook yams on the stove is to boil them. Because yams are so similar to sweet potatoes, you can follow our basic directions for how to boil sweet potatoes to get yams that are perfect for making mashed dishes.
- Wash and peel yams, then cut into bite-size cubes.
- Choose a saucepan or Dutch oven that will be large enough to hold the yams without crowding them. Fill the pot so it's half full (just enough water to cover the yams) and add a dash of salt.
After draining, you're ready to use your boiled yams in any recipe that calls for them mashed. Start by picking the right mashing tool for the job. A potato masher or an electric mixer used on low speed will produce fluffy, smooth mashed yams. Measure the amount you need for the recipe. Note that 2 medium yams yield about 1-1/3 cups of peeled, cooked mashed yams.
BH&G Test Kitchen Tip: In a pinch you can use canned sweet potatoes for recipes that call for boiled and mashed yams or sweet potatoes. For 2 cups mashed yams or sweet potatoes, drain one 17.2-ounce can whole sweet potatoes and transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Mash with a potato masher or electric mixer on low speed. Measure the amount needed for the recipe.
How to Bake Yams
Learning how to cook yams in the oven means you can make a simple and nutritious side dish for meat loaf, steaks, grilled chicken, fish, and more. Just follow our easy baked yams recipe:
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Scrub yams thoroughly with a brush, then pat dry. Prick yams with a fork.
- Bake 40 to 60 minutes or until tender.
- Place each baked yam inside a kitchen towel. Gently roll to soften the flesh.
How to Cook Yams in the Microwave
If you want the deliciousness of yams but can't wait for an hour to eat, try making them in minutes with this super quick microwave method. Here's how to use your microwave to get your yams table- or recipe-ready in minutes.
To microwave whole yams:
- Prick scrubbed yams all over with a fork.
- Microwave on high 8 to 10 minutes or until tender, turning yams once.
To microwave sliced yams:
- Wash, peel, and cut off the woody portions and ends. Cut yams into quarters.
- Place yams and 1/2 cup water in a microwave-safe casserole.
- Microwave, covered, on 100 percent power (high) 10 to 13 minutes or until tender, stirring once.
How to Cook Candied Yams with Marshmallows
This is it: Our classic candied yams recipe—the one with marshmallows. It's so easy but always a hit at family gatherings. This recipe serves four, so you might need to make a double batch!
1. Gather the Ingredients
- 3 medium yams or sweet potatoes (1 pound)
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup tiny marshmallows
2. Prepare the Yams
- Place the yams in a large saucepan; cover with water.
- Bring to boiling; boil 25 to 35 minutes or until the yams are tender.
- Drain yams and let them stand until cool enough to handle.
- Peel yams, then cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices.
3. Bake the Yams
- Place half the yams in a 1-quart casserole dish. Layer with half the brown sugar and half the butter. Repeat layers.
- Bake, uncovered, in a 375 degree F oven 30 to 35 minutes or until yams are glazed, spooning liquid over yams once or twice during cooking.
- Sprinkle with marshmallows and bake 5 minutes more.
BH&G Test Kitchen Tip: If you like, you can also sprinkle with 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped nuts. Walnuts and pecans work especially well.
Related: Florence Mama's Candied Yams
How to Make Yam or Sweet Potato Oven Fries
Here's how to make yam fries in your oven for a more colorful, tasty, and nutritious alternative to regular french fries.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Scrub yams thoroughly with a brush, then pat dry. Peel yams if you like, or leave the skins on.
- Use a sharp thin-blade knife to cut yams into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick strips. Our Test Kitchen Pros recommend cutting each fry to an even thickness as best you can. Because yams contain more sugar than regular potatoes, they tend to burn easily and cook unevenly if cut too thin.
- Toss yams with olive oil and desired seasonings (fresh or dried sage, rosemary, and thyme work especially well with yams).
Add Yams to Pot Roasts and Stews
Like other root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes, yams can be added to pot roast during the cooking time to make hearty and warming one-dish meals. Here's how.
- Prepare pot roast as directed.
- About 1 hour before the end of cooking time for the pot roast, add scrubbed and peeled yams that are cut into 2-inch chunks. (Use 5 cups yams per 6 to 8 servings.) Arrange yam chunks around roast.
- Roast, uncovered, 50 to 60 minutes or until meat and yams are tender.
Cubed yams make a colorful, flavorful addition to soups and stews. Slice yams into 1-1/4-inch cubes and simmer in soup or stew during the last 20 to 25 minutes of cooking or until tender.
Sweet Potato and Yam Desserts
Yam desserts? You'd better believe it! Yams and sweet potatoes work well in sweet dishes from creamy cheesecakes and puddings to traditional pies and brownies. If you want something really unconventional, try cooking up the bright-colored ube. Ube is a type of purple sweet potato popular in the Philippines that can be turned into gorgeous (and delicious!) purple yam desserts. Here are a few of our favorite ways to use yams in desserts:
- Spiral-Topped Sweet Potato Pie
- Ube Ice Cream
- Praline Yam Casserole
- Sweet Potato Pudding
- Sweet Potato Cheesecake in a Gingersnap Crust
- Sweet Potato Cupcakes
Tips for Buying & Storing Yams
Yams are available year-round, but their peak season is winter, which means they're the perfect addition to all those warming slow cooker dishes that provide such yummy goodness in cold months. When purchasing, look for small to medium yams that are smooth, firm, and free of soft spots. Store whole, unpeeled yams in a cool, dry place for up to 1 week. Do not refrigerate yams because they'll dry out.
BH&G Test Kitchen Tip: One pound of yams equals about 2 medium yams or 2¾ cups cubed yam.