How to Cook Yams
Don't wait to learn how to cook fresh yams for Thanksgiving when you can serve 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, candied yams, and even a few sweet potato recipes! Of course we'll tell you how long to cook yams using each cooking method.
What's a Yam?
Often, in the United States, orange-flesh sweet potatoes are labeled as yams, while the pale variety with light yellow skin and flesh is labeled as sweet potatoes. However, vegetables sold as yams in one market may be sold as sweet potatoes in another.
Here's a primer to clear up any confusion: All yams are sweet potatoes, but not all sweet potatoes are yams. True yams have a rougher skin and are related to grasses, while sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family. Still unsure of what you're stocking up on at the supermarket? Look for sweet potato somewhere on the produce label—the USDA requires it to be listed to specify if the seller is using "yam" as a synonym.
Fortunately, yams and sweet potatoes can be used interchangeably, and both are considered superfoods by nutrition experts.
How to Select and Store Yams
Yams (that is, orange-flesh sweet potatoes) are available year-round, but their peak season is winter. 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, as they can dry out.
Tip: One pound of yams equals about 2 medium yams or 2-3/4 cups cubed yam.
Ways to Prepare 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 recipes.
How to Mash and Boil Yams
The most common way to cook yams on the stove is to boil them.
How to Boil Yams
To boil yams, follow instructions for How to Boil Sweet Potatoes.
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. Bring to boiling. Add yams. Cover the pan and cook yams for 10 to 12 minutes or until just tender on the outside but resistant in the center when pierced with a knife. For soft, tender yams, cook for 25 to 30 minutes.
How to Mash Boiled Yams
- To mash yams for use in recipes, mash boiled yams with a potato masher or electric mixer on low speed. Measure the amount you need for the recipe. Note that 2 medium yams yield about 1-1/3 cups peeled, cooked mashed yams.
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 super-easy baked yams recipe:
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees 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.
- Cut an X in the top of each yam, and press on the skin to push the flesh upward.
- Serve with butter, brown sugar, and/or cinnamon.
How to Cook Yams in the Microwave
Want a shortcut for cooking yams? 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.
Tip: If you like, you can also sprinkle with 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped nuts. Walnuts and pecans work especially well.
How to Make Yam and 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.
Tip: Cut each fry to an even thickness. 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).
- Arrange yams in a baking pan. Be sure your baking pan is large enough to bake the yam slices in a single layer so they brown evenly.
- Bake yams 20 to 30 minutes until tender, turning once.
How to Add Yams to Oven-Baked Pot Roast
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. (Looking for a recipe? For a quintessential beef pot roast, try this Sunday Oven Pot Roast.
- 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.
How to Add Yams to Soups and Stews
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.
Yummy Yam and Sweet Potato Recipes
Craving a creamy yam casserole, or looking for a new recipe for this year's holiday yams? Look no further! No matter what your yam and sweet potato cravings are, we have plenty of recipes to satisfy, plus a few new treats for you to try.
Sweet Potato and Yam Desserts (Yes, Desserts!)
Yam desserts? You better believe it! If you want to try a totally different take on cooking yams, scoop up a bowl of ube ice cream. Ube is a type of purple yam popular in the Philippines that can make gorgeous (and delicious!) desserts. But don't stop at yam recipes—you can also make sweet potato recipes for dessert by baking them into brownies, cupcakes, and cookies.