Thanksgiving may be the most popular time to serve baked yams, but you can cook the versatile veggie any time. To help you take advantage of this nutritious root vegetable, we gathered our Test Kitchen's best tips on how to cook yams all the ways. Then you can enjoy your favorite yam recipes, including casseroles, fries, baked yams, yam desserts, and candied yams.

By Katlyn Moncada
Updated October 21, 2020
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Are you making yams to take to Thanksgiving dinner? Eh, you're probably making sweet potatoes. Let me explain. Actual yams have a woody, tree-like exterior (unlike the reddish hue sweet potatoes have on the outside) and are native to more tropical regions such as Africa, Central America, and Asia. Not only do yams look different, but they're also starchier and not as sweet as the orange-tinted sweet potatoes you love. Way back when, produce shippers dubbed orange-fleshed sweet potatoes "yams" to differentiate them from standard potatoes, and the name has stuck. Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires yams that aren't the real thing to also be labeled as a sweet potato. So unless you're in an international grocery store, you're likely grabbing sweet potatoes.

Credit: Andy Lyons

How to Cook Yams

Regardless of what you call them, yams (or sweet potatoes) are delicious in both savory and sweet dishes. 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 a variety of ways to enjoy your favorite yam (or sweet potato) recipes.

Credit: Andy Lyons
Try Our Maple-Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes

How to Boil 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.

  1. Wash and peel yams, then cut into bite-size cubes.
  2. Choose a saucepan or Dutch oven ($40, Target) that will be large enough to hold the yams without crowding them. Fill the pot with just enough salted water to cover the yams and add a dash of salt.
  3. Bring to a boil and cook, covered for 20 to 25 minutes or until tender. If you can pierce the flesh with a fork or knife, they're ready!

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 ($17, Crate & Barrel) or an electric mixer used at low speed will produce fluffy, smooth mashed yams. Measure the amount you need for the recipe. Note that 1 medium yam (8 oz.) yields about 1⅓ cups of peeled, cooked mashed yams.

Test Kitchen Tip: In a pinch, you can use canned sweet potatoes for recipes that call for boiled and mashed yams or sweet potatoes. Simply drain and mash with a potato masher or electric mixer on low speed. Measure the amount needed for your recipe.

Credit: Blaine Moats
Get the Recipe for Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

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. Here's how to make baked yams whole:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Scrub yams thoroughly with a vegetable brush ($6, Target), then pat dry. Prick yams with a fork.
  3. Bake 40 to 60 minutes or until tender.
  4. Place each baked yam inside a kitchen towel. Gently roll to soften the flesh.
  5. Cut an X in the top of each yam, and press on the skin to push the flesh upward.
  6. If desired, serve with butter, brown sugar, and/or cinnamon.

How to Cook Yams in the Microwave

If you want the deliciousness of yams but can't wait 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 ½ cup water in a microwave-safe casserole dish. Microwave, covered, at 100% power (high) 10 minutes or until tender, stirring once.

Test Kitchen Tip: One pound of yams equals about 2 medium yams or 2¾ cups cubed yam.

How to Make Yam or Sweet Potato Fries

You can easily make yam fries in your oven for a colorful and nutritious alternative to regular french fries. Here are tips for how to make baked yam fries that will rival your favorite diner's recipe. See our baked sweet potato fries recipe for the full instructions.

  1. Scrub yams thoroughly with a brush, then pat dry. Peel yams if you like, or leave the skins on.
  2. Use a sharp thin-blade knife ($40, Target) to cut yams into ¼- to ½-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.
  3. Give those yams a drizzle of olive oil and toss with desired seasonings (fresh or dried sage, rosemary, and thyme work especially well with yams).
  4. When arranging yams on a baking sheet ($8, Bed Bath & beyond). be sure your baking pan is large enough to bake the yam slices in a single layer so they brown evenly. Use two baking sheets if it's getting too crowded.
  5. Bake yams until tender, turning once to get them evenly cooked.

Sweet Potato and Yam Desserts

Yams and sweet potatoes also work well in sweet dishes. They're great in a classic sweet potato pie, but have you tried sweet potato brownies or cupcakes? If you want something really unconventional, try cooking up the bright-colored ube. It's a type of purple sweet potato popular in the Philippines that can be turned into gorgeous (and delicious!) purple yam desserts.

Tips for Buying and 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.

In the mood for baked yams yet? For more inspiration, try the BH&G favorite Florence Mama's candied yams. Bake a batch of yam and jam muffins for breakfast. Or go for one of these delicious sweet potato casseroles to go with your holiday feast.

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