The Best Roasted Sweet Potatoes Recipe (2024)

Why It Works

  • Par-cooking the potatoes in water between 135 and 170°F (57 and 77°C) activates an enzyme that converts their starch into maltose, making them especially flavorful and sweet, without any need for extra sugar.

Okay, so sweet potatoes are sweet, but they're not that sweet, right? I mean, sure, you could add maple syrup or honey, and marshmallows on top, but I wouldn't wish one of those monstrous casseroles on my worst enemies, let alone my own family (though, come to think of it, there's some pretty significant overlap between those two groups).

The Best Roasted Sweet Potatoes Recipe (1)

Much better than those casseroles are really well-roasted sweet potatoes. At their best, they're creamy, flavorful, and sweet, with a slightly crisp, caramelized crust. Too often, though, they end up mealy, starchy, and bland. How can the same vegetable produce such different results? How does one get a sweet potato to really live up to its name? We'll talk about that in a second, but first, a few words on sweet potatoes.

I Yam What I Yam: Sweet Potatoes 101

So, as all of you highly educated and well-groomed Serious Eaters probably already know, the thing that we call a yam in the US is not, in fact, a yam. A true yam is a gigantic, starchy, sticky root from a large, grasslike plant native to Africa. These days, they're mostly found in Africa, South America, and the Pacific Islands. Very rarely do they make their way to the US.

Up here, the things we call "yams" are actually a type of sweet potato, a different plant entirely. Sweet potatoes come in a few different varieties, but can basically be broken down into two groups that behave differently when cooked.

  • Dry sweet potatoes, like the white-fleshed American sweet potato or Okinawan purple potatoes, are starchier and less sweet than moist sweet potatoes. They turn fluffy when cooked, and in many recipes can act as a good substitute for normal potatoes, albeit with a unique flavor all their own.
  • Moist sweet potatoes, like Garnet or Ruby yams, are the more widely available variety in the US. They have higher water content and sugar content than dry sweet potatoes, and they cook up creamy and rich, rather than fluffy.

The latter is the one we're interested in roasting today.

Sweet Action: Converting Starch Into Sugar

Here's the deal: Starch is made from sugar. More precisely, starch is a polysaccharide, which means that it's a large molecule consisting of many smaller sugar molecules (in this case, glucose). The thing about sugar is, unless it's broken down to relatively simple forms, it doesn't taste sweet to us. Our tongue simply doesn't recognize it.

It helps to imagine sugar molecules as a bunch of cartoon kids. When they're all standing in a row, it's easy for us to identify them as individual kids. But stack them up on each other and throw a trench coat on 'em, and they're effectively hidden.

Now, sweet potatoes contain plenty of starch molecules. The goal when roasting them is to try to break down as many of the starch molecules as possible into sweet-tasting maltose, a sugar consisting of two glucose molecules. Pull off the trench coat and give that little stack of kids a push, if you will. We do this with the help of enzymes.

Allow me to quote some Harold McGee for you, from On Food and Cooking:

"Moist sweet potato varieties sweeten during cooking thanks to the action of an enzyme that attacks starch and breaks it down. The enzyme starts to make maltose when the tightly packed starch granules absorb moisture and expand, beginning around 135°F, and it stops when the rising heat denatures it, at around 170°F."


So, essentially, the longer a sweet potato spends in that zone between 135 and 170°F (57 and 77°C), the sweeter it becomes. To test this, I cooked three batches of potatoes. The first I popped directly into a 350°F (180°C) oven and baked until tender. The second I par-cooked in a temperature-controlled water bath at 150°F (66°C) for one hour before baking. The last I par-cooked in the same water bath overnight before baking.

The Best Roasted Sweet Potatoes Recipe (2)

Harold's right. You can immediately see that the par-cooked potatoes browned better, indicating a higher sugar content that allowed them to caramelize faster. This was also reflected in the flavor: The par-cooked potatoes were significantly sweeter and more flavorful than the plain roasted potatoes, which were starchy and bland. Interestingly, the hour-long par-cooked potatoes were nearly as flavorful as the overnight potatoes, which means that, to make the most of this effect, you've really only got to cook them for an hour at 150°F.

If you've got a sous vide device, the path to better sweet potatoes is an obvious one. Just bag your potatoes, cook 'em as long as you'd like at 150°F (any higher, and I've found they soften too much before roasting), then pop 'em in the oven the next day while your turkey is resting.

But what about the rest of us?

There are a couple of options. You could always go the beer-cooler sous vide route. It's cheap and effective, and it will easily hold the proper temperature for the requisite hour. Just put your potatoes in a zipper-lock bag with the air squeezed out, then place them in a cooler filled with water at 150°F. Close the top, wait an hour, and you'll be good to roast.

The good thing about sweet potatoes is that they're less finicky than, say, a steak, which means that you don't have to worry about getting the temperature exactly right. In fact, as long as your water's above 135 and below 170°F, it'll have a positive effect on their flavor.

The Best Roasted Sweet Potatoes Recipe (3)

Here's the easiest way to do it: Bring three quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add one quart of room-temperature water. This should bring your water down to around 175°F (79°C). Add a few pounds of sliced or diced potatoes to that water, and it'll come down to well within the requisite range. Pop a lid on the pot, keep it in a warm part of your kitchen, leave it there for a couple hours, then simply roast at your leisure. Your mouth will thank you, if the rest of your family doesn't as well.

November 2010

Recipe Details

The Best Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Prep5 mins

Cook55 mins

Active20 mins

Resting Time60 mins

Total2 hrs

Serves6to 8 servings


  • 3 pounds (1.4kg) peeled or skin-on sweet potatoes, quartered, and cut into 1/2-inch slices

  • 6 tablespoons (90ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar


  1. Place sweet potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water. Heat water to 160°F (71°C) as registered on an instant-read thermometer. Cover and set aside for 1 hour.

  2. Meanwhile, adjust oven racks to upper middle and lower middle positions and preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Drain sweet potatoes and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread sweet potatoes on 2 rimmed baking sheets and roast until bottom side is browned, about 30 minutes. Carefully flip potatoes with thin offset spatula and roast until second side is browned and potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes longer.

    The Best Roasted Sweet Potatoes Recipe (4)

  3. Transfer to a large bowl. Toss with remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, parsley, and honey (or maple syrup or agave nectar, if using). Serve immediately.

    The Best Roasted Sweet Potatoes Recipe (5)

Special Equipment

2 rimmed baking sheets, instant-read thermometer

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Roasted Potatoes
  • Thanksgiving Sweet Potatoes
  • Winter Sides
The Best Roasted Sweet Potatoes Recipe (2024)


What makes sweet potatoes taste better? ›

That's why we've served up a number of ways to give your sweet potatoes a welcome flavor boost.
  1. Slather with cinnamon butter. ...
  2. Drizzle with tahini. ...
  3. Roast with savory chili sauce. ...
  4. Sprinkle on some good ol' salt and pepper. ...
  5. Pan fry with ginger and orange. ...
  6. Rub with garlic and rosemary. ...
  7. Dip in honey mustard.
Feb 17, 2023

Why are my roasted sweet potatoes not crispy? ›

I've found that sweet potatoes really need space for a truly roasted, crisped-edge result. Aim for about one inch of space between pieces. This leads to good, dry, hot airflow that will let the potato pieces' moisture evaporate while letting them dry and crisp up more.

What is the tastiest sweet potato? ›

For the gardener who doesn't care about looks, but is searching for taste, "Jewel" is considered the "Queen of Sweet Potatoes" and is the leading spud planted in North Carolina for commercial growers.

Why do you soak sweet potatoes before baking? ›

TIPS & TRICKS to Make this Recipe: The main secrets to achieving that incredible crispy texture, is to soak the cut sweet potatoes in cold water for at least 30 minutes. This helps remove the starch from the sweet potatoes so they´re not limp & soggy.

Why do you need to soak sweet potatoes before cooking? ›

The cold water bath helps rinse the starch off the sweet potatoes so they're a bit more crispy. That said, if you do not have the time, you can still get crispy baked sweet potato fries by using high heat and a little drizzle of olive oil.

Does roasting sweet potatoes make them sweeter? ›

When you heat a sweet potato, an enzyme starts breaking down it's starch into a sugar called maltose. Maltose is made up of two glucose molecules bound together, and tastes about a third as sweet as regular table sugar, also known as sucrose.

How do you roast sweet potatoes Martha Stewart? ›

Pierce potatoes all over with the tines of a fork and bake in oven, directly on rack, until soft and caramelizing, 1 1/2 hours. Slash the tops of potatoes open with the tip of a sharp knife and push ends of each potato toward each other to open. Divide butter, salt, and pepper among potatoes and serve.

How does Ina Garten bake sweet potatoes? ›

  1. Preheat oven to 425*F.
  2. Cut sweet potatoes in wedges or like french fries.
  3. Place wedges on large baking pan or cookie sheet. ...
  4. Now sprinkle over brown sugar, salt, and black pepper. ...
  5. Spread out in a single layer. ...
  6. Place back in oven and bake another 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy on the outside.

Why are my roasted sweet potatoes mushy? ›

Recipe FAQ's

The main reasons for soggy sweet potato wedges are: overcrowding the baking sheet, not tossing in enough oil, having too thick sized wedges, and not roasting at a high enough heat.

What is the healthiest way to eat sweet potato? ›

Boiling sweet potatoes retains more beta-carotene and makes the nutrient more absorbable than other cooking methods such as baking or frying. Up to 92% of the nutrient can be retained by limiting the cook time, such as boiling in a pot with a tightly covered lid for 20 minutes.

What makes sweet potato a super food? ›

Of the thousands of vegetables available today, sweet potatoes are considered one of the most nutritious. The orange- (or sometimes purple) fleshed vegetables are loaded with minerals and A, B, and C vitamins. This has led to sweet potatoes being called a superfood by many.

What can I put on sweet potatoes besides butter? ›

Favorite Sweet Potato Toppings:

Maple Syrup, Cinnamon, and Butter – ok, I'm a big fan of savory but this combo is also a favorite! ghee is an excellent (and delicious!) substitute for butter if you need it. Brown Butter, Brown Sugar, Vanilla, and Cinnamon – another sweet variation that never disappoints.

What tastes better boiled or baked sweet potatoes? ›

Baking whole sweet potatoes in the oven or cutting them into cubes and roasting them caramelizes the potatoes' starchy flesh, making it sweeter and giving it a silky smooth texture. Even if you are making mashed sweet potatoes, they will taste better with oven-cooked potatoes.

Why does my sweet potato taste bland? ›

So if you want a sweet, sweet potato, you have to cook it until it reaches 135–170°F (57–77°C). And you want to keep sweet potatoes in that range for as long as possible. That will maximize how sweet the potatoes taste.

Can you make sweet potatoes taste like normal potatoes? ›

I agree with Max - you cannot change the taste of sweet potatoes to make them taste like regular potatoes BUT you can make oven-baked sweet potato fries and they will taste just as good ( or better because of all those amazing vitamins and minerals in the sweet potato) as baked potato fries.

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