Bright and creamy with plenty of honeyed richness, sweet potato casserole may be that ultimate-favorite Thanksgiving dish everyone looks forward to the most each year. They’re equally delicious as a dinnertime staple — where their indulgent sweetness is the perfect foil to savory turkey, gravy and stuffing — or a standalone dessert with their toasted blanket of gooey marshmallows. Classic candied sweet potatoes are proof positive that you really don’t need to mess with a good thing. But, because they’re so good in their traditional form, you can actually elevate them to even higher levels of deliciousness with a few key additions and adjustments.
We’ve got some faster, easier and even healthier sweet potato recipes that taste just as good as (or better than!) the standard Thanksgiving version. If ingredients like marshmallows, pecans, brown sugar, orange zest, cranberries and even pineapples whet your holiday appetite, you’ll definitely want to try these recipes — you might just find a deeper appreciation for how wonderful this root vegetable can taste.
Choosing Your Sweet Potatoes
As the foundation of the dish, sweet potatoes obviously have a starring role in any good casserole recipe that features them. But before you begin whipping one up, it helps to know a bit about what to look for when choosing sweet potatoes if you’re not using canned. You’ll first want to select what kind of sweet potato to work with — not all of them come in that autumnal, deep-orange hue. Cooking magazine Saveur cataloged 16 color shades of sweet potatoes ranging from white to purple to rich orange, each with its own slight variance in texture and flavor.
The great thing about these sweet potato varieties, however, is that almost all of them are great to use in your candied casserole. Feel free to make dinner guests do a double-take when they dig into the magenta-colored goodness of a dish made with the Speckled Purple or Okinawa type of sweet potato instead of the classic Jewel, which is the most common variety in holiday casseroles. If you’re not serving regular mashed spuds with dinner, using Sweet Hannah or O’Henry sweet potatoes will still lend some of that smooth, cream-colored tastiness to your table. Keep in mind that purple sweet potatoes are often nuttier than white and orange types, which tend to fall on the sugary side of the flavor spectrum, when you’re planning your purchase.
Whatever your choice, be sure the potatoes you pick are firm and without any brown or soft bruise spots. Their skins should be tight and unwrinkled, and it’s actually a better idea to choose sweet potatoes that are on the smaller side. The larger they are, the starchier and drier they can get, and that’s not the texture you want for your dish. Be sure to store the fresh sweet potatoes in a cool, dry spot — not the fridge — until you’re ready to cook with them.
Best Classic Version of Candied Sweet Potatoes
This might just be the simplest sweet potato dish out there, and it comes straight out of the classic Betty Crocker Cookbook, so you know it’s withstood the test of time — it might even be what your parents or grandparents served at the table each year. And if you need that nostalgic flavor fast, the great thing about this recipe is that you can make it in under an hour with just a few ingredients from your pantry.
To pull this dish together, add six medium-sized sweet potatoes to a saucepan, cover them with water and simmer them until they’re firm but not mushy. You should be able to push a fork into them and pull it out easily. Remove them from the water and peel off their skins before slicing them into rounds that are about a quarter-inch thick. In a non-stick skillet, heat brown sugar, butter, water and a pinch of salt. Let everything melt together and combine, and then add the sliced sweet potatoes. Stir them to coat every slice in the glaze.
Want to layer the flavors in this dish? You’ve got some options. You can add cranberry juice, whole cranberries or orange juice to taste. You can also omit the water in your glaze recipe and replace it with an 8-ounce can of crushed pineapple in syrup, undrained — but keep in mind you might need to cook it down longer to reduce some of the liquid.
Best Candied Sweet Potatoes With a Marshmallow Topping
When you imagine a sweet potato casserole on your Thanksgiving table, you probably picture it with nicely browned marshmallows. When it’s done just right, the marshmallows are crisp but soft and gooey to enhance the flavors of the sweet potatoes resting below. If you prefer this oh-so-toasty casserole to traditional slices, this recipe from The Spruce Eats shows you how it’s done.
Start by peeling and cubing sweet potatoes and setting them aside. Then, grab a sturdy ceramic dish and generously grease the bottom and sides with butter. Meanwhile, in a stovetop pan, combine brown sugar, butter, salt, cinnamon and a dash each of nutmeg and ground ginger. Warm them over medium heat until the brown sugar dissolves. Then, add in a teaspoon of vanilla.
Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes and stir. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil. Cook the potatoes for 45 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit, until they become soft. Then, increase the temperature to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. While the oven’s heating up, take the sweet potatoes out, remove the foil and stir them to re-coat them in the glaze. Cover the potatoes in four cups of mini marshmallows and put them back in to bake. Remove the dish from the oven when the marshmallows are light brown and gooey.
Best “Healthy” Spin on Candied Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes don’t always have to wreck your diet. We’ve got one of the healthiest recipes available, courtesy of Eating Well. You can also make them with a host of delicious and nutrient-boosted ingredients, such as this award-winning Canadian maple syrup.
This side dish starts with about eight cups of peeled sweet potatoes cut into rounds. Begin by layering them in a glass baking dish and then setting it aside while, on the stovetop, you combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and a dash of pepper in a bowl. Pour this liquid over the sweet potatoes and bake for 45 minutes, tossing and stirring every 15 minutes to be sure everything is cooking evenly and coated nicely. Remove the potatoes from the oven when they’re fork-tender.
One of the nice things about this sweet potato recipe (and others) is that you can make it a day ahead of time. Store it covered in the refrigerator and reheat it for about 15 minutes in the oven before serving. It’s an easy way to get some of your Thanksgiving prep work done to save time on the big day.
Best Gluten-Free Version of Candied Sweet Potatoes
You might be thinking to yourself, “Aren’t sweet potatoes already gluten-free?” While the vegetables themselves are, the other recipe ingredients aren’t always free from this grain protein. In fact, it’s even present sometimes in marshmallows, so it’s essential to use a recipe like this one from Clean Eating Kitchen if one of your dinner guests has a gluten allergy or celiac disease or is avoiding gluten for other reasons. Fortunately, gluten-free candied sweet potatoes are super-easy to prepare.
These gluten-free sweet potatoes maximize your nutrient intake while lowering the sugar content that’s often on the higher side with this dish. To make them, simply peel and slice your potatoes into chunks and add them to an Instant Pot for no-fuss cooking. Top them with a cup of fresh orange juice, coconut sugar and sprinkles of fresh ground cinnamon and ground ginger. After a few minutes of cooking at high pressure, let the steam release naturally and serve hot.
Best Fancy Twist on Candied Sweet Potatoes
When sweet potatoes get fancy, they also get fun. Made with bourbon and served in a cast iron skillet, this version will make a delicious impression on your guests. To start this preparation from beloved chef Anthony Bourdain, peel and rough-cut three pounds of sweet potatoes, then blanch them in water for about 10 minutes until they’re barely tender. Drain them in a colander.
In a separate saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar with apple cider and bourbon. You can also salt the mixture to taste. Butter your cast iron pan, add the sweet potatoes and then add the sauce mixture. Coat the sweet potatoes and bake them until they’re tender. This recipe is another that’s easy to make ahead, too. Simply prep and combine all the ingredients, but instead of baking them, store them, covered, in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, let them come up to room temperature before baking them for about 40 minutes.