Candied Yams

Please welcome Hank Shaw as he shares his mom’s favorite way of preparing garnet sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. ~Elise

Candied yams have always been something of a mystery to me. Growing up, we only ever ate them on Thanksgiving, which was strange because they are such a perfect kid food: sweet, rich and tangy from the orange juice. And even on Thanksgiving, its sweetness was befuddling. Candied yams are like a little preview of dessert, a treat for the sweet tooth before the serious business of pies and ice creams begin in earnest.

As an adult, I now realize that candied yams properly occupy the middle position between the mashed potatoes and the cranberry sauce. Potatoes are starchy and rich with butter and cream, while the cranberry sauce is sweet and intensely tart. The yams borrow from each and by so doing bind the traditional Thanksgiving plate together.

Know that with a dish so classic as candied yams, there are as many ways to make it as there are cooks. This is how we made them at our house when I was growing up.

Candied Yams Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6-8 as a side dish


  • 3 pounds garnet or ruby sweet potatoes (yams), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • Salt
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 1-1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp butter


boil peeled cut yams

1 Place the cut sweet potatoes in a pot and cover with a couple inches of cold water. Bring to a boil and add a generous pinch of salt. Boil the sweet potatoes for 5-10 minutes, or until you can just pierce them with the tines of a fork, but not fully cooked (you will continue to cook in the next step). Drain and set aside.

candied-yams-2a candied-yams-3a

2 Mix the remaining ingredients in a shallow, wide sauté pan and bring to a boil on high heat. Add the sweet potatoes and coat well with the sauce. Boil on high heat until the sauce reduces to a syrup, about 10 minutes. Serve hot.

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Candied Yams

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  1. Joanne @ Fifteen Spatulas

    It’s funny, this is the dish I didn’t know I was looking for! I have felt a little “hole” in my Thanksgiving menu and this is what will fill that void. Thank you!!!

  2. Ricky Warwick

    I’m from the South so this wonderful recipe is missing one small twist! You have to keep frying them till they develop the slight black crunchy edges. Ohhhhh, that makes-um soooo good!

  3. florence friedman

    I cook mine in the pressure cooker with maple syrup. Always on Thanksgiving and only on Thanksgiving.

  4. Candice Yagmin

    These look lovely! I can’t wait to try!

  5. Elise

    That’s why they are called “candied” yams. They’re supposed to be extra sweet. You can adjust down the added sugar to taste.

  6. Zvi

    Hank, excellent looking recipe and welcome here! I read your blog every time you update and love your work.

    Is there a difference between sweet potatoes and yams, and are there any domestic producers of true yams?

  7. Mike

    My grocery store carries white yams, ruby yams, and sweet potatoes. Is this recipe not distinguishing among them? The pictures look like ruby yams.

    I made the pork stew from your recipe of a few weeks ago and used a sweet potato about the size of a softball, not yams–the ones about the size of pork tenderloins.

    • Foodjunkie

      These are all varieties of sweet potatoes. Yams are a large tropical tuber and almost never show up in the US or Canada. The grocery store yam is a misnomer. You can probably use any of these in the recipe with success.

      • Hank Shaw

        Yep, what foodjunkie says. Typical American supermarkets have garnet yams and sweet potatoes, which are both technically sweet potatoes. Either works great. Just don’t use the white yams, which are starchy and not very sweet.

  8. Sharmila

    Gosh, those look so great! That last photo is gorgeous.

    • Elise

      Thanks Sharmila! That shot was a lot of fun to take. I love how dramatic the bright orange candied yams look against the dark background.

  9. Liz @ The Lemon Bowl

    I love the addition of ginger to this classic dish. Delish.

  10. georgia

    Yes, Ricky Warwick, they have to have the slightly “burned” edges to be really good. My mom always fried them that way with only granulated white sugar. I have tried for years to make them like she did but they never taste as good as hers did. Is this a mom thing that mom’s food tasted better?

  11. Alisha

    My family adds chunks of pineapple to our candied yams.

  12. Penny Weiss

    I’m interested in the browning.. the recipe calls for boiling.. are you saying to cook in a pan until blackened a bit, rather than boiling? If so.. use oil? Olive oil? And yes to the pineapple!

    • Elise

      No, you are just boiling the yams in a liquid that reduces to a syrup. If you want browning, at this point you could scoop them out and lay them on a foil lined baking sheet and broil them for a minute or until the sugars start to caramelize.

  13. Azzemoto

    Step 1 says to boil so at what point to you brown?

  14. Elizabeth

    Made these for Thanksgiving yesterday and they were a hit. The only thing I did different was the addition of toasted pecans and cranberries added at the very last few minutes of cooking. Made a nice tart bite to the sweet deliciousness of the candied yams. And the candied sauce was excellent for dipping the ham. Thank you so much for the recipe!

  15. Judi

    Finally I have found a recipe that does not call for “canned” yams – yuck!

  16. Phylis

    I do like this recipe however, instead of all water in the sauté pan I add about a half of cup of amber rum with butter, brown sugar and orange juice.

  17. chezbrissie

    Awesome recipe. Best yams I ever made.

  18. craig

    I also add nutmeg,and vanilla to my candied sweets,,for even more sweetness!!!

  19. Erin

    Can these be made ahead of time?

  20. takeyah

    Can you make it with regular sugar

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