Stovetop candied yams in delicious spiced butter, brown sugar, and orange juice syrup – a perfectly appetizing Thanksgiving side dish classic ready in under an hour.
What Are Candied Yams?
Candied yams are a Southern soul food staple. It’s made by combining sweet potatoes (either on the stove or baked in the oven) with a syrup concoction of vanilla, brown sugar, and butter (sometimes with added spices and/or liquid). The mixture is cooked until the potatoes are tender and the liquid has turned into a thick syrup. The dish is sometimes made even sweeter with toppings like marshmallows or sweet streusel (aka a crumble topping).
Either way, the result is a buttery, sweet, and melt-in-the-mouth dish that’s undeniably appetizing and 100% a crowd-pleaser! Even better, this holiday candy yams recipe can be prepped and/or frozen in advance for less fuss on the day!
Origin Of Candied Yams
Some speculate there’s a candied sweet potato dish dating as far back as 16th century Europe. But the popular Thanksgiving dish we think of first appeared in publications in the late 19th century (1889, to be exact).
Unsurprisingly, the popular marshmallow topping for this candied yam recipe only came about later. It was thanks to the mass-marketing efforts of Angelus Marshmallows (the original makers of Cracker Jacks) and their marshmallow-based cookbook published in 1917.
Are Yams And Sweet Potatoes The Same
Technically, no. True yams are a starchy root vegetable that are pale yellow color inside with a thick, rough brown peel and starchier consistency than sweet potatoes (which come in white, orange, and purple varieties). They’re also less nutritious and not as globally recognized or available. In fact, they’re closer to russet potatoes or yucca than sweet potatoes, but contain more complex carbs and fiber.
With some research, I’ve gathered the reason sweet potatoes are sometimes referred to as yams in the United States. It is because the potatoes reminded enslaved Africans (who worked the fields/crops in the early 1900s in Louisiana) of African-grown yams.
They began to refer to them as yams to distinguish the crop from others at the time. The name stuck and sweet potatoes are still sometimes labeled as yams in grocery stores today. Voila, this recipe for candied yams is actually candied sweet potatoes.
Ingredients for Candied Yams
Create this sweet, buttery, and absolutely delicious homemade candied yams from scratch with just a handful of simple pantry staples.
- Sweet potatoes: Now we’ve established that this sweet yams recipe is made with sweet potatoes. So you can use fresh or canned sweet potatoes (like garnet sweet potatoes). It’s best to use orange-flesh sweet potatoes, though Japanese white sweet potatoes should also work.
- Sugar: I use a combination of brown sugar and white sugar. However, you can use all brown sugar. If you prefer unrefined sweeteners, coconut sugar could work.
- Orange juice: The tart flavor in orange juice helps cut through some of the sweetness while brightening the dish.
For even more citrusy zing and brightness, also add the zest of one orange to these old-fashioned candied sweet potatoes.
- Butter: Use high-quality unsalted butter.
- Spices: I like to use a warming combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.
- Vanilla: A small amount of vanilla extract compliments the dish’s sweet elements.
How To Make The Best Candied Yams
There are just a couple of easy steps for how to cook candy yams.
First, clean, pat dry, and peel the sweet potatoes. Then chop them into ½-inch round slices.
Next, combine the butter, orange juice, spices, and vanilla in a large saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until the butter and sugar have melted.
Add the yam slices, stirring well to coat them with the brown sugar mixture.
Bring the mixture to a boil, cover the pan with a lid, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Allow the potatoes to cook for 40-50 minutes or until fork-tender.
Remove the lid and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat once more. Allow the sauce time to thicken and reduce for a few more minutes.
If you don’t want to serve the candied sweet potatoes immediately, you could place them in a low oven.
Allow the candied mixture to sit for about 5 minutes before serving, as the sauce will thicken more as it cools.
How To Substitute Sweet Potatoes For Canned Yams
As candied yams from a can are already cooked, I recommend reducing the cooking time to just 20-25 minutes.
How to Serve Candied Yams
Stove-top candied sweet potatoes are a super popular holiday season dish (including Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas, and Easter). And so, it pairs well with all your holiday (and roast dinner) favorites, like:
- Roasted meat – like roasted chicken, turkey, beef, etc.
- Creamy mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, potato au gratin.
- Roasted veggies (asparagus, green beans, honey-roast carrots, cauliflower & broccoli, etc.)
- Brown gravy (or vegan gravy).
How to Store Candied Yams
Allow the homemade yams to cool and then store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 4-5 days.
To freeze, wrap the cooled Thanksgiving yams with plastic wrap. Freeze them for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge before reheating. The potatoes will become softer upon thawing.
Reheat large portions of the Southern candied yams in the oven at 350ºF/175ºC until warm. Alternatively, pop a single portion of candy jams in the microwave in 30-second increments, stirring between, until warm.
Yes, drain any canned ingredients well if using them for this Southern candied yams recipe.
You can par-boil the sweet potatoes a day or two in advance, ready to assemble and cook on the day (reduced to 25- 30 minutes). Alternatively, prepare the entire dish 3-4 days in advance (minus any toppings) and reheat it on the day.
You could make sugar-free candied yans with a maple syrup alternative. However, it won’t become syrups the same way as regular sugar. So you’ll need to add a cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce (start with 1 tablespoon and increase as needed).
Lightly grease a casserole dish large enough to fit all the ingredients. Then add the sliced sweet potatoes and pour over the sauce (melt the butter and combine it with the orange juice, vanilla, and spices).
Cover the bake dish with aluminum foil and bake at 400ºF/200ºF for about 40-50 minutes. Stir halfway, removing the foil to allow the sauce in the baked candied yams to thicken.
If it needs some help, add a spoonful of cornstarch slurry to the old-fashioned candied sweet potatoes. Bake until the brown sugar glaze has thickened.
Side Dishes for the Holidays
- Best Creamed Spinach
- Easy Brown Gravy
- Green Bean Casserole
- Best Creamy Mashed Potatoes
- Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread
- Air Fryer Green Beans
- Fried Apples Recipe (Southern Style)
If you try this best candied yams recipe, I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions below. Also, I’d appreciate a recipe card rating below, and feel free to tag me in your recipe recreations on Instagram @Alphafoodie!
How To Make Candied Yams
- 2 lb sweet potatoes fresh or canned
- 4.4 oz brown sugar 1 cup; or coconut sugar
- 3.2 oz white sugar 1/2 cup; or use all brown sugar.
- 3.8 oz butter 1/2 cup/1 stick; unsalted
- 1/2 cup orange juice and optionally orange zest for added brightness
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon powder
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Clean, pat dry, and peel the sweet potatoes. Then chop them into ½-inch round slices.
- Combine the butter, orange juice, spices, and vanilla in a large saucepan (or Dutch oven) and stir over medium-high heat until the butter and sugar have melted.
- Add the yam slices, stirring well to coat them with the brown sugar mixture.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, cover the pan with a lid, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Allow the potatoes to cook for 40-50 minutes or until fork-tender.If you’re using canned sweet potatoes, you’ll only need to cook the mixture for 15-25 minutes, lid off, until it becomes thick and syrupy.
- Remove the lid and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat once more, allowing the sauce time to thicken and reduce for a few minutes.If you don't want to serve the candied sweet potatoes immediately, you could place them in a low oven.
- Allow the candied mixture to sit for about 5 minutes before serving, as the sauce will thicken more as it cools.
- Store: Allow it to cool, and then store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 4-5 days.Freeze: Wrap the cooled yams with plastic wrap and freeze them for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge before reheating. The potatoes will become softer upon thawing.Reheat: Reheat large portions of the candied yams in the oven at 350ºF/175ºC until warm. Alternatively, pop a single portion in the microwave in 30-second increments, stirring between, until warm.
- To save time: Using a mandoline can reduce the chopping time and ensure all the sweet potatoes are even in thickness.
- Adjusting the sauce consistency: If it becomes too thick, add a little more liquid. If it stays loose, add a tablespoon of cornstarch slurry (or more if needed). Cook over medium-high heat until it thickens.
- Tweak the amount of sugar: Reduce it if preferred. Just note that the less you use, the more likely you’ll need to add cornstarch to thicken the sauce.
- Whole vs. mashed: Adapt this stove top candied sweet potatoes recipe into more of a sweet potato casserole by mashing the candied sweet potatoes at the end of the cooking process.
- Season to taste: Adjust the quantity of the spices or vanilla to taste at the end.
- Vegan candied yams: Use vegan butter. Otherwise, the recipe remains the same.
- Cranberries: A handful of dried cranberries (or raisins) can be tossed into the candies yams a few minutes before they’re ready.
- Alcohol: A few tablespoons of Bourbon, whiskey, or rum won’t make the Southern candied yams overly boozy but adds lovely layers to the flavor.
- Cardamom: Only a very tiny amount of this spice will pack a flavor punch.
- Cream: For a creamier caramel-y syrup, add a small amount of heavy cream to the dish towards the end of the cooking time.
- Candied yams with marshmallows: Once cooked, transfer the candied mixture to a baking dish, sprinkle with mini marshmallows, and either broil the marshmallow yams for 2-3 minutes or bake at 400ºF/200ºC for 5-7 minutes, until melted and brown.
- Pecans: (or walnuts) either whole or chopped and toasted or candied. Use them as a topping or mixed into the dish halfway through the cooking process.
- Streusel topping: Like the cinnamon streusel I use when making mixed berry crumble.