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How to Cook Sweet Potatoes Without Making Common Mistakes

These tubers are delicious! Just make sure you know how to cook sweet potatoes the right way to get the best flavor.

Roasted Honey Sweet PotatoesTMB Studio

Growing up, sweet potatoes were only featured on our Thanksgiving dinner table. I had no idea there were types of sweet potatoes outside the bright orange ones! Now I know how to shop for, store and cook sweet potatoes without making these mistakes.

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bruised and cut sweet potatoesNurPhoto/Getty Images

Buying Sweet Potatoes with Blemishes and Bruises

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about ugly food, but some blemishes go beyond appearance. Sweet potatoes with cuts, gouges and bruises have already started going bad, so look for ones with smooth skin and no cracks. If the potato has one or two small bruised parts, you can cut them out and cube the rest for side dishes that use diced sweet potatoes (like our Glazed Sweet Potatoes).

Do you know the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?

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Sweet Potatoes Spilling From Burlap Bagsmartstock/Getty Images

Storing Sweet Potatoes in the Refrigerator

The worst thing you can do with sweet potatoes is put them in the refrigerator. It’s too cold in there, which changes the potato’s cell structure and makes them hard in the center (even after they’re cooked). That would be disastrous for recipes that bake the potato whole. Store sweet potatoes in a cool, dark place and they’ll cook up soft and sweet, every time.

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Man Washing Sweet PotatoLuiz Anselmo / EyeEm/Getty Images

Skipping the Scrub-and-Wash Step

Sweet potatoes grow in the ground, and skipping the cleaning step means dirt or grit can end up in your sweet potato casserole. Before cooking or cutting sweet potatoes, wash the skins and give them a scrub with a clean vegetable brush.

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peeled Sweet potatoesannick vanderschelden photography/Getty Images

Not Eating Sweet Potato Skins

Are sweet potato skins edible? Yes—and you should definitely eat them. Removing the skins removes some of the nutrients from the potato, so don’t peel them if you’re making healthy sweet potato recipes. The skin also helps the inside stay moist as the potato cooks.

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hand holding bowl of raw sweet potato wedgeshaoliang/Getty Images

Storing Raw, Cut Sweet Potatoes Without Water

Cutting sweet potatoes in advance is a great way to meal-prep your way to an easier weeknight dinner, but raw sweet potatoes dry out pretty quickly after they’re cut. When chopping sweet potatoes in advance, make sure to store them in cold water in the refrigerator.

That said, if you’re cooking sweet potatoes in advance, don’t worry about the water. Cooked sweet potatoes do just fine when stored in an airtight container.

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Sweet Potato PieTMB Studio

Boiling Sweet Potatoes for Sweet Potato Pie

Many sweet potato pie recipes call for boiling the potatoes to cook them for the filling. We recommend steaming or baking the potato in the oven instead. The water removes some of the potato’s flavor and nutrients, and the pie can turn out watery. Baking the potato in the oven will concentrate its sweetness, resulting in a better pie.

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Creamy Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes TMB Studio

Baking Sweet Potatoes Without Poking Holes in the Skin

No one wants to experience a potato explosion in the oven. The pressure inside a sweet (or regular) potato can build up in a hot oven. Pricking small holes in the skin with a fork is an easy way to let that steam escape, avoiding a sweet potato disaster.

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Cranberry Walnut Sweet PotatoesTMB Studio

Not Checking If the Sweet Potato Is Actually Cooked

There is nothing worse than an undercooked sweet potato. Instead of being tender and moist, it’ll be hard and crunchy. That’s a sure-fire way to ruin Thanksgiving dinner! Since every sweet potato varies in size and thickness, you can’t simply trust that it will cook in 45 minutes. Check for yourself by poking the potato with a fork. If it goes in easily, it’s ready to eat.

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A man trying to heat sweet potatoes in the microwaveyamasan/Getty Images

Using the Microwave to Cook Sweet Potatoes

This is a tough one, because the microwave is a useful tool for cutting a potato’s cooking time in half. The only problem is the microwave cooks potatoes unevenly, so potatoes remain hard and lumpy in some spots while overly soft in others.

Instead, soften the potatoes in the microwave for 5 to 6 minutes, flipping them over halfway through. Then, transfer them to a 425°F oven and finish cooking for about 20 minutes, until cooked through.

For a real treat, scoop out the pulp and mash it with cream cheese, brown sugar and cinnamon to make Creamy Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes.

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Hasselback sweet potatoTMB Studio

Thinking They’re Only for Thanksgiving Dinner

We love the classic marshmallow-topped sweet potato dish served at holiday dinners, but there are so many fun sweet potato recipes—including breakfast ideas! Don’t be afraid to use sweet potatoes in place of regular potatoes. You can toss ’em on the grill, use them in soups and even turn them into dessert.

Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.