Candied Yams

Barbara Curry
by Barbara Curry
4 servings
35 min

You can’t beat these super simple, 3-ingredient Candied Yams. Tender and sweet with a caramelized sauce, you’ll have them on the table in 30 minutes. A classic Thanksgiving side dish.

Candied yams in a serving dish next to a spoon.

Southern candied yams are cooked on the stovetop, which frees up oven space for other dishes. And the best part is you use canned sweet potatoes so there’s no need to spend time peeling or chopping.

When I was growing up, Mom always made candied yams for a holiday meal. Turkey, ham or roast beef, this is the recipe she uses, and it’s still a family favorite because they taste incredible. If you want a sweet potato side dish that’s not so sweet, then try r oasted sweet potatoes with pears.

If you’re hosting a big meal, it’s helpful to have at least one easy recipe that doesn’t take long to make.

With just three ingredients, these fit the bill. The melt-in-your-mouth brown sugar sweet potatoes complement other holiday sides like corn pudding and broccoli cheese casserole.

A spoon full of brown sugar sweet potatoes.

It’s not Thanksgiving without brown sugar sweet potatoes on the menu, but you can make them any time of year for any gathering. I love them with ham at Easter, or Mother’s Day, and of course Christmas. No matter the occasion, they’re always a hit!

If you’re looking for another easy sweet potato side dish you can serve for a crowd, try sweet potato casserole. It has a similar flavor to candied yams but uses mashed fresh sweet potatoes instead of canned. Since it does take a bit more time to prep, you can assemble it the day before baking. Bourbon, spicy pecans and bacon make it extra special.

If you’ve got room in the oven, try making hasselback sweet potatoes, they look impressive and of course are delicious.

Why you’ll love them

  • You won’t find an easier recipe
  • No need to peel sweet potatoes
  • A thick, sweet sauce that tastes like caramel
  • Make them in one pan for easy cleanup

What you’ll need for stovetop sweet potatoes

The ingredients for stovetop sweet potatoes in a skillet.

Canned Sweet potatoes – Try to find ones that are not in a heavy syrup. If that’s all you can find, cut back on the brown sugar.

Brown sugar – I prefer light brown sugar but if you want a deeper flavor, use dark brown sugar. I don’t recommend granulated sugar, as it doesn’t caramelize as well.

Butter – You can cut it into chunks so it melts faster.

Are yams and sweet potatoes interchangeable?

Although they are different root vegetables, one can be substituted for the other since their flavor is similar. Yams are typically grown in Asia, Africa or South America, while sweet potatoes are grown in the US, where North Carolina is the number one producer.

Candied “yams” are usually made with sweet potatoes because they are easier to find in our grocery stores. To confuse things even further, the orange vegetables you see labeled as yams are often actually sweet potatoes.

You can tell the difference between the two by looking at the skin. Yams have dark, tough skin. Sweet potatoes have smooth, reddish skin. When cooked, yams are dryer and starchier than sweet potatoes, which have softer flesh and sweeter flavor.

How to make candied yams

Step 1- Start the Sauce

Over medium heat in a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar and bring to a low boil.

Brown sugar and butter in an iron skillet.

Step 2:

Pour in some of the sweet potato liquid and let it thicken..

Step 3: Let it simmer

Add the sweet potatoes and simmer for around 30 minutes. They will turn dark brown and the sauce will thicken even more.

Sweet potatoes cooking in a skillet.

Pro tip: Let the potatoes simmer without stirring so they don’t get mushy. You can periodically spoon some liquid over them so they don’t dry out.

Variations for Thanksgiving yams

There are lots of ways you can customize this recipe, depending on your preference. Experiment with some of the popular variations below and find your favorite.

  • Add a tablespoon of fresh juiced orange and a teaspoon of grated zest to the sauce for a sweet citrus flavor.
  • To add some crunch, sprinkle chopped roasted pecans or walnuts over the top just before serving.
  • Add extra fall flavor with ground ginger, cinnamon or nutmeg.

Double or triple the recipe to feed a big crowd for the holidays or potlucks. You can easily refrigerate or freeze any leftovers for another meal.

More Thanksgiving side dishes

Homemade Cranberry Relish is a must at Thanksgiving

Classic Stuffing with Italian sausage stays crispy

Leftover turkey is even better on sweet Hawaiian Rolls

Classic Green Bean Casserole gets an upgrade with from-scratch sauce

You can make these Creamy Mashed Potatoes ahead of time

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Homemade Stuffing Recipe

Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes

Sweet Hawaiian Rolls Recipe

FAQs and tips

Are candied yams healthy?

Yams have high levels of fiber, potassium, manganese and vitamins A, E and C. So even though candied yams contain sugar you’re still getting nutrients from the vegetables.

Can candied yams be made ahead of time?

These are best served the same day. To reheat, bring the yams and sauce to a low boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until heated through. You may need to add a little water to the pan.

Can you freeze leftover candied yams?

To freeze leftovers, seal them in an airtight container. To reheat in the oven, place them in a baking dish and cover with foil.

Other favorite sweet potato recipes

Make sweet and spicy Apple Cider Chili for your next fall get-together.

Hasselback-style Stuffed Sweet Potatoes will impress your guests.

For a healthy breakfast try Frittata or Quiche with a sweet potato crust.

Moist Sweet Potato Muffins with streusel topping are always a favorite.

If you love apples, try this Cobbler with Sweet Potato Biscuits.

Recipe details
  • 4  servings
  • Prep time: 5 Minutes Cook time: 30 Minutes Total time: 35 min
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  • ▢ 1/4 cup butter
  • ▢ 1 cup brown sugar
  • ▢ 40 ounce canned sweet potatoes reserve the liquid

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat and add brown sugar. Bring to a simmer.
Slowly add about ¾ cup of liquid from the sweet potatoes to the skillet, it will sizzle. Stir until it is incorporated and it becomes slightly thick.
Add the potatoes to the skillet and simmer for 30 minutes until they turn a deep brown and the syrup has thickened. Occasionally, pour the liquid over the potatoes but don’t stir them or they will turn to mush.
  • Before opening the can of sweet potatoes, turn it over to mix up the liquid.
  • Cook these on low heat, if you added too much liquid, let it cook a little longer.
  • Try to find canned sweet potatoes in juice and not syrup. If all you can find is syrup, reduce the brown sugar.
Barbara Curry
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