Making a perfect baked sweet potato is no easy task. Wait, that’s a joke right? It’s just a sweet potato! Sure, it may seem simple enough to wrap a sweet potato in aluminum foil, bake until the flesh is tender and the skin is crispy, top with butter and salt, and 50 minutes later—voila. But it takes a careful, practiced hand and a little bit of creativity to roast sweet potatoes like a pro.
Though in fry form anything is tasty and the candied variety are near and dear to my heart, the easiest way to prepare a sweet potato is to bake it in the oven. When done right, this yields tender, creamy flesh with crispy skin—perfect for using in any number of delicious dishes. While baking sweet potatoes isn’t exactly rocket science, there are a few tips and tricks you should keep in mind to get the most out of these beloved spuds. Here’s what you need to know.
How to bake sweet potatoes
- Preheat the oven to 400˚F.
- Scrub sweet potatoes with a produce brush under running water (or rub them with your fingers if you don’t have a brush). Use a fork to poke holes in the potatoes; this will help the steam to escape the potato while ensuring that the flesh cooks thoroughly and evenly.
- Place the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat for easy cleanup of any caramelized juices.
- Rub the potatoes with a thin coating of vegetable oil, coconut oil, or olive oil and sprinkle with some salt and pepper. (This is optional, but necessary if you want to eat the skin.) For a little more pizzazz, use brown sugar too.
- Bake in an oven until tender. You’ll know the potatoes are ready when a fork or knife pierces the flesh without any resistance. The cooking time will vary based on the size of the sweet potatoes, but this should take about 1 hour.
- Serve as desired, preferably with butter.
What to look for when buying sweet potatoes
It’s best to select small- to medium-sized sweet potatoes (figure about four to eight ounces each) as larger sweet potatoes tend to be starchier, which means a drier texture. You want to select those that are blemish-free and with tight, smooth skin.
How to store sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes can be stored at room temperature for about one week, but can last up to one month at cooler temps in a dry, dark location with good airflow. They should not be stored in the refrigerator, which can adversely affect taste and texture.
Good-to-know tips for baked sweet potatoes
Though sweet potatoes are usually already pretty clean, it’s always a good idea to rinse them in the sink and give them a scrub with a produce brush to make sure any residual dirt is removed. (This is key if you plan to eat the skin, which you definitely should.) Then it’s just a matter of baking them in the oven until tender.
If you have the time, slow-roasting sweet potatoes at a lower temperature (anywhere from 275°F to 300°F) is great for bringing out even more of their natural sweetness and a creamier texture, but that can take two or more hours.
If you’re on more of a time crunch, you can still get a delectable baked sweet potato in about one hour by baking them at a higher temperature, like 400°F or higher.
Toppings for baked sweet potatoes
The possibilities are endless when it comes to serving baked sweet potatoes, but you can’t go wrong with the standard baked potato toppings like sour cream, cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon, and sliced scallions. Another great option is spiced roasted chickpeas and tahini, or similarly, this recipe for a spiced lentil salad with lemon tahini dressing. One of my personal favorites is a combination of spicy chorizo, sautéed peppers and onions, chopped fresh cilantro, and cotija cheese. And for those that want to keep it simple, a little butter, some maple syrup, and a sprinkle of salt is divine.
These are no ordinary sweet potato fries. My favorite root vegetable is cut into matchsticks and tossed with ground cumin, chile powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper. It’s the perfect side dish for serving with barbecue, burgers, or, my personal favorite, a sloppy pulled pork sandwich.
Once you’ve mastered the art of the perfect baked sweet potato, it’s time to dress it up. Food scientist and recipe developer Nik Sharma made these stuffed sweet potatoes with a zesty dressing made from crème fraîche, maple syrup, lime juice, and fish sauce.
Think of this recipe as roast sweet potatoes in reverse. Instead of baking the potatoes whole in aluminum foil and then dressing them up, recipe developer Ali Slagle starts by boiling the peeled spuds whole in water. She then slices them, layers them in a baking dish, and tops them with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a little bit of orange zest and then roasts the entire dish until bubbly.