Here's how to make classic candied sweet potatoes, Soul Food style, in your slow cooker or crock pot instead on the stove! Originally published November 2018. Last updated March 2023.
You're probably here for holiday dinner convenience and I've gotchu. I made traditional stove top candied sweet potatoes for years before pivoting to this slow cooker method. The result is candied yams like my southern Black grandma used to make without taking up precious stove or oven space. Let me show you how.
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What's the difference between candied sweet potatoes and candied yams?
Candied yams and sweet potatoes are used interchangeably in southern and, specifically, Black American cuisines. This is because North American sweet potatoes were called "yams" by our ancestors after coming to this land because they are starchy tubers that reminded them of the West African yams of their homeland. Yam also came into wide use in the Americas as a short of the Fulani word nyami, which means to eat.
Are candied sweet potatoes Soul Food?
Yes! Because the first professional cooks in our country were Black, African American foodways became known more generally as southern food. So there tends to be debate. Either way, candied sweet potatoes are a distinct part of Black American cuisine canon, also known as Soul Food.
Check out my full Soul Food Thanksgiving lineup to build your menu!
What do candy yams taste like?
You'll taste earthiness and subtle natural sweetness from the sweet potatoes that's amplified by rich caramelized molasses-y sweetness from brown sugar and melted butter. Vanilla and sweet warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg round out the flavor profile.
What You'll Need for this Recipe
The ingredients are simple. Here's what to add to your grocery list, including which kind of sweet potatoes to use for candied yams.
- Sweet Potatoes are the core ingredient. Jewel and Garnet varieties will be your best bet for making flavorful, tender yams
- Brown Sugar for the sweet syrupy goodness. Either light or dark brown sugar will work well. You can also use a combination of brown sugar and granulated sugar for less of a molasses flavor in the end result.
- Butter combines with the brown sugar and adds richness to the flavor. For the best results, use unsalted butter then add sea salt to taste.
- Sea Salt
- Vanilla Extract
Can I make candied yams with purple sweet potatoes? Yes, you technically can. Though I recommend adjusting the other ingredients as purple sweet potatoes are not as naturally sweet and they tend to be drier, when compared to orange or red sweet potatoes.
Tips & Tools
Grab a cutting board and sharp knife to process your sweet potatoes. And, of course, you'll need a slow cooker (also called the crockpot) to cook them in.
What's the best way to cut yams for candying? While there isn't a definitive best way, I prefer to cut my sweet potatoes into chunks. Slicing into discs is another popular method that I've tried and like just fine. For thorough cooking, cut pieces no larger than about 2 ½ inches thick.
When to serve crockpot candied sweet potatoes? These are the perfect holiday side for Christmas, Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving! But you can also enjoy them at Sunday dinners, cookouts, and other gatherings.
More Favorite Sweet Potato Recipes
Brown Butter Sweet Potato Soup
Roasted Spiced Sweet Potato Bites
Why make sweet potatoes in a crockpot?
Unlike other slow cooker recipes I've shared, this is not a set-it-and-forget-it recipe. You have to tend to these almost as much as traditionally-made sweet potatoes. The reason I make my candied sweet potatoes (aka yams) in the slow cooker sometimes is in order to free up stove top space.
Because anybody who has made Thanksgiving dinner before knows a few things:
- You'll inevitably forget something from the grocery store.
- It's a marathon, not a sprint.
- Stove top and oven space is at a premium and must be managed strategically!
Making candy yams in the slow cooker is also great because they keep warm afterwards. Slide the slow cooker straight into your Thanksgiving serving line. As you can see, I don't even take them out of the crock pot!
How to thicken the syrup for my sweet potatoes?
Whether on the stove top or in a slow cooker, the steps are simple. Prep your sweet potatoes, add them to the pot then top with butter and a mixture of brown sugar and spices.
This will all melt down into a sweet syrup that candies the sweet potatoes. The result is a pot of tender orange jewels that help to perfectly balance out all the savory elements of a Thanksgiving dinner.
The syrup needs time to cook and thicken into that sugary sweet potato coating we all know and love. When your syrup is too thin, the solution is often to cook it for longer. And the good news is that using a slow cooker provides ample time!
I hope you'll enjoy this holiday dinner hack soon and very soon. And sharing is caring so be sure to pin the recipe for later and follow me over on Pinterest. Thanks for reading!
Southern Sweet Potatoes Slow Cooker Recipe
Southern-Style Slow Cooker Candied Sweet Potatoes
- Slow Cooker
- 5 pounds sweet potatoes
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ tablespoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ cup butter
- Scrub and peel sweet potatoes. Cut into chunks about 2-inches in size and place into a large bowl
- Mix brown sugar, sea salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl then pour over top of sweet potatoes. Toss sweet potatoes in spice and sugar mixture until evenly coated.
- Cut butter into one-inch chunks. Place half the sweet potato pieces into the slow cooker crock then top with half the butter. Repeat with remaining sweet potatoes and butter.
- Cook sweet potatoes for six hours on low. Turn the sweet potatoes potatoes every 30 minutes or so and spoon the syrup from the bottom of the crock to the top to ensure they candy evenly.
- Sweet potatoes are done with fork tender glossy from the brown sugar syrup.
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