The Thanksgiving Side Dish You Need To Make

white bowl filled with candied sweet potatoes, topped with cinnamon

One of the things I love about Thanksgiving is all of the side dishes. Yum! My mom’s famous candied sweet potatoes are a tradition at our Thanksgiving celebration and something we fight over when it comes to leftovers. No seriously, this is the dish we race to the kitchen for when packing our to-go bags. She uses sweet potatoes and not yams. Do you know the difference?

I Yam What I Yam

Remember the Popeye cartoon? What is a yam? It’s a root vegetable that is more like a yucca. It has rough, dark skin – blackish or brown – and a starchy, dry flavor. The inside is white or purple/reddish. They’re actually related to lillies and are native to Africa and Asia. They aren’t common to most grocery chains; you’re more likely to find them in an international or specialty store.

As Thanksgiving starts to approach, what we often see labeled as a “yam” at the store is a misnomer. There are two types of sweet potatoes, and the “soft” type has that copper-colored skin with the orange inside. They slightly resemble yams (at least more than the harder type of sweet potato) and mistakenly get labeled “yam” in many grocery stores. Read more about their differences here.

Sweet potato slices sho wing the orange inside
DIYNaturals – The difference between sweet potatoes and yams

Sweetie Pie

A firm sweet potato actually has a gold skin and pale flesh inside. What most people use for sweet potato casserole or candied sweet potatoes might be labeled yams, but they’re the soft sweet potato. Sweet potatoes are related to the morning glory family, and they are more flavorful and moist than yams.

Sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, plus they’re rich in antioxidants. The fiber in them promotes better gut health, and the antioxidants may help protect against certain kinds of cancer.

The antioxidant beta-carotene gives sweet potatoes that gorgeous orange color and helps support healthy vision and a healthy immune system.

So, even though sugar and butter may get a bad rap, mom’s famous candied sweet potatoes are good for you! Just be sure to be the first in the kitchen to pack your leftovers or you may not have this delicious treat the next day!

When you ask for a recipe in my family, the typical response is a pinch of this and a handful of that – And my mom’s favorite thing to say is “use your judgment.” That typically doesn’t translate well into an actual recipe, so I used my judgment and took the guesswork out of it here for you. Keep in mind these are not exact measurements, so you can play with the ingredients to your specific taste.

white bowl filled with candied sweet potatoes, topped with cinnamon

Mom's Famous Candied Sweet Potatoes

Danielle Caiazzo
A must-have addition to your Thanksgiving menu. These are the leftovers that we fight over. 
Servings 8 servings


  • 7-8 large Sweet potatoes
  • 3/4 c Granulated sugar
  • 3/4 c Brown Sugar
  • 1 stick Unsalted Butter cut into slices
  • 1/4 c Cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs Salt this is an approximate measurement - use your judgment here
  • 1 1/2 tsp Pepper again approximate - use your judgment
  • 2 - 24 oz bottles of Syrup mom uses Aunt Jemima's


  • 1. Wash your potatoes well. Put them in a large pot and cover with water. Boil just enough, so you can put a fork in. They will still be firm. DO NOT OVER COOK. Drain water. let potatoes cool enough so that they can be handled.
  • 2. Slice them in half and line the bottom of a deep baking tray (Mom uses a deep lasagna pan)
  • 3. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste
  • 4. Sprinkle granulated sugar over the top of the potatoes, add a layer of brown sugar
  • 5. Cut the butter into thin slices and place over the brown sugar
  • 6. Add enough cinnamon to cover the top
  • 7. Fill the pan half way with syrup
  • 8. Bake at 350 for approximately one hour. When everything looks nice and bubbly, they are ready. Be careful removing them from the oven as the syrup is extremely hot.
  • 9. Enjoy! 


Select potatoes that are roughly the same size so they cook evenly. Adjust ingredients to taste. The recipe calls for 2 bottles of syrup - I typically use approximately 1 1/2 bottles.

Related articles:

How to cook the perfect turkey

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