We Tried 5 Methods for Baking Sweet Potatoes and the Winner Was Shockingly Simple

published Jan 23, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman and Jesse Szewczyk

Sweet potatoes and regular white potatoes are members of different plant families, and although you can bake both whole for a meal full of nutrients and fiber, the ideal result will be different for a sweet potato than for a standard ‘tater. Whereas you want a baked Russet potato to have a light and fluffy interior, sweet potato lovers are looking for crispy skin and sweet, soft flesh, which is surprisingly challenging to achieve.

To find the sweet spot of baked sweet potatoes, I put a handful of popular methods (plus one theory all my own) to the test. Some cooks swear by a long, slow roast under low heat. Others call for different methods … which you’ll have to read on to discover. But the most straightforward method might just be the winner in the end.

Credit: Joe Lingeman and Jesse Szewczyk

A Few Notes About Methodology

Sweet potato prep: All whole sweet potatoes weighed roughly the same — between 8 1/2 and 9 1/2 ounces per potato. They were scrubbed, then dried thoroughly to remove any excess moisture on the skin. If a method called for rubbing the sweet potato’s skin with olive oil, I used approximately 1 teaspoon to cover the potato.

Testing for doneness: The sweet potatoes were cooked until a paring knife inserted into the very center of the potato slid through easily without any resistance.

Ratings: Success was measured by the flavor and texture of the cooked sweet potato, with the gold standard being crispy skin and a soft, meltingly tender interior. I also considered the time it took to bake the sweet potato, assessing whether a method that called for a long cooking time produced results superior enough to warrant the extra effort.

Credit: Joe Lingeman and Jesse Szewczyk

Baked Sweet Potato Method: Halve Before Baking

Rating: 2/10

If a whole sweet potato takes about an hour to bake in the oven, would cutting the potato in half cut down on the baking time? That was my hypothesis, but it was proven wrong.

I sliced the sweet potato in half lengthwise, then wrapped it in foil and cooked it on a foil-lined baking sheet at 400°F. It took 1 hour and 10 minutes to cook through, which was actually longer than any of the methods in which the sweet potato was baked whole at the same temperature (see below).

The skin wasn’t crispy because the foil trapped the moisture and steamed the potato, and the texture of the potato flesh was slightly firm and starchy. You don’t save any time with this method, and you end up with an inferior texture, so I wouldn’t recommend it. Also, it can be dangerous to try and slice a dense, raw sweet potato lengthwise, so you can skip the potential injury via potato by skipping this method.

Credit: Joe Lingeman and Jesse Szewczyk

Baked Sweet Potato Method: Rub with Oil

Overall rating: 5/10

Anywhere between 375°F and 425°F is frequently recommended as an ideal temperature for roasting vegetables, so I split the difference and went with 400°F. I tested baking the sweet potatoes at this temperature using a variety of methods. First, I poked each sweet potato with a fork a few times to let excess steam escape, then cooked them in the following ways:

  • Baked plain and unwrapped on a foil-lined baking sheet 
  • Wrapped in foil
  • Rubbed with olive oil, then wrapped in foil
  • Rubbed with olive oil, then baked unwrapped on a foil-lined baking sheet

Although all these methods resulted in a sweet potato that cooked through in about 1 hour, each also resulted in an imperfect finish. 

Out of all the methods tested at 400°F, I preferred the olive oil-rubbed, unwrapped sweet potato. It had a drier (although not super crispy) skin, but it was a little starchy inside — not soft and sweet enough to make it truly amazing.

The foil-wrapped potatoes were softer inside than the unwrapped potatoes, but the skins were steamed instead of crispy. I’d wrap and roast a sweet potato in foil only if I were puréeing the flesh and discarding the skin. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman and Jesse Szewczyk

Baked Sweet Potato Method: Bake at a Low Temperature, Then Broil

Rating: 8/10

This method was lauded by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen as her preferred way to bake a sweet potato

Using her instructions, I poked the potato with a fork and placed it on a foil-lined baking sheet, then baked it at 275°F for 2 1/2 hours. After this low, slow bake, the sweet potato was in fact very soft inside, but I wasn’t getting as much caramelization on the bottom of the potato skin as she described. Still following her instructions, I finished the sweet potato by placing it under the broiler until the skin was charred and crispy on top. It took about 6 minutes using my standard-issue broiler.

The broiler finish was crucial to getting the ideal crispy skin, and the flesh was incredibly soft and sweet, but was it worth spending 2 1/2 hours to wait for a potato to be done? If you can remember to plan ahead, sure.

Credit: Joe Lingeman and Jesse Szewczyk

Baked Sweet Potato Method: Freeze First

Rating: 9/10

Possibly the most curious ways of baking a sweet potato I’ve encountered, this method outlined on Serious Eats calls for freezing a sweet potato solid, then baking it at a low temperature before hitting it with a high heat finish. Supposedly this process helps bring out the sweetness in sweet potatoes better than any other, thanks to science. Here’s the logic: Freezing a sweet potato removes excess water from inside the potato and gives it more time to convert its starches to sugars because of the low temperature at which it starts baking.

After leaving a sweet potato in the freezer overnight, I wrapped it in foil without poking it with a fork, then placed it on a foil-lined baking sheet. I baked it at 300°F for 2 hours, then carefully removed the foil. I finished the sweet potato by increasing the oven temperature to 450°F and roasting it until the skin was browned and charring in spots, which took 40 minutes.

As surprising to me as the whole process was, it really worked. Inside, the potato was even softer than the one that was cooked low and slow, and the skin was crispy and even had a few burned spots puffing up and separating from the flesh.

Despite the fairly equal cook time and the extra step of freezing the sweet potato, I liked this method better than the low-and-slow method. Both do give you a fantastic baked sweet potato, and both make you jump through a few hoops to get there. But can you achieve sweet potato perfection with less effort? That’s what I aimed to discover with the next method.

Credit: Joe Lingeman and Jesse Szewczyk

Baked Potato Method: Rub with Oil, Then Roast at a High Temperature

Rating: 10/10

After testing all the other methods, I decided to combine two factors: rubbing the sweet potatoes with olive oil and roasting them at a higher temperature.

As with the 400°F method, I poked the sweet potatoes with a fork and rubbed them with olive oil, then roasted them unwrapped on a foil-lined baking sheet at 450°F. The potatoes still took 1 hour to cook through, even at the higher temperature, but the result was much improved.

This method is truly the best of all worlds: You get crispy, but not burnt, skin and a meltingly soft interior without spending hours with the oven on. The skin was crispy but not too burnt, and the flesh achieved the same levels of soft caramelization as the low-and-slow and frozen-roasted methods — without the exceedingly long cooking times.

For those of us who won’t always remember to stash a sweet potato in the freezer or have hours to spare waiting for dinner to cook, this is most definitely the way to go.