Yams and sweet potatoes are beloved for their versatile and slightly sweet flavor and tender flesh that you can dice, mash, pureé, or fry. Serve yams and sweet potatoes on the savory side with dinner, or sweeten them even further and create pies and other desserts.
If you’re trying to get a handle on these multifaceted tubers, look no further. In this article, I will go over 3 simple ways to peel yams and sweet potatoes with whatever equipment you have in your kitchen. You’ll have the prep work over with and dinner served in no time.
Method 1: With A Vegetable Peeler
When it comes to peeling raw sweet potatoes or yams, a vegetable peeler is generally going to be your best bet. It’s the fastest, safest, and easiest option and will result in very little waste.
Always begin with clean tubers. You can dry brush them to remove any surface dirt and debris, then give them a good scrub under the running faucet.
Start by holding your tuber in your non-dominant hand and your peeler in the other.
Begin at the top of the yam or sweet potato, and drag the peeler down toward the bottom using moderate pressure.
The goal is to peel away the tuber’s skin without sacrificing any of the starchy portion you want to cook.
Continue this motion, following the curve of the tuber and removing strips of peel around its entirety.
Pro-Tip: I like to peel my tubers over a bowl lined with a plastic shopping bag. Afterward, I can tie up the plastic bag and toss it in the garbage. No mess, and if the yam or sweet potato pops out of my hand while peeling, I don’t have to dig through the trash to rescue it.
Which Peeler Is Best For The Job?
Traditional peelers feature a double blade parallel to the handle. It’s best for maneuvering curves and edges and is excellent for super irregularly shaped potatoes.
Y-peelers have a double blade perpendicular to the handle in the shape of a “Y.” These are best for peeling long, straight vegetables like carrots or relatively smooth potatoes.
Since yams and sweet potatoes are relatively straight, a y-peeler will make the task super simple. Of course, if you only have a traditional peeler on hand, feel free to use that! Either way, a peeler is a peeler and will get the job done.
Both traditional peelers and Y-blade peelers are available to purchase with swivel blades. This type of blade will swivel back and forth as you drag it down the vegetable, making bumpy or irregularly shaped tubers easy to peel.
Method 2: With A Paring Knife
To use a knife for peeling yams and sweet potatoes, you’ll want to use a sharp paring knife or a short-blade utility knife. You’ll be able to maneuver the small blade against the curves of the tuber to preserve as much of the starchy flesh as possible.
Using a paring knife will get the job done, but it’s almost always going to be slower, and you’re likely to lose more potato flesh than with a peeler.
Start the peeling process by slicing off the pointy tips on either end of the tuber.
The tips are difficult to peel around since they are so thin. And it’s better to be safe by removing them than to accidentally knick yourself trying to peel such a small area with a knife.
Hold the tuber in your non-dominant hand and the paring knife in your dominant hand.
Brace your hand by placing the thumb of your dominant hand at the bottom of the tuber (or as close to the bottom as you can comfortably rest if you have small hands like me).
Place the blade of your knife at the seam between peel and flesh at the top of the tuber. You should be able to clearly see this seam where you sliced off the tip of the tuber.
Wedge the blade just underneath the skin and gently drag it downwards toward your thumb, taking care to follow the curves of the tuber.
Continue removing strips of peel around the entirety of the yam or sweet potato.
Method 3: By Baking
Peeling yams and sweet potatoes after baking them is my favorite method since it’s so simple and takes almost no prep time at all. The end result will be a well-cooked and very soft potato that’s best for mashing, pureeing, or simply eating like a baked potato.
Start with a clean yam and poke a bunch of holes in it with a fork or the tip of a knife. A knife will work, but I suggest using a fork since you’re less likely to injure yourself.
Place your punctured tubers on a sheet pan and bake them at 425°F for 45-50 minutes until fork tender, soft, and pillowy.
Once cooked, let the tubers cool until you can comfortably handle them.
Then, pinch a bit of the peel and tear it. The peel should slip right off in large pieces.
Pro-Tip: Don’t skip the sheet pan. While you can get away with roasting regular potatoes directly on a rack in your oven, sweet potatoes and yams will emit a sugary syrup as they cook. And trust me, it’s no fun to clean.
Method 4: By Boiling
Boiling your yams and sweet potatoes to peel them is similar to the baking method. The cooking process is different, but you’ll end up with a very soft, well-done potato at the end.
If you’re looking for diced cubes for something like a hash, or wedges for fries, you’ll be better off peeling and cutting your tubers while they’re raw.
First, prick all around the tuber with a fork or small knife. This is going to help the potatoes cook faster.
Place the punctured tubers into a pot and cover them with cold water.
Heat these on high until the pot comes to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer.
Cover the pot with a lid, and simmer for 20 minutes or until you can easily slide a fork into the largest tuber.
Pour your cooked potatoes into a colander and rinse with cold water.
Once the tubers are cool enough to handle, pinch a portion of the peel and tear it off.
Continue removing the peel by pinching and pulling it away from the tuber in strips.
How To Cut Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes make exceptionally tasty wedges and fries. You can either peel them or leave the skin intact, but if you plan to cut the tuber, do so before baking or cooking.
To cut the sweet potato into basic straight fries, begin by cutting a lengthwise slice off the tuber in the thickness you want your fries to be.
This will create a flat surface to stabilize the potato while making your next cuts.
Next, place the cut side of the potato against the cutting board and create more slices lengthwise of the same thickness as the first slice.
Now stack a couple of these sweet potato slabs on top of each other and cut them into strips. You can slice them lengthwise into fries of whatever thickness you want.
For step-by-step instructions on how to cut your sweet potato into different shapes of fries like waffles, crinkle, or wedges, check out the other article I put together on How To Cut Potatoes Into French Fries of Different Shapes.
You can easily take this a step further to achieve bite-sized sweet potato cubes perfect for roasting on a sheet pan.
Once you’ve cut the sweet potato into strips, rotate and cut them again about every ½ inch to 1 inch to create the perfect bite-sized morsels.
For more in-depth instructions on cubing potatoes, experienced chef Ryan Limbag will give you all the details in his article on How To Cube Potatoes.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do you boil sweet potatoes to get the skin off?
Once sweet potatoes come to a boil, they should be ready to peel in around 20 minutes. Your sweet potatoes are ready when you can easily pierce them with a fork or knife.
Is it better to boil or bake sweet potatoes?
Whether you boil or bake your sweet potatoes is up to personal preference. Boiling them is a fast way to get a side dish on the dinner table. Whereas if you have the time to bake them, you’ll enjoy a deeper caramelized flavor.
Can you eat sweet potato skin?
Sweet potato skin is edible and provides fiber and other nutritious benefits, but some people don’t like the tough texture of the skin.