Southern sweet potato casserole is a comforting side dish made with roasted and mashed sweet potatoes combined with warm spices, brown sugar, and vanilla topped with a crunchy pecan crumble topping. This delicious casserole will be the star of your Thanksgiving dinner!
I can't help but get excited about the holidays because I get to chow down on all the tasty stuff like mac and cheese, cornbread dressing, and, of course, sweet potato casserole. This Southern-style sweet potato casserole is like the Ruth Chris version, but even more scrumptious!
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What Is Sweet Potato Casserole?
Surprisingly enough, sweet potatoes weren’t present on the first Thanksgiving. Sweet potatoes are native to Central and South America and colonists from Europe introduced the spuds to the new world. The first time sweet potatoes and marshmallows are mentioned together is in 1917, in a recipe booklet published by the Angelus Marshmallow company.
Sweet potato casserole with pecans is a recipe that originated in the South, and early variations of the recipe included different ingredients like cream or milk. This Southern sweet potato casserole recipe is my belove family recipe, made with brown sugar, maple syrup, buttermilk, and crunchy pecans.
Important Ingredient Notes
A complete list of ingredients with measurements, along with detailed recipe instructions can be found in the recipe card located at the bottom of this post.
- Sweet potatoes. You will need about 3 ½ pounds of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes for this recipe, which is about 5 to 6 medium sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are sometimes labeled "yams" in grocery stores but are, in fact, sweet potatoes.
- Brown sugar. Brown sugar is granulated sugar with molasses added, which gives it a richer, more caramel-like sweetness. The flavor of brown sugar complements the warm spices beautifully. I made this recipe with light brown sugar but you can also use dark brown sugar or just plain granulated sugar if that is what you have on hand.
- Pure maple syrup. I recommend using good quality, pure maple syrup for this recipe for the best flavor and not maple-flavored syrup.
- Eggs. Eggs give the casserole structure and make it sturdy. If you want to make this recipe vegan, feel free to omit the eggs. The casserole will not be as sturdy, but equally as delicious.
- Vanilla extract. Use good quality pure vanilla extract and not vanilla flavoring. A bad vanilla extract can impart an "off" flavor or even an alcohol-like taste.
- Spices. I love the flavors that cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves add to this sweet potato casserole. Feel free to use different spices like ginger, cardamom, or allspice according to what you like.
- Buttermilk. Buttermilk adds creaminess to the sweet potatoes and also adds the most delicious, subtle tanginess to the dish. If you prefer, you can also use regular whole milk instead.
- Pecans. The streusel topping for this casserole is made with chopped pecans, which are sweet, buttery, and crunchy and a beloved Southern ingredient. If you are not a pecan fan, feel free to make the crumble topping with different nuts like macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, or Brazil nuts.
How To Make This Recipe
- Bake the sweet potatoes. Wash the sweet potatoes, prick them all over with a fork, and bake them on a foil-lined baking sheet at 450°F for about one hour until they can easily be pierced with a fork. Allow the sweet potatoes to cool enough to handle.
- Make the sweet potato mixture. Peel the sweet potatoes, place them in a large mixing bowl, and break them apart. Beat the sweet potatoes with the butter using an electric handheld mixer until light and fluffy. Add the sugar, maple syrup, spices, vanilla, buttermilk, and eggs and beat until combined.
- Make the pecan crumble topping. Mix together the pecans, sugar, flour, melted butter, cinnamon, and salt in a medium mixing bowl with a fork.
- Assemble and bake the casserole. Pour the sweet potato mixture into a buttered baking dish, top evenly with the pecan streusel topping, and bake the sweet potato casserole in an oven preheated to 375°F for 35 to 45 minutes until set in the center and golden brown on top.
Frequently Asked Questions
While you may see "yams" for sale in many American markets, they are almost always sweet potatoes that are labeled yams. Real yams are mainly used in Caribbean and West African cooking.
Real yams are entirely different root vegetables from sweet potatoes that are more like yucca in texture and flavor. They have bumpy, tough brown skin with starchy, not sweet flesh.
Sweet potato casserole does need eggs to add structure and sturdiness to the dish. You may omit the eggs to make this recipe vegan, but you will have more of a baked sweet potato mash with a crumble topping. The recipe will still taste amazing, however!
When adding the eggs, be sure your sweet potatoes have cooled and are not still hot when combined with the eggs so that the eggs do not scramble.
You can prepare and bake this sweet potato casserole as directed up to two days before, wrap it in plastic wrap, and store it in the refrigerator. Reheat the casserole in the oven, covered in foil, for 20 minutes the morning of. Remove the foil for the last few minutes to crisp the top.
How To Store Sweet Potato Casserole
Leftover sweet potato casserole can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.
You can also freeze leftover casserole by transferring it to a zip-top freezer bag, removing as much air as possible before sealing. Wrap the freezer bag tightly in plastic wrap and store it in a lying-down position in the freezer. The casserole will keep for up to 3 months in the freezer.
What To Serve With Sweet Potato Casserole
If you want to make your guests an unforgettable Southern Thanksgiving spread, serve this Southern sweet potato casserole with some of the following recipes!
- Maple Glazed Salmon
- Cranberry Meatballs
- Southern Smothered Chicken
- One Pan Apple Cider Chicken
- Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
- Southern Collard Greens
- Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes
- Southern Green Beans
- Homemade Creamed Corn
- Hoppin John
- Southern Buttermilk Biscuits
- Sweet Potato Cornbread
- Southern Buttermilk Cornbread
- Southern Sweet Potato Pie
- Southern Pecan Pie
- Old Fashioned Buttermilk Pie
- Apple Cider Donut Cake
- Pumpkin Bread Pudding
- Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew
Variations and Substitutions
There are several delicious variations to sweet potato casserole and I love to switch things up from time to time. Try making your next sweet potato casserole with some of the below substitutions.
- Add marshmallows to the topping for a more classic version of this dish.
- Use heavy cream instead of milk in the mashed sweet potatoes for a more rich casserole.
- Substitute butternut squash for the sweet potatoes in the casserole or use a combination of both.
More Southern Recipes You Will Love!
- Southern Fried Catfish
- Southern Chicken Salad
- Oven Baked BBQ Chicken
- Southern Salmon Croquettes
- Louisiana Red Beans and Rice
- Southern Homemade Chicken and Dumplings
- Cajun Potato Salad
- Southern Squash Casserole
- Maple Glazed Carrots
- Southern Deviled Eggs
- Southern Fried Okra
- Southern Baked Beans
- Sweet Cornbread Muffins
- Hot Water Cornbread
- Skillet Peach Cobbler
- Moist Lemon Bundt Cake
- Old Fashioned Tea Cakes
- Best Bread Pudding Recipe
Southern Sweet Potato Casserole
- 3 - 3 ½ pounds orange fleshed sweet potatoes about 5-6 medium sweet potatoes
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
- ¾ cup light brown sugar dark brown or granulated sugar also works well
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- ½ cup buttermilk or regular whole milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- Prepare the sweet potatoes by scrubbing them clean, pricking them all over with a fork, and placing them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake them in an oven preheated to 450°F for about 1 hour or until they can easily be pierced with a fork. Allow the sweet potatoes to cool enough to handle.
- Lower your oven temperature to 375°F. Spray or butter a 9x13 baking dish and set it aside.
- Peel the sweet potatoes and add them to a large mixing bowl. Use the beaters of an electric handheld mixer (with the mixer turned off) or a fork to break the sweet potatoes apart. Add the softened butter and beat the sweet potato mixture on medium-high with the handheld mixer for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.
- Add the brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and eggs to the bowl with the sweet potatoes and beat on medium-high until well combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish, smooth it out into an even layer, and set it aside.
- Add the pecans, brown sugar, flour, salt, and ground cinnamon to a small mixing bowl and mix with a fork until combined. Pour in the melted butter and continue mixing until a crumbly texture is reached.
- Spoon the streusel topping over the sweet potato mixture in an even layer. Bake the casserole in the preheated oven for 35-45 minutes or until the casserole is golden brown and bubbly. Allow the casserole to cool for about 10 minutes then serve warm.
- The sweet potatoes can be baked a day in advance for this recipe.
- Use good-quality pure maple syrup and pure vanilla extract for the best flavor.
- Leftover sweet potato casserole can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.