Cooking Tips

For Better Baked Sweet Potatoes, First Use Your Microwave

Cut down on time and enhance the flavor of your spuds with this easy technique.

Published Nov. 18, 2021.

I’m afraid of my microwave. And I don’t mean for the more common reasons people may cite: the scarce possibility of radiation leakage, or even that its main component is something called a magnetron, which sounds like a sci-fi supervillain’s weapon of choice.

I fear my microwave because I often feel as though I have no control over the way the food inside of it cooks beyond a vague designation of ‘high’ or ‘low’ heat. Despite this inclination—or perhaps in defiance of it—I am a staunch supporter of jump-starting baked sweet potatoes in the microwave, and I’ve learned exactly how to do it, quite literally, down to the degree.

700+ Recipes

The best-selling cookbook for anyone looking for fresh, modern ways to add more vegetables to their everyday diet. Covering 70 vegetables, Vegetables Illustrated has you covered for every vegetable and every season.

It turns out that the perfect sweet potato depends not on how long you cook it, but the temperature to which it is cooked. Cook’s Illustrated test cook Annie Petito made this discovery while developing her Best Baked Sweet Potatoes recipe. She found that there’s a very good reason for using the microwave before sliding this delicious root veggie into the oven: It’s the fastest route to creamy, deeply sweet baked sweet potatoes, which can take up to three hours to achieve if using the oven alone.

Here are the specifics: 

  • Prick your sweet potatoes a few times with a fork, place them on a large plate, and then microwave them until they reach an internal temperature of 200 degrees. That should take between 6 and 9 minutes—but remember temperature is more important than time! Flip the spuds every 3 minutes, and start checking them for doneness around the 6-minute mark.
  • Once nuked, transfer the sweet potato to a 425-degree oven for 1 hour.
  • Yes, this means you will have to invest in an instant-read thermometer, which is a kitchen must-have anyway. (Our favorites range from $35 for the ThermoWorks ThermoPop to $105 for the ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE.)
Best Baked Sweet Potatoes

Other methods that try to speed up sweet potatoes’ cook time end up released starchy reserves into the skin, which make them gluey and clumpy. But using this microwave-then-bake technique, you can get the silkiness of a three-hour sweet potato in a third of the time.

“This hybrid cooking method did the trick: Their texture was creamy, almost fudgy; their flavor, complex and sweet; and their skin nicely tanned but not burnt,” Annie wrote of the microwave method. “Best of all, barely more than an hour had passed, and they tasted just as good as the 3-hour version.”

Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter

The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.

An easy technique like this one, that saves on time and enhances the texture and flavor of this creamy vegetable, could convert even a microwave-phobic sceptic like myself. And if you want to test your newfound knowledge in Annie’s “perfect baked potato” recipe with garam marsala yogurt or garlic and chive sour cream, we implore you to do so.

This is a members' feature.