"At Thanksgiving, my mom always makes too much food, especially one item, like 700 or 800 pounds of sweet potatoes. She’s got to push it during the meal. "Did you get some sweet potatoes? There’s sweet potatoes. They’re hot. There’s more in the oven; some more in the garage. The rest are at the Johnson’s."" Louis Anderson
For many Americans, especially those in the South, no Thanksgiving meal would be complete without at least one sweet potato dish. At some homes, the roots show up cubed and candied, although they are often misidentified as yams, which are mostly found in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Other folks can’t do without a marshmallow topped sweet potato casserole. Clean your plate and there might even be a slice of sweet potato pie waiting for you!
Variations on these dishes may have become family traditions in your home, but it’s worth trying something new. To expand my own repertoire, I set out to create a new mashed sweet potato dish for this year’s Thanksgiving table.
As a serial griller, I knew that my version had to start with smoke. Figuring out the best way to introduce it turned out to be the biggest challenge! For my first stab at smoked sweet potatoes, I tried cooking them whole on the grill over moderate indirect heat. It seemed like an efficient plan but ended up taking nearly 2 hours. When the orange-hued flesh was finally soft, a quick sample left behind nothing but the bitter taste of disappointment: no smoke flavor! While I am not a scientist, my guess is that the skins are simply too thick and dry to take on any smoke.
Next, I decided to cut the sweet potatoes into 1-inch cubes prior to smoking them. This method softened the sweet potatoes significantly faster, but the surfaces of the cubes dried out and there was still very little smoke flavor.
For my third try, I boiled the sweet potatoes whole until tender and then cut them in half before grilling them just long enough to take on some smoke. After 15 minutes, the halved sweet potatoes were still perfectly cooked and had just the right amount of smoke flavor. Success!
The testing could have ended there, but one of the reasons I grill during the holidays is to free up space in the kitchen. To eliminate the boiling step, I next tried wrapping halved sweet potatoes in foil and allowing them to grill slowly until tender. After one hour of indirect grilling at 325°F, I unwrapped the sweet potatoes and returned them to the cooler side of the grill to smoke for 15 minutes. It worked like a charm.
Finally, it was time to round out the flavor. First came a bit of butter for richness, then an equal amount of maple syrup for sweetness, and, lastly, just enough Sriracha to bring a touch of heat. After whipping all the ingredients until smooth, I finally had a mashed sweet potato dish worthy of becoming a new family favorite!
Recipe: Smoked Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Maple and Sriracha
Makes. 6 to 8 servings
Takes. 10 minutes of prep. 1 1/4 hours to cook.
Special Tools. Aluminum foil. Two to three chunks of your favorite smoking wood. Stand mixer (optional).
Serve with. Pumpkin ale.
6 sweet potatoes
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons Sriracha
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
1) Fire up. Prepare a charcoal grill for indirect cooking by placing a chimney full of lit charcoal briquets on one side of the grill's charcoal grate in order to create direct and indirect cooking zones. Adjust the smoker or grill vents to bring the ambient temperature to about 325°F. On a gas grill, adjust the temperature knobs so that one half of the grill is off and the other half is heated enough to maintain a temperature of approximately 325°F on the indirect side.
2) Prep. As the grill comes to temperature, cut each sweet potato in half lengthwise and wrap each half in a single layer of aluminum foil.
3) Cook. Place the foil wrapped sweet potatoes on the main cooking grate as far away from the heat source as possible. Cover the grill, and allow the sweet potatoes to cook until the flesh is fork tender, about 1 hour.
4) Remove the foil wrapped sweet potatoes from the grill and add 2 to 3 chunks of your favorite smoking wood to the hotter side of the grill. For a gas grill, fill a smoking box or smoking pouch with wood chips and add to the grill.
5) Once the wood begins to smoke, remove the sweet potato halves from the foil and set them cut side up on the cooler side of the grill. Set the lid on the grill with the top vent fully open and positioned directly above the sweet potato halves in order to force the smoke over and around them.
6) Allow the sweet potatoes to smoke for 15 minutes. Remove from the grill.
7) Use a spoon to scoop the soft flesh from the sweet potato skins. Place the sweet potato flesh, butter, maple syrup, and Sriracha in a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, and beat on medium speed until smooth. You can also mash everything together by hand in a large mixing bowl.
8) Serve. Add Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste. Serve immediately.