Sweet potatoes are in the same family as other potatoes but cooking them requires a different approach to get the fluffy interior and sweet caramelized flavor we all love. After testing several techniques—wrapping in foil, pricking and not pricking, using a roasting pan—we found the following method delivered on all fronts, with minimal effort. Pricking with a fork allows steam to release and the potato flesh to separate from the skin, something that didn't always happen otherwise. Baking the potatoes on a wire rack nested in a baking sheet also helped the potatoes cook more evenly (and made cleaning up much easier). Lastly, allowing the potatoes to rest in the turned-off oven for 30 minutes after baking allowed the flavors to develop even further, though you can skip this step if you are short on time.
Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then set a wire rack inside the baking sheet.
Prick each of the sweet potatoes 5 times with a fork and place on top of the prepared rack, keeping space between potatoes to allow heat to circulate. Bake the sweet potatoes until a paring knife can easily go through without resistance, about 1 hour. Turn the oven off and let the potatoes rest inside for 30 minutes more. Remove from the oven and cut each potato in half lengthwise. Season with salt and pepper and top with butter if using.
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