Maximize the life cycle of a fire by cooking hardy vegetables like sweet potatoes directly in the coals. Buried in embers, sweet potatoes become meltingly tender and perfumed with smoky flavor. When they're done, brush away the ashes and any burned skin, leaving charred bits for textural and visual contrast. Crack open the skins, and the smoky flesh becomes the perfect canvas for spicy or sweet seasoned butters, a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche, or a drizzle of maple syrup.

Mary-Frances Heck
June 2021

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Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer and John Somerall / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

Recipe Summary

total:
1 hr
Servings:
4
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Ingredients

Ingredient Checklist

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Build a large wood fire in a pit or a charcoal fire in a kettle grill. (If using a grill, remove the cooking grate, and set it aside while positioning the sweet potatoes.) If desired, individually wrap each sweet potato in a sheet of aluminum foil. 

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  • When the flames from the fire subside and the coals are covered in a thick layer of gray ash, about 15 minutes, arrange half of the coals in an even bed. Nestle the sweet potatoes into the coals, and use a sturdy metal spatula to scoop the remaining embers over and around the sweet potatoes to completely bury them. Cook, undisturbed, about 20 minutes.

  • Use the spatula to scrape away the embers. Insert a cake tester or paring knife into 1 sweet potato to test for doneness. (Likely the bottom part of the sweet potato that was resting on the bed of coals will be more cooked and charred than the top.) Use tongs to flip sweet potatoes over and bury them again in embers. Cook until sweet potatoes are tender throughout and caramel bubbles from cracks in the skin, 20 to 40 minutes. Carefully lift sweet potatoes from coals, and place on a heatproof plate. Let cool 5 minutes; use a clean dish towel or pastry brush to wipe away any ashes or burned skin. Transfer cleaned sweet potatoes to serving plates, or crack them into bite-size pieces with a bit of char on each. 

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