How to Make Tamales Mexicanos


Homemade tamales are no walk in the park, but their difficulty level shouldn't deter you. Tamales are not only a triumph of skill and patience, but also of taste. There is nothing like a homemade tamale. Frozen tamales in your grocer's freezer don't even come close. The process is a two day ordeal, but if you time it right and plan out your strategy, you'll have a Mexican tamale fiesta on the table in no time.

Things You'll Need

  • 3lbs beef, pork, or chicken
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp cumin
  • 4 cups masa harina
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 bag corn husks

Meat and Spice Filling

  • Make the meat and spice filling. Tamales can be made with virtually any meat (or no meat) filling that you like. Traditional Mexican tamales use pork, but beef, chicken, and cheese tamales are popular options as well. Slow cooker cooking times will vary depending on the type of meat you choose. Pork will take the longest (up to eight hours) and chicken the least (around 3 to 4 hours). Monitor your meat. Once it begins to fall apart in every which way, it is done.

  • Place 3 pounds of meat into the bottom of a slow cooker. Add 1 large quartered onion, 2 chopped cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp chili powder or crushed dried chili peppers, 2 tsp cumin powder, and 1 tsp each of salt and black pepper.

  • Pour 1 to 2 cups water over the meat and spices--just enough to cover everything. Cook on low until the meat falls apart (up to but no more than eight hours).

  • Refrigerate meat once it is cooked and reserve the broth in a separate container. At this time begin soaking your corn husks in a large bowl of water. They should soak over night.

Masa and Assembly

  • Place 4 cups masa harina in a large bowl with 1 cup shortening, 1/2 tsp chili powder and 2 tsp salt and combine.

  • Add reserved broth 1/4 cup at a time to make the masa moist. You do not want it to be liquid, but rather pliable enough to spread.

  • Open and lay flat the corn husks that were soaked overnight, and spread about 1 and 1/2 to 2 tbsp masa into the center of the husk using either a spoon or your fingers. Place 1 tbsp of meat on top of the masa and roll so that the masa envelopes the filling (masa should slightly overlap itself so that the filing is encased). Fold the ends of the husk up as if wrapping a present, and tie with strings or thin strips of excess corn husks. You want the tamale parcel to stay closed for steaming.


  • Steam your tamales depending on the tools you have. Any method of vegetable steaming will work for cooking tamales, even the microwave. Just make sure that your tamales do not come in contact with boiling water.

  • Use a vegetable steamer to cook your tamales. Double boilers used for vegetable cooking are perfect for steaming tamales, but if you do not have a double boiler set, try fitting a metal colander inside of a pot of boiling water (but not touching the water). Bring the water to a boil, and place the tamales inside. Reduce the heat, and cover with a large lid. Let steam for about 90 minutes. If you have a commercial steamer basket, follow the instructions provided for your particular model.

  • Microwave steam your tamales. You can reheat your tamales (after they have been steamed and refrigerated or frozen) by quick steaming in the microwave. Wrap the tamale in a damp paper towel and place in a plastic zipper bag. Microwave on high for 45 seconds and serve. You could microwave steam your tamales instead of conventionally steaming, but it is not recommended by most cooks for the lackluster taste that is created. To steam a fresh uncooked tamale in the microwave, follow the same procedure for re-steaming, but rotate every 30 seconds for about 2 minutes.

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