How to Eat Tamales

Tamales, relatively small packets generally wrapped with a corn husk (but sometimes with banana leaves or corn leaves), are a traditional Mexican food. Eating a tamale can be somewhat confusing thanks to the tough and potentially inedible layer on its outside. After heating tamales at home or ordering them at a restaurant, you must remove this outer wrapping before you can eat the moist, generally flavorful food inside. If you do not enjoy the flavor of plain tamales, you may top them with salsa or a sauce of your choice after unwrapping them.

Things You'll Need

  • Salsa or sauce, optional

  • Fork

  • Knife, optional


Step 1

Unroll or unfold the tamale's wrapping carefully. The tamale will probably be very hot, so do your best to avoid burning your fingers as you do this. You should end up with a tamale sitting on a corn husk. Unwrap the tamale with your fingers rather than a fork or other utensil.

Step 2

Slide the corn husk out from under the tamale by pulling on the husk with one hand and holding the tamale in place with the other. Discard the husk.

Step 3

Top the unwrapped tamale with salsa or another sauce if you wish. This is not strictly traditional, but is nevertheless a common practice in many Mexican or Southwest restaurants.

Step 4

Eat the tamale with a fork. You may use a knife if you wish, but it is not generally necessary; most tamales are soft and tender enough that you can easily eat them with only a fork.


Step 1

Place the tamales upright on a steamer rack in a pot containing 1 to 2 inches of water. The open end should face up, while the folded part of the wrapping should be tucked under the bottom of each tamale.

Step 2

Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Steam the tamales for approximately 60 minutes for refrigerated tamales or 90 minutes for frozen tamales.

Step 3

Turn off the heat but leave the tamales in the pot, covered, for approximately 15 more minutes before removing and consuming them. Add more water if necessary during any point in the steaming process; the pot should never be dry.


If the tamale is especially firm and you are not topping it with salsa or another wet topping, you may eat it with your hands instead of with utensils.

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