Tamale Making Tips

Tender shredded meat or veggies wrapped up in a flavorful rich corn dough, and wrapped in a corn husk for easy transport—what’s not to love?
Tamales are a lot of work, but they freeze perfectly, which is why most people make them in huge batches and only for special occasions, like Christmas.
Tamale making can be overwhelming for some who have never made tamales, but I’m going to take you through the thoroughly enjoyable time-consuming process and make it easier. 
I basically plan out tamale-making day by day so it doesn't become overwhelming when I make several dozen of tamales.


First Things First


The Busy Abuelita Tip:  I buy ingredients several weeks before making tamales. I look mainly for meat sales and order chile peppers and tamale husks if not available in the grocery store.

Tamale dough - Maseca or Masa Harina (Mexican corn flours), lard or shortening, and chicken broth

Tamale Meat - Boneless Pork shoulder, or Boneless Beef chuck roast. (Chicken, Elk, Moose, or turkey can be used)

Tamale Vegetables(vegetarian) - Green chiles, zucchini, mushrooms, corn, potatoes

Red Chile Sauce - New Mexico Dried Chile Peppers, or Guajillo Dried Peppers. 

Seasonings & misc. - Onion powder, garlic powder, ground cumin, garlic clove, beef bouillon cube, chicken broth, and baking powder.

 Tamale - Corn Husks. Get husks here

Tamale cookware

The Busy Abuelita Tip: Making tamales can be a delightful experience if you have the appropriate tamale cookware and utensils at hand.

The Tamale Pot - Tamale steamer (recommended), large pot, or Instant Pot

Tamale Spreader - I use these handy dandy tamale spreaders. But a spoon or spatula will work for spreading dough. Get the spreader here 

Putting it all Together


The Busy Abuelita TipI dedicate one day each week to cooking meat and making red chile sauce, which I then freeze. When I plan to make tamales, I defrost these ingredients the day before. I have never attempted to make red chile meat tamales all in one day. From my Mom, Abuelitas (grandmothers), and Tias (aunts), I learned that the process involves several steps.

Step 1

Preparing Tamale MeatTo prepare meat for tamales, use a slow cooker, Instant Pot, or Dutch oven along with spices. Once the meat is cooked, shred it into bite-size pieces, usually around 1-2 inches. If you plan on making tamales in a few days, refrigerate the meat, or freeze it in an air-tight container until you're ready to use it (thaw it the day before making the tamales). This will ensure that your meat is fresh and ready to be used in your delicious tamales.

Recipe hereRed Chile Tamale Meat Recipe


Step 2

 For Red Chile TamalesPrepare red chile sauce. Refrigerate in an airtight container for a few days or freeze until needed (thaw a day before making tamales).

Recipe hereRed Chile Sauce Recipe

Tamale Making Tips

Step 3 

Tamale Masa (dough): I usually make tamale masa the day before tamale-making.

To store the tamale masa, put it in a sealed container or storage bag and refrigerate. It can stay fresh for a few days. Before using it, take it out of the refrigerator and let it sit for 30 minutes. Then, whip it in a mixer to make the dough smoother. If the dough is too dry, you can add water or chicken broth, one tablespoon at a time. You can also freeze the tamale masa and thaw it the day before making tamales. The dough should have a texture like peanut butter and spread easily on tamale corn husks.

Recipe here Tamale Dough Recipe

Step 4 

Day of tamale making

Corn Husks: Soak corn husks at least for 1 hour in very hot water. Place a heavy plate on top of the corn husk to keep them underwater soaking.

Warm tamale meat & red chile sauce together in a slow cooker, or dutch oven for 2 hours on low before using. Add just enough red chile sauce to the meat without it being soupy.

Tamale Masa: Whip up tamale masa if needed to be pliable and peanut butter consistency. Spoon 2 tablespoons of masa on the smooth side of the corn husk about 4 inches wide (or wider if you like bigger tamales) starting from 2 to 3 inches from the top of the corn husk. (picture below)

Fill with a tablespoon of tamale filling (or more for larger tamales), pull over each long side, and fold over top.

Cornhusk strips (optional): Take some corn husk and starting from the top make long strips for tying tamales. 

tamales on plate

Step 5

  • Pour 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water into a large pot and add a steamer basket.
  • Arrange the tamales vertically (opening up) in the basket.
  • Bring the water in the pot to a boil then reduce the heat. Cover with lid.
  • Add water every 20 minutes and simmer the tamales for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  • Tamales are cooked when the dough pulls from the tamale husk easily. Let tamales sit for 30 minutes before eating, or refrigerate when cool in a food storage bag.

Have a tamale-making party (Tamalada)

If you are making dozens of tamales...grab helpers....some will spread masa on husks, some helpers on placing meat on the masa, and another person on wrapping tamales. 

How to Store Tamales

Just wrap them well and store them in the refrigerator. Or if you'd like to store them longer, place tamales in an air-tight container or freezer bag, then store them in the freezer. You can store them in the freezer for up to 6 months. To store tamales longer than 6 months, use a vacuum sealer.