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: Having the right tamale cookware and utensils can make tamale-making very easy and enjoyable. 

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 Tip:  I take one day out of the week to cook meat and make the red chile sauce and freeze it, I then defrost the day before making tamales.  I have never made red chile meat tamales all in one day...I learned from my Mom, Abuelitas (grandmothers), and Tias (aunts) it takes steps. 

Step 1

Preparing Tamale Meat: Cook meat in the slow cooker, Instant Pot, or dutch oven with spices. Shred meat into bite-size pieces, usually 1-2 inches, and refrigerate if making tamales in a few days, or freeze in an air-tight container until needed. (thaw the day before making tamales). 

Recipe hereRed Chile Tamale Meat Recipe


Step 2

 For Red Chile TamalesMake Red chile sauce, refrigerate in an air-tight container if made in the next 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.

Refrigerate in a sealed container or storage bag, good for a few days. Take out of refrigerator 30 minutes prior to using and whip in a mixer to make the dough smoother (you can add water or chicken broth if you need to,1 tbsp at a time). Tamale masa can be frozen, and taken out the day before tamale making.  The dough should be able to spread on tamale corn husk with the texture of peanut butter.

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 over, 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.

Post a Comment


  1. If you’re going to freeze the tamales do you do that before or after you steam cook them thank you for this tutorial

    1. Hello, thanks for the question. I prefer to freeze tamales after I steam them. But, freezing before or after does not affect the taste or texture of the tamales.