How to Steam Tamales at Home Easily

How To Steam Tamales
13 min reading time

Are you craving the delicious taste of steamed tamales but don’t know where to start? Look no further! In this step-by-step guide, we’ll show you the best way to steam tamales at home. Steaming is the traditional method used to cook tamales and ensures they are perfectly cooked and full of flavor. So, grab your favorite ingredients and let’s get started!

Steaming tamales can seem intimidating, but with our easy-to-follow instructions, you’ll be a pro in no time. In this section, we’ll cover everything from gathering the necessary equipment to serving and enjoying your delicious tamales. So, if you’re ready to learn how to steam tamales, let’s dive in!

Remember, with our tamale steaming tips, you’ll be able to make delicious tamales and impress your family and friends. Let’s get started with the basics and learn how to steam tamales with ease!

Gathering the Ingredients and Equipment

Before you start steaming tamales, it’s essential to gather all the necessary ingredients and equipment. Here are some tamale steaming tips and traditional tamale steaming essentials that you’ll need:

  • Corn husks
  • Masa dough
  • Meat or vegetable filling
  • Water
  • Tamale steamer
  • Large pot with a lid
  • Aluminum foil
  • Pair of tongs

Make sure to buy high-quality ingredients to ensure the tastiest results. If you’re new to tamale making, look for a tamale steamer that comes with instructions and has a rack or platform for the tamales to sit on above the boiling water. However, if you don’t have a tamale steamer, you can create one by placing a heat-resistant plate upside down in a pot and adding water to the level of the plate. You can also use a colander or steaming basket lined with damp cheesecloth instead of a traditional tamale steamer.

By following these tamale steaming tips and gathering all the necessary equipment and ingredients, you’ll be ready to start preparing tamales!

Preparing the Tamale Mixture

Now that you have gathered all the necessary ingredients and equipment, it’s time to prepare the tamale mixture. This is where you can get creative and experiment with different fillings and flavors.

To make the perfect steamed tamales, you’ll need a delicious filling and masa dough. For the filling, you can use a variety of ingredients such as shredded chicken, pork, beef, cheese, or beans. You can also add vegetables like roasted bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes for extra flavor and texture.

For the masa dough, you’ll need masa harina, a type of corn flour specifically used for making tamales. Follow the instructions on the package to mix the masa harina with warm water, salt, and a bit of baking powder. Mix until the dough is smooth and not too thick or too runny.

Once you have your filling and masa dough ready, it’s time to prepare the tamales for steaming.

Steamed Tamale Recipe

Masa harina2 cups
Warm water2 cups
Baking powder2 teaspoons
Salt1 teaspoon
Shredded chicken2 cups
Red chili sauce1 cup
Corn husksas needed
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the masa harina, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Add warm water to the mixture and stir until the dough is smooth.
  3. In another bowl, mix the shredded chicken and red chili sauce.
  4. Soak corn husks in warm water for about an hour or until they are pliable.
  5. Spread a spoonful of masa dough onto the center of a corn husk, leaving some space at the top and bottom for folding.
  6. Add a spoonful of the chicken and chili filling onto the masa dough.
  7. Fold the sides of the corn husk towards the center, then fold the bottom of the husk up.
  8. Place the tamale in the steamer basket with the open end facing up.
  9. Repeat steps 5-8 until all tamales are assembled.

Now that you have prepared your tamale mixture, it’s time to soak the corn husks in preparation for assembling the tamales. Read on in the next section to learn how to soak corn husks properly.

Soaking Corn Husks

Soaking corn husks is an important step in preparing tamales, as it makes them pliable and prevents them from tearing during assembly. You’ll need to soak the husks for several hours, or overnight, before you’re ready to use them.

To properly soak the corn husks, follow these tamale steaming tips:

  1. Start by separating the husks and removing any debris. Rinse them thoroughly under cool water to remove any dirt or debris.
  2. Place the husks in a large bowl and cover them completely with hot water. You can add a heavy object on top to keep them submerged.
  3. Let the husks soak for at least 3 hours, or overnight if possible, until they are soft and pliable.
  4. Once the husks are fully soaked, remove them from the water and pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel. They are now ready to be used for assembling your tamales.

Remember, properly soaked husks are crucial for achieving the perfect texture and flavor in your tamales. So don’t rush this step and make sure to follow these traditional tamale steaming tips carefully.

Assembling the Tamales

With your tamale mixture prepared and the corn husks soaked, it’s time to assemble your tamales. This step can be a bit tricky at first, but with a little practice, you’ll become a pro in no time. Here are some tamale steaming tips and a steamed tamale recipe to guide you through the process:

Step 1: Spread the Masa Dough

Take a soaked corn husk and shake off any excess water. Lay it flat on your work surface with the wide end facing you. Take a spoonful of masa dough and spread it onto the husk, leaving a border of about 1 inch on each side and at the bottom.

Step 2: Add the Filling

Place a spoonful of your desired filling, such as shredded chicken or pork, in the center of the masa dough. Be careful not to overfill your tamales, as this can cause them to burst during steaming.

Step 3: Roll Up the Tamale

Starting at the bottom of the husk, fold it up and over the filling, then roll it up tightly. Fold the bottom end of the husk under the tamale to secure it. Repeat this process with the remaining husks and filling until all the tamales are assembled.

Once you have assembled your tamales, it’s time to move on to setting up the tamale steamer. This will ensure that your tamales are steamed to perfection and ready to be enjoyed.

Setting Up the Tamale Steamer

Before you start steaming your tamales, it is important to set up your tamale steamer correctly. Here are some tamale steaming tips to ensure the best way to steam tamales.

  1. Fill the bottom of your steamer with water. The water should be at least 1 inch deep, but no so deep that it touches the tamales.
  2. Place a layer of corn husks or a steamer basket at the bottom of the steamer to prevent the tamales from touching the water.
  3. Arrange the tamales vertically in the steamer with the open end facing up. This will allow the steam to cook the tamales evenly.
  4. Make sure the lid on your steamer is securely fastened to prevent steam from escaping. Leave a small opening to allow excess steam to escape because too much steam can make your tamales soggy.
  5. Turn on the heat and bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a steady steam.

When you follow these tamale steaming tips to set up your tamale steamer, you can ensure the best way to steam tamales.

Steaming the Tamales

How To Steam Tamales

Once all the tamales are assembled, it’s time to steam them. The steaming time for tamales depends on various factors, such as the size and thickness of the tamales.

As a general rule, it takes around 1 to 1 1/2 hours to steam tamales. However, it’s always a good idea to check if they are fully cooked before removing them from the steamer. To do this, take out one tamale and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Then, remove the husk and check if the masa has a firm and cooked consistency. If it is still wet or doughy, steam the tamales for an additional 10-15 minutes.

Another way to determine if the tamales are fully cooked is to use a thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the center of the tamale and make sure it reads 165°F (74°C) or higher. This will ensure that the tamales are fully cooked and safe to eat.

Remember to keep an eye on the water level in the steamer and add more water if necessary. Also, avoid opening the steamer too often during the steaming process, as this can cause the tamales to cook unevenly.

With these tamale steaming tips, you’ll be able to determine the perfect steaming time for your tamales and ensure they are perfectly cooked and bursting with flavor.

Checking for Doneness

Before removing your tamales from the steamer, it’s important to check if they are fully cooked. To check for doneness, carefully remove a tamale from the steamer using tongs and let it cool for a few minutes. Then, open the husk and check if the masa dough is fully cooked and not doughy or sticky. The filling should also be cooked and tender.

If the tamale is not fully cooked, place it back into the steamer and continue cooking for an additional 5-10 minutes. Check again until the tamales are fully cooked.

Remember, it’s better to slightly overcook your tamales than to undercook them. Undercooked tamales may contain uncooked masa dough which can be unpleasant to eat and potentially dangerous.

Following these tamale steaming tips and checking for doneness will ensure that your tamales are fully cooked and ready to be enjoyed.

Serving and Enjoying Tamales using Traditional Tamale Steaming Methods

Now that your tamales are perfectly steamed, it’s time to serve and enjoy them! Tamales are often served with a variety of toppings and sauces, so feel free to get creative. Here are some ideas:

  • Top with your favorite salsa or hot sauce.
  • Serve with a side of guacamole or avocado slices.
  • Add a dollop of sour cream or crema.
  • Squeeze fresh lime juice over your tamales.

Traditionally, tamales are served with a side of rice and beans or a salad. You can also enjoy them with a refreshing glass of horchata or agua fresca.

In addition to traditional toppings, you can also experiment with different fillings and masa flavors. Some popular variations include:

  • Chicken and green chile
  • Pork and red chile
  • Vegetarian black bean and cheese
  • Sweet corn and poblano pepper

Whatever toppings and fillings you choose, be sure to savor each bite of your perfectly steamed tamales.

Storing and Reheating Tamales

Leftover tamales can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. To freeze tamales, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and store them in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months.

To reheat tamales, place them in a steamer basket above a pot of boiling water. Steam for 15-20 minutes or until heated through. Alternatively, you can wrap them in a damp paper towel and microwave them on high for 1-2 minutes.

It’s important not to overheat tamales, as they can become dry and lose their texture. If reheating multiple tamales at once, make sure they are evenly spaced in the steamer basket or on the microwave plate to ensure they heat up evenly.

By following these tamale steaming tips, you can enjoy delicious, traditional tamales at home, anytime you like.

Troubleshooting Tips

Even with the best preparation, issues may arise when steaming tamales. The following tamale steaming tips should help you overcome common problems:

Tamales are too dry

If your tamales come out dry, it’s possible you didn’t add enough liquid to the tamale mixture or didn’t properly soak the corn husks. Try adding a bit more broth to the mixture or soaking the husks for a longer period of time.

Tamales are falling apart

If your tamales are falling apart during the steaming process, it’s possible you didn’t assemble them tightly enough. Make sure to firmly pack the masa dough around the filling and roll the tamale tightly before steaming.

Tamales are undercooked or overcooked

Undercooked tamales can be a sign that the steamer wasn’t hot enough, or they weren’t steamed for long enough. On the other hand, overcooked tamales can be a result of steaming them for too long or not adding enough water to the steamer. Adjust your cooking time or water levels accordingly to achieve perfectly steamed tamales.

With these tamale steaming tips, you can troubleshoot any issues that may arise during the steaming process and ensure that your tamales come out perfectly every time.


Steaming tamales is a fun and tasty way to bring a traditional dish into your home kitchen. With our step-by-step guide and tamale steaming tips, you can easily master the art of steaming tamales.

Remember to gather all the necessary ingredients and equipment before starting. Prepare your tamale mixture and soak the corn husks properly to ensure a perfect result. Assembling the tamales can be a bit tricky, but with practice, you’ll get the hang of it. Make sure to set up your tamale steamer well, so your tamales steam evenly.

When it comes to cooking time, different factors may affect it, but we have provided you with an idea of how long to steam your tamales. Always check for doneness before serving and follow the instructions on how to store and reheat them properly.

Finally, if you encounter any issues during the steaming process, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with our troubleshooting tips. So, go ahead and enjoy your delicious steamed tamales with your friends and family.


Can I steam tamales without a tamale steamer?

While a tamale steamer is the traditional tool used to steam tamales, you can also use a large pot with a steamer basket or a colander. Just make sure to arrange the tamales upright and add enough water to create steam.

Do I need to soak corn husks before steaming tamales?

Yes, soaking corn husks is an important step in preparing tamales. Soaking helps to soften the husks, making them easier to work with and preventing them from tearing while rolling the tamales.

How do I know if my tamales are done?

To check if your tamales are fully cooked, carefully remove one from the steamer and unwrap it. The masa dough should be firm and cooked through, and the filling should be heated and tender.

Can I freeze steamed tamales?

Yes, you can freeze steamed tamales for later enjoyment. Allow them to cool completely, then wrap them individually in plastic wrap or aluminum foil before placing them in a freezer-safe bag or container.

How do I reheat steamed tamales?

To reheat tamales, you can either steam them again or microwave them. For steaming, place the tamales in a steamer basket and steam over simmering water for about 10 minutes. To microwave, wrap the tamale in a damp paper towel and heat on high for 1-2 minutes.

What if my tamales come out dry?

If your tamales turn out dry, it could be due to overcooking or inadequate moisture during the steaming process. To prevent dryness, make sure to check the water level in the steamer and avoid overcooking the tamales.

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