Make Tamales at Home: An Easy Recipe and Guide

It's easy to make tamales at home! This guide and recipe are all you need. #christmas #tamales #tamalerecipe #howtomaketamales #maketamales #easytamales #easyrecipe #christmasdinner

easy to make tamales piled on a black plateI never really thought I would buy prepared food from a stranger on the internet—I mean, not like a company or a restaurant, but just a random person who posted on—but last year, I found myself PMing with a woman who posted that she was planning to make tamales and sell them for Christmas. It kind of felt like doing a drug deal (not that I have personal experience with that). We negotiated the price, she asked which types I’d like and how many, and I sent her money via Paypal with the hope that in a few weeks, she’d show up on my doorstep with a few dozen tamales for my family’s Christmas Eve dinner.

The good news is that she did show up on my doorstep with a few dozen tamales. Actually, there’s even more good news: the tamales were delicious and my family loved them. I planned to order tamales from her again this year. But…. I lost her contact information. I forgot her name. The old PM conversation was no longer available in my history. So sad.

spreading tamale dough on corn huskI was telling a friend about how there was a lady I was going to buy tamales from, but I didn’t know who she was or how to find her. And then we thought, hey wait a minute, why don’t we make tamales ourselves? We can make a giant batch and freeze them for Christmas!

adding meat filling to tamale dough on corn huskWe spent a weekend making a big batch of tamales with multiple fillings (vegan, vegetarian, and pork) and we learned a few things in the process:

folding tamale wrapper1. It’s not hard to make tamales, but it does take time. It’s more fun if you do it with a friend. And wine.
2. Make the fillings the day before you plan to make the tamales. So much easier when you start tamale-filling day with a clean kitchen.
3. It’s all about the dough. We developed the recipe below through much trial and error.
4. Position the dough in the right place on the corn husk to make folding and tying easy. See the pictures for visual aid!

folding tamale wrappers after fillingYou can fill these with whatever fillings you like. We made a vegan version with chard, mushrooms, and caramelized onions; a vegetarian version with roasted butternut squash, green chilies, and queso fresco; and a pork version with a rich, homemade Red Chile Sauce.

tying tamale wrappers up after fillingBy the time we finished making our tamales, we decided we were going to launch a cottage industry and make tamales to sell for next Christmas!


Make Tamales at Home: An Easy Recipe and Guide

It is surprisingly easy to make tamales, but it does take time. Have all of your fillings and sauces ready ahead of time, crank up the tunes, and crack open a refreshing beverage of your choice and you’ll be able to crank out a batch in about 45 minutes (plus steaming time).

  • Author: Robin


3 ½ cups corn masa mix for tamales
3 ½ cups warm water
1 1/3 cups solid vegetable shortening
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
About 3 cups filling of choice (about 1 pound of meat with sauce will fill one batch of tamales)
1 6-ounce package corn husks, soaked in water for about 30 minutes to soften
About 3 cups filling of choice (about 1 pound of meat with sauce will fill one batch of tamales)


  1. Submerge the corn husks in water and let soak. This will make them more pliable and less likely to tear.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the corn masa mix and the warm water. Set aside to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, beat together the shortening, salt, and baking powder until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the cooled masa and water mixture and beat at medium-low speed until well combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat for another 2 to 3 minutes. If the mixture seems dry, add up to ½ cup additional (cold) water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the desired texture is achieved.
  5. To make the tamales, spread about 1/3 of a cup of the dough on a corn husk, making a rectangle near the flat edge (opposite the pointed end). Leave a bit of space, ½ inch or so, at the top so that the dough doesn’t spill out when it expands during steaming. Press the dough into an even layer about 1/8-inch thick.
  6. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of your filling mixture onto the dough in a line down the center. Fold in the sides of the tamale, enclosing the filling with the dough and the dough with the corn husk. Fold the pointed end up toward the top. Tear off a long strip of corn husk (I tear these off of very wide husks and/or tear up husks that are too small to use for tamales) and use it to tie up the tamale packet.
  7. Place a steamer basket in a large pot filled to just below the basket with water. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Put the filled tamales in the steamer basket with the open ends pointing up. Cover the pot again and steam for 30 to 40 minutes.
  8. Serve hot with extra sauce if desired.


  • Tamales freeze really well. I find it easiest to make a giant batch and freeze 4-up in quart-sized freezer bags after steaming and cooling them. To serve, steam the frozen tamales as above for about 40 minutes or microwave for a couple of minutes.
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