How to Make Tamales

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Holding a pot of homemade tamales for our tutorial on How to Make Tamales

Ever since we learned how easy and delicious it is to make homemade tamales, we’ve been experimenting with different flavor variations. Our favorites so far have been Green Chile Chicken Tamales and Sweet Potato Black Bean Tamales (Vegan).

But we’re certain there are many creative flavor ideas still waiting to be explored! In the meantime, we thought it would be helpful to share our basic, easy formula with you as a base to let your creativity shine!

Tray of Chicken Chili Tamales

What are Tamales?

Tamales are believed to have originated in Mesoamerica (a region that includes parts of Mexico and Central America). They consist of a corn-based (masa) shell and flavorful filling (vegan, vegetarian, or meat-based) that’s wrapped in either a corn husk or a banana leaf and then steamed.

How to Make Tamales

The process starts with making the dough. The main ingredient is masa harina, which is corn that has been cooked and soaked in lime water then ground into flour. This is not the same as cornmeal, so be sure to get the right one!

The masa harina is mixed with water and allowed to sit for 15 minutes so it can rehydrate. Then salt, baking powder, avocado oil, and broth are added until the dough resembles a thick paste.

Traditionally, lard is the primary fat component, but to keep things a little lighter, we like to use avocado oil and cut back the amount as much as possible without sacrificing on texture.

Bowl of masa dough

Once the masa dough is prepared, it’s time for the filling. We’ve had success with Green Chile Chicken and Sweet Potato Black Bean variations. But you can also use the following as a guide for experimenting with new flavors:

  • Oil or water (for sautéing)
  • Onion and/or garlic
  • Meat, beans, and/or veggies
  • Spices/seasonings

Sauté the onion and garlic, then add the meat, beans, veggies, and seasonings. Then cook until everything is tender and the flavors have developed.

Using a wooden spoon to stir a pot of black beans and spices
Wooden spoon in a Dutch oven with chicken and green chilies

When the masa dough and filling are ready, it’s time for assembly.

We like to use dried corn husks since they are most readily available. But during corn season, you can use fresh husks from corn on the cob or use banana leaves if they are available to you!

To make a tamale, hold a corn husk in your non-dominant hand (or place on a flat, clean surface) and make sure the wider edge is facing you.

Use the back of a spoon to spread 2 to 2 ½ tablespoons of masa dough from the bottom 1/3 center of the husk to the right edge (see photo below).

Using a spoon to spread masa onto a corn husk

Then add your filling of choice to the center of the masa and guide the right edge of the husk over the filling, tucking it in.

Continue rolling until the seams meet (do this gently!). Then fold the narrow edge of the corn husk over where the seams meet and set it in a dish that will hold the tamales upright (such as a loaf pan).

Repeat until you’ve used up all of the dough and/or filling!

Rolling a homemade tamale

How to Cook Tamales

Cooking tamales is easier than you might think!

Simply place them upright in a steamer basket in a large pot or Dutch oven. Then cover and steam for 1 hour (sometimes a bit more). That’s it!

Dutch oven filled with homemade tamales

How to Freeze Tamales

Tamales are perfect for freezing because they’re easy to make in large batches and they reheat nicely.

To freeze, let the tamales cool and then add to a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Freeze until firm, then transfer to a well-sealed container. They should keep for at least 1 month, oftentimes longer.

How to Reheat Tamales

To reheat from the fridge, put the tamales in the microwave or in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop over medium heat until hot.

To reheat from frozen, let the tamales thaw and then proceed as you would if they’d come out of the fridge. For a quick thaw, you can microwave for 1 minute, remove the husk, then proceed with one of the above-mentioned reheating methods.

Plate of sweet potato black bean tamales topped with vegan sour cream and sriracha

How to Eat Tamales

When ready to eat, remove the corn husk and discard it (compost if available).

Then serve tamales plain or topped with our Go-To GuacamoleCultured Vegan Sour Cream (or dairy-free yogurt), and/or Easy Red Salsa. Hot sauce also makes a tasty addition!

We hope you find this guide helpful! And if you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo #minimalistbaker on Instagram. Cheers, friends!

Tray and plate of tamales with toppings

How to Make Tamales

An EASY, step-by-step guide for how to make tamales at home! Flavor variations for plant-based and meat eaters included. Just 5 ingredients + a filling required!
Author Minimalist Baker
Pot of homemade Green Chile Chicken Tamales
5 from 5 votes
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time 2 hours
Servings 26 (Tamales)
Course Entrée
Cuisine Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Mexican-Inspired
Freezer Friendly 1 month
Does it keep? 4-5 Days



  • 2 cups masa harina (not cornmeal // masa harina has been cooked and soaked in lime water, then ground into flour)
  • 1 ¾ cups water
  • 1 ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 ¾ tsp baking powder
  • 4 ½ Tbsp avocado oil
  • 2/3 – 3/4 cup chicken broth, vegetable broth, bone broth, or water (warm temperature is best)

FILLING (choose one)


  • 1 package dried corn husks (as recipe is written, ~26 corn husks)

FOR SERVING optional


  • Add masa harina to a large mixing bowl and pour the water over it. Stir to combine — it will appear dry, that's okay. Let rest 15 minutes to hydrate.
  • In the meantime, add dried corn husks to a large mixing bowl and cover with room temperature water. Set something on top to submerge them (such as a small skillet). Let soak at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes.
  • In the meantime, heat a pot, Dutch oven, or large rimmed skillet over medium heat. Prepare filling by sautéing the onion and garlic in oil or water. Then add your choice of meat, beans, and/or veggies, and seasonings/spices. Cook until everything is tender and the flavors have developed. See our Green Chile Chicken Tamales or Sweet Potato Black Bean Tamales for additional guidance.
  • To the soaked masa mixture add salt, baking powder, and avocado oil and stir. Then add broth (warm or room temperature for best results) a little at a time until a thick paste is achieved. It shouldn't be liquidy or crumbly (see photo). Be sure to stir well so it's fully combined. Set aside.
  • Remove corn husks from water and pat dry. Then take one husk in your non-dominant hand (or place on a flat, clean surface) with the wider edge toward you (narrow end away from you). Add 2 – 2 ½ Tbsp masa in the center near the bottom (closest to the end facing you), then use the back of a spoon to spread the mixture from the bottom 1/3 center of the husk to the right edge (see photo). A semi-thin layer is ideal (not too thin, not too thick).
  • Then add 1 ½ Tbsp of the filling to the center of the masa. Fold the right edge of the corn husk over the filling (toward the masa's left edge) and tuck right where the masa ends on the left. Then continue rolling until the husk’s seams meet. Next, fold the narrow edge of the corn husk tightly toward the opposite side of where the seams meet and set in a loaf pan or dish that will keep your tamales upright (see photo). Continue until you have used all your masa mixture and filling (as recipe is written, ~26 tamales).
  • To a large pot or Dutch oven, add a steamer basket. Fill a pot with water until it almost touches the base of the steamer basket. Then add the tamales, keeping them upright if possible (see photo).
  • Turn the heat to high, then once boiling, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer to steam the tamales for 1 hour. At the 1-hour mark, carefully remove one tamale to ensure it's cooked. Allow it to cool for a couple minutes, then unwrap. If the dough is fully cooked it shouldn't stick to the husk and should be semi-firm and springy to the touch. If it's still wet or sticking to the husk, cook tamales for another 10-15 minutes then check again to ensure doneness.
  • Once cooked, remove the lid and let steam escape. Then they're ready to enjoy! Top with desired garnishes. We loved guacamole, hot sauce, diced red onion, and a little dairy-free yogurt (Culina plain).
  • Store cooled tamales covered in the refrigerator up to 4-5 days. Reheat in the microwave or in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop until hot.
  • Or, to freeze, let tamales cool, then add to a parchment-lined baking sheet and arrange in a single layer. Freeze until firm, then transfer to a well-sealed container where they should keep for at least 1 month, oftentimes longer. To cook from frozen, either let thaw then heat in the microwave or a cast iron skillet on the stovetop until hot, or microwave for 1 minute, remove husk, then continue heating in the microwave or in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop until hot.



*Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated with the lesser amount of vegetable broth and without filling.
*Masa mixture roughly adapted from Seasons of My Heart cookbook.

Nutrition (1 of 26 servings)

Serving: 1 tamale Calories: 53 Carbohydrates: 6.9 g Protein: 0.8 g Fat: 2.7 g Saturated Fat: 0.3 g Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.47 g Monounsaturated Fat: 1.75 g Trans Fat: 0 g Cholesterol: 0 mg Sodium: 185 mg Potassium: 24 mg Fiber: 0.6 g Sugar: 0.2 g Vitamin A: 13.99 IU Vitamin C: 0.02 mg Calcium: 30.77 mg Iron: 0.17 mg

If you try making tamales, let us know how it goes! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo #minimalistbaker on Instagram. Cheers, friends!

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  1. Loretta says

    My first time making tamales and I was nervous but your recipe really helped. I was out of chicken broth so I used V8 instead and it still worked out great!!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      We’re so glad it was helpful! Thank you for sharing your experience, Loretta! xo

  2. Julie says

    I reheat my frozen tamales after wrapping in a damp paper towel. A wet cloth/dish towel might work, too, I haven’t tried that.

  3. Jacqui says

    I’ve made these several times and they are delicious! Do you think it would work to assemble them the day before, refrigerate overnight and steam them the next day? Hoping to make these for a birthday party! Thanks!

  4. Linsey says

    I made these last night and they turned out AWESOME!! It was quite the labor of love – from start to finish (including making the filling) it took 4 1/2 hours, but the payout at the end was worth it! And most of the time was just waiting. I ended up steaming mine for 1 1/2 hours total.

    I made your Smoky Shredded Jackfruit for the filling which was the perfect filling in our opinion, but next time I’ll double to have enough for all of the masa.

    Make sure to thoroughly dry off the husks as it’s much harder to spread the masa when they are still damp.

    When taking mine out of the steamer pot, they seemed sticky/soft/not quite done, however, once I let them cool a minute or two, they firmed up properly. Next time, I’ll take them out and let sit for a moment at the 1 hour mark to see if they are done.

    Overall, they were so much easier than I expected them to be and I’m sure next time the timing will be much shorter since I now know what to expect.

    Thanks (or should I say Gracias? :] ) for another incredible recipe. I’m eating one NOW for breakfast!

  5. Lori says

    So sad that you’re site is no longer cruelty free. Was my go-to place for recipes. I hope you reconsider for the sake of animals and the planet.

  6. Gale Banks says

    My wife and I are Vegetarian. I want to make these for New Years and the Chicken And Green Chilies sounds amazing! Do you think Jackfruit would work in place of the chicken?

  7. Micaela Zamora says

    Hi Baker’s out there that love tamales with pork and chicken cheese and jalapeno tamales those are awesome recipes you know how everybody eats breakfast and they eat tamales for breakfast after Christmas and New Year’s I was thinking how about bacon and egg tamales for breakfast that’s an idea even original beans mix it up in Tamales never know Bakers I was thinking about that today anyways and I was wondering how to make tamales I want to learn hopefully it’s an idea you never know

  8. Sara says

    I think something to mention is that many of the street tamales you see are supplemental income for farmworkers or other marginalized populations. In my area they keep our hardworking fieldworkers from starving over the winter and yet if they’re caught by code enforcement they will get shut down. So while it’s great to make them at home supporting your local tamalero is important as well

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker says

      That’s a great question. We haven’t tested it ourselves, but this recipe seems to suggest 40 minutes at high pressure with a 10 minute natural release!

      • Laura says

        I made both versions and they were great! I steamed half on the stove and half in my pressure cooker and the results were about the same. I’m going to try them again with a mushroom and pepper filling and I’m sure they will look prettier now that I’ve had lots of practice. It was so nice having a big batch of these to eat throughout the week when I didn’t feel like cooking. (I do wish there were locals who sold tamales that I could buy, but there aren’t in my town that I can find.)

        • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

          We’re so glad you enjoyed these, Laura! And agreed- always nice to have something delicious around for when you don’t feel like cooking. Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. Lori Haynie says

    I’m very excited to try this. We love to eat tamales on a big pile of green leaf lettuce and diced tomatoes drizzled with a “cheesy” cashew sauce.

    Do you have a masa brand you recommend? I have a hard time finding a good organic option and wondered if you’d found one you like. Thank you!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker says

      The best one I’ve found is the organic one from Bob’s Red Mill! Otherwise, the brand I’ve enjoyed on Amazon is called Gold Mine. Hope that helps!

  10. Belinda says

    I would love to try these, but masa harina is stupidly expensive in Australia, if you can find it anywhere. Do you (or anyone else reading) know if South African maize meal is the same? That I can buy! Thanks x

  11. Kimberly says

    These sound perfect for my household. I don’t know about getting my hands on corn husks but could parchment paper be used in its place ?

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker says

      Apparently yes! We haven’t tried it ourselves but we’ve read that it’s an option. That and banana leaves. Let us know what you try!

  12. Heather says

    What other things can you use for the corn husks? I’ve never seen them here. I don’t live in US so maybe they’re a regional thing?


  13. Meredith says

    I’m 41 years old and just today learned that you don’t eat the wrapping of a tamale (luckily I’ve never made them and had to learn the hard way). I’m making these for dinner tonight and I know they’ll be a 5-star recipe, because anything I’ve made from this site always is (my personal fave is your chickpea salad sandwich…omg). Thank you for enlightening this old goat and for also making a vegan version!! <3

  14. Maggie DiMauro says

    Cant wait to try these! Can you please clarify the rolling process? If I tuck the husk to where the masa ends, the seams cant line up because the seam is in the middle.
    Is the bottom folded or open?

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker says

      Maggie, I know this is confusing. Please watch the video tutorials in the post for a more in-depth, step-by-step visual!