May 29, 2024
Learn how to steam tamales to perfection with our detailed guide and recipe. Discover the benefits of steaming, and try out our tips and tricks for quick and easy tamale making.


Tamales are a traditional dish in many Latin American countries, and are beloved for their delicious and savory flavors. Tamales are also a healthy food option to be considered, as they often contain a variety of vegetables and proteins.

One of the key factors in making tamales is how long you need to steam them. In this article, we provide you with a detailed guide on how to steam tamales, including different steaming methods and their benefits, as well as a step-by-step recipe for making your own tamales. We also include troubleshooting tips and tricks to help you achieve the perfect tamale every time.


Tamales are a staple of Mexican and Latin American cuisine. They are made by wrapping masa (a dough made from cornmeal) around a filling of meat, beans, cheese, or vegetables, and then steaming the packets until the masa is cooked through and has a tender, fluffy consistency.

Steaming is an important part of the tamale-making process because it helps to cook the masa evenly and to develop a moist, tender texture. By using steam instead of boiling or frying, you can ensure that your tamales have the best possible flavor and texture.

To steam tamales, you’ll need the right equipment. While you can certainly use a pot with a lid and a steamer insert, there are several types of steamers that are specifically designed for cooking tamales. These can include collapsible steamer baskets, microwave steamers, and electric steamers. Each type offers its own benefits and drawbacks.

Preparing Tamales for Steaming

Before you can steam your tamales, you’ll need to prepare them. Start by soaking corn husks in water for several hours, or until they are soft and pliable. Cut off any excess husk at the top of each piece so that each tamale has a straight edge.

Next, spread the masa mixture onto each husk, leaving an inch of space at the top and bottom. Add your desired fillings, and roll the husk around the filling, using the straight edge to create a neat package.

Steaming Tamales

When steaming tamales, the key is to use enough water to create plenty of steam, but not so much that the tamales become waterlogged. A good rule of thumb is to fill the pot with water up to the level of the steamer insert and then bring the water to a boil before adding the tamales. Make sure that the tamales are standing upright in the steamer and are not touching the water.

Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and reduce the heat to medium-low, so that the water is simmering but not boiling. Cook the tamales for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on their size and the amount of filling they contain. To test if they’re done, carefully remove one tamale from the pot and unwrap it. The masa should be cooked through and have a fluffy texture. If it’s still doughy, return the tamales to the pot and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes.

Quick Tips

If you’re short on time, there are a few ways to speed up the tamale-steaming process. One of the best is to use a pressure cooker. Simply add water to the pressure cooker and place the tamales on a rack inside. Cook on high pressure for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the size and quantity of tamales. Another tip is to add herbs or spices, such as oregano or cumin, to the water for added flavor. You can also wrap the tamales in a clean towel before adding them to the pot, which will help to retain the steam and speed up the cooking process.


Now that you know how to steam tamales, it’s time to make your own. Here is a classic tamale recipe:


  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1 1/3 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup of your preferred filling (meat, cheese, beans, or vegetables)
  • 20-30 corn husks, soaked and drained
  • Instructions:

    1. In a large bowl, mix together the masa harina, chicken broth, vegetable shortening, baking powder, and salt until a moist dough forms.
    2. Using a spoon or your hands, spread the masa mixture onto the prepared corn husks, leaving an inch of space at the top and bottom.
    3. Fill each husk with your desired filling, and roll the husk around the filling to create a neat package.
    4. Place the tamales upright in a steamer basket, making sure that they are not touching the water.
    5. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour until the tamales are fully cooked.


    Steaming tamales has several benefits over other cooking methods. For one, steaming helps to retain the nutrients and flavors of the ingredients. It’s also a healthier cooking method since you don’t need to add any oil or fat to the dish. Additionally, steaming is a gentle cooking process that helps to create a tender and fluffy texture in the masa dough.


    If you encounter any issues when steaming tamales, don’t worry. There are several common problems and easy fixes:

    • If your tamales are cooking unevenly, rotate the pot every 15 minutes to ensure that the tamales are all exposed to the same amount of steam.
    • If your filling is spilling out during cooking, make sure that you have rolled the husks tightly enough around the filling and that there is enough masa to enclose the filling completely.
    • If your tamales are falling apart, you may be using too much filling or not enough masa to hold everything together. Make sure that each tamale is tightly packed but not overstuffed.


    Now that you know how to steam tamales, you can create this delicious and healthy dish at home. Remember to prepare your tamales well, use the right equipment, and cook them for the appropriate amount of time. With these tips and tricks, you’ll be steaming up a batch of perfect tamales in no time. Try out our recipe, and experiment with different fillings and toppings to create your own unique twist on this classic dish.

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