Mexican Tamales: Learn How to Make this Tasty Tradition for Your Feasting Table

So you’re craving tamales but don’t wanna embarrass yourself in front of your abuela by asking for la receta?

Don’t worry, we got you.

No matter what filling you go with – green chili, queso, jalapeño, chicken with red chili, pork, sweet corn – this recipe will make your mami, your abuela, your novio/novia beyond proud!

First, let’s check out the first step – the ingredients:

10 Pounds of masa

6 Pounds of pork

6 Tomatoes

5 Garlic cloves

1 Onion

16 Guajillo chilis

Packet of corn husks



2 Tbsp of chicken broth


Now that we know what we need, let’s get down to business.


  1. Let the corn husks soak in hot water while following the next steps.
  2. Over medium heat, cook the meat until most of the grease has been released.
  3. While the meat is cooking, prepare the salsa: Add 10 chilis to a pot of boiling water, then add the 6 tomatoes, 3 garlic cloves and 1/4 of the onion. Remove from heat and blend when combined.
  4. Pour the salsa over the meat and season with salt, pepper, thyme, and 2 tbsp of chicken stock (or consomé). Cover and cook on low heat.
  5. For the masa, bring water to a boil and cook remaining 6 chilis, 2 garlic cloves, and ½ onion. Once soft, remove from heat and blend together until combined.
  6. Add some of the prepared salsa to the masa for color and mix by hand until blended.
  7. Wash the corn husks removing any debris or stray hairs.
  8. Add 3 tbsps of masa and 1 tbsp of meat to the washed corn husks. Then fold and seal the tamal (wrapping in a second husk is optional.)
  9. Add them to the tamalera and cook for 1.5 hours.
  10. Enjoy!

Remember, making tamales is not something you’re just gonna whip up for dinner one night.

Credit: Zhu / Flickr

You can easily spend the entire day working in the kitchen soaking corn husks, steaming masa, and wrapping the filling into cute and tasty regalitos.

But once you bite into your finished tamal…uff.

And hearing that “Buen hecho, mijo” from your mami…priceless.

With something as important to our Mexican identity and culture as tamales are, it’s important to know some facts.

Tamales Go Way, Way Back

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Pretty much every Latino family recalls their abuela’s tamales recipes, or maybe even their abuela’s abuelita’s recipe. But did you know that the tamal tradition dates back to 8,000 B.C.? That’s a long line of abuelas doing their thing!

Thousands of years ago, maize was the most important crop in Mesoamerica. It was so important and special that our ancestors believed that human beings were created from corn.

Maybe because tamales were wrapped in corn husks (just like regalos) and associated with ritual offerings, they have been a staple part of Mexican celebrations: think Christmas, Dia de La Candelaria, bautizos, and weddings.

Tamales Are All Over Latin America

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Sure, Mexican tamales may be the most common variety here in the United States but our brothers and sisters across Central and South America often have their own take on the tamal.

Abuelas in Mexico’s southwestern state of Oaxaca make tamales Oaxacaqueños filled with chicken and onions flavored with the richness of mole negro.

In Venezuela, tamales or “hallacas” are stuffed with pork, raisins, and olives and wrapped in plantain leaves. A variation of the tamal makes an appearance in Cuba as well. Here they go by “tamal en cazuela,” a corn masa and meat dish cooked together into a tasty porridge.

And in Nicaragua, they have “nacatamales.” Here, the filling isn’t precooked, instead it’s filled with raw meat and then steamed which gives the masa a much more intense flavor.

Making tamales is a pain in the a**.

Credit: Gimme Some Oven

Your mami knows it. Your abuela knows it. Why do you think they’re always trying to get your help in the kitchen?

If you’re going to give tamal-making a go, you’ll need to clear your schedule since it’ll be the only thing you do all day.

But, I mean, they’re so good it’s definitely worth it.

La Tamalada 101

Credit: Taiana Martinez Tai | Unsplash

So you’ve decided to embrace your Mexican identity. Or maybe you wanna impress your family or significant other. If you’re gonna tackle tamal-making, you should definitely enlist some help.

In fact, the act of preparing tamales has its own name: la tamalada, which means “tamal-making party.”

Why do you think tamales are so good at uniting family members through generations? Us newbies get a chance to learn from wiser generations while connecting over shared history, identity, and culture.

Making Mexican tamales from scratch requires a few important steps:

Credit: @_yamiarmendariz / Twitter
  • First, you must prepare the corn dough, or masa.
  • Next, you must prepare the filling. Do you want meat or veggies? Do you prefer sweet tamales or savory? Given the various fillings possible, deciding which filling may be the most difficult part of the tamale-making process.
  • After choosing the filling, it’s time to soak the corn husks in water. This step requires careful attention. For some, it’s like giving a baby a bath. Each corn husk must be rinsed and soaked. The corn silk threads must be removed and the husk cleaned.
  • Next comes the fun part, assembly! This is when the family joins in the spreading, filling, and wrapping, of each tamal.

Now for the assembly – this takes practice!

Credit: ricardo / Flickr
  • Spreading: First, be sure your corn husks are dry. If they are wet or damp, the masa will not stay put. Spreading the masa on the corn husk takes patience. Tamal experts often use a spatula to spread the masa onto the corn husk in broad strokes. But not too much! Spreading too much masa will make the tamal impossible to fold. A generous, even layer will do just fine.
  • Filling: After you have a layer of masa spread on the corn husk, it’s time to scoop a dollop of your filling into the center of the masa. One or two tablespoons of filling is plenty. If you add too much filling, you will have a heck of a time wrapping your tamales.
  • Wrapping: Wrapping the tamal is easier than it looks. Simply fold one side over the other. Make sure that the thinner end of the tamal is placed right side up. You may wrap each tamal in parchment paper during steaming.
  • Cooking: Steam them or even microwave them. Making tamales is an intense step-by-step process but when it comes to actually cooking them, they’re pretty simple.

Are you ready for your own La Tamalada?

Credit: Kara Gomez / Flickr

Preparing tamales requires many steps. Maybe this is why no one ever just makes “a few” tamales. You’d have to be loco to go all through this for just four tamales.

One makes tamales when you’re ready to make dozens of tamales. That’s another reason to be surrounded by family and friends at La Tamalada.


READ: There Are People Out There Eating The Corn Husk On Their Tamales And One Twitter Thread Is Exposing Them

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