Homemade Tamales Recipe

Prep Time 1 hour 45 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Additional Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 5 hours 15 minutes
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Wondering how to make tamales? Follow this authentic Mexican tamales recipe, with step by step photos, to make tender tamales filled with juicy shredded pork in a savory red sauce. You won’t be disappointed!

Why You’ll Love This Tamales Recipe

Bursting with juicy shredded pork, spicy red sauce & homemade masa, this genuine tamales recipe remains a family favorite.

  • Authentic: Assemble tamales the old-fashioned way. It’s all about the husk, handmade dough, and 100% from-scratch filling.
  • Group Fun: Instead of going solo, make this a festive “tamalada” (tamale making party) and create an assembly line. It yields much quicker results – muy delicioso!
  • Worthwhile: Making your own tamales may be time-consuming, but the end results are definitely worth every moment. Be ready to take a well-deserved bow.
  • Crowd Pleaser: These pork tamales are addictive. The recipe makes about 2 1/2 dozen, but try doubling. Friends and family will be delighted when you share!
  • Freezer Friendly: Tamales freeze well for gift giving and make for a quick weeknight dinner.
An unwrapped tamale, cut in half, on a plate with a fork.

What Is A Tamale?

Tamales are a traditional Mexican dish of dried corn husks stuffed with filling and masa (a corn-based dough). Discard the husks to serve or leave them and use as a disposable plate!

Tamales can be filled with different kinds of meats and sauces, but this recipe is for the most authentic traditional tamale with a tender pork filling and savory red sauce. Make sure to also check out my beef tamales recipe!

Ingredients for tamales recipe arranged in large bowls. From top to bottom: garlic cloves, seasonings, corn husks, onion, tomato, jalapeño, lard, pork and corn masa flour.

Ingredients Needed for Pork Tamales

These humble ingredients can be found on most local grocery store shelves. For full ingredient amounts, scroll to the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post.

Corn Husks

  • Corn Husks: You’ll need 20-30 corn husks, depending on the amount used to fill the centers.
  • Water

Pork

  • Pork: Choose a 4-5 pound pork butt or shoulder. Use a bone-in cut for more flavor.
  • Garlic Cloves: Use whole, freshly peeled cloves.
  • White Onion
  • Seasonings: Cumin, bay leaves, salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  • Water

Red Sauce

  • Roma Tomatoes: These are meatier and less juicy.
  • White Onion: Peel and quarter for the sauce.
  • Jalapeño Peppers: Remove stems and cut in half. Leave the seeds in for more spice, remove for less.
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Garlic Cloves
  • Tomato Bouillon: You can skip this, but it adds a lot of flavor!

Masa Dough

  • Lard: Lard actually has less saturated fat than butter, but feel free to use vegetable shortening.
  • Salt
  • Baking Powder
  • Maseca Instant Corn Masa Flour: This is authentic masa harina.
  • Pork Broth: Keep the leftover braising liquid from the pork.
Two pork tamales unwrapped from their corn husks with one tamale cut in half to show the pork filling.

How to Make Tamales

This tamales recipe takes a fair amount of time, but the results are SO worth it. Here is an overview of the process, but visit the printable recipe card below for full detailed directions.

Corn Husks

  • Boil: Bring 8 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add rinsed husks and push down with tongs to cover.
  • Soak: Cover and soak for 2 hours. As water cools to room temperature, add additional hot water.

Pork

  • Boil: Add pork to a large pot with salt, bay leaves, garlic, onion, cumin powder and pepper. Cover with water. Bring to a boil. Stir and skim top, until foaming minimizes.
  • Simmer: Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let pork simmer. Add water as needed and simmer until tender.
  • Reserve Broth: Remove pork, set aside to cool. Pour broth from pan through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Discard solids, but do not discard broth. Set broth aside.
  • Shred: Shred the pork into small pieces. Set aside.

Red Sauce

  • Prep: Add the tomatoes, onion and jalapeños to a baking sheet and coat in oil. Sprinkle with salt.
  • Roast: Roast for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. Vegetables should brown around the edges.
  • Blend: Add all roasted vegetables, garlic, and tomato bouillon to a blender. Blend until smooth.
  • Mix: Pour sauce into a medium-size pot and add shredded pork. Stir and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool.

How To Make Masa for Tamales

  • Whip: Add lard to a large mixing bowl and beat it for 5 to 6 minutes, until light and fluffy. You can do this by hand, but it’s much easier with a stand or hand mixer. Add salt and baking powder.
  • Knead: Add 4 cups of Maseca and 4 cups of pork broth. Stir and knead for 10 to 15 minutes, adding Maseca and broth to form a dough.

How To Assemble Tamales

  • Fill: Add about 2 tablespoons of masa mixture to bottom half of a husk and spread into a thin layer. Top masa with 2 tablespoons of pork filing.
  • Fold: Fold each long side of the corn husk towards the center. Then, fold in half.
  • Seal: Tear off a thin strip of husk and tie it around the middle to seal. Or use bakers twine.
  • Repeat: Repeat the process until all filling is used.

How To Cook Tamales

  • Arrange: Place the tamales in a large tamale steamer pot, or a large pot with a steamer basket, with open ends facing upwards. If needed, use a ball of foil to keep them upright.
  • Cover: Tuck 5-6 soaked husks between the sides of the pot and folded towards the center. This will help keep water from dropping into the tamales and making them soggy.
  • Steam: Add water, cover with pot lid and bring to a boil. Once boiling, immediately reduce the heat, and simmer for about 45 minutes. Check water level and add as needed. Pouring additional hot water carefully down the side of the pot.
  • Check: Take one out and cool. Try removing the husk. When completely cooked, it should separate easily and the masa should pull away from the sides.
  • Recheck: If tamales are not done, cook for another 10 to 15 minutes and try again.
  • Serve: Once cooked, remove whole pan from the heat and cool for 10 minutes. Then remove tamales from the pan and cool for 10 more minutes before serving.
Up close image of homemade tamales wrapped in corn husks.

Tips for Success

Some handy tips to ensure you get the best results for all your hard work:

  • Test Batch: I recommend making a test batch of 3 to 4 tamales and cooking them before making any more. Doing so will allow you to taste and see if the filling or masa harina needs more salt, or if the masa is too dry and needs more lard. 
  • Assembly Line: Tamales go much quicker if you can get your friends or family to help. Create an assembly line with stations for filling, wrapping and tying.
  • Caution: Avoid soggy, improperly cooked tamales. Take special care when adding additional water. Pour water just inside the pot, slightly behind the extra corn husks layered over the top. Don’t overfill the bottom of the pan or pour water over/into the tamales.
  • Lard: Whip until aerated and fluffy to avoid a stiff, rubbery result. Sore arms? Beat for 2 minutes at medium speed with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
  • Kneading the Dough: Take your time here. It takes 10 to 15 minutes for proper whipping and thorough kneading will produce a soft, buttery consistency once cooked.
  • Serving Size: The number of tamales varies depending on corn husk size, amount of masa, and filling used.
  • Extra Masa: Use it to make traditional, corn tortillas or simply discard it.

FAQ’S

Here are a few frequently asked and answered questions, including storing and freezing information!

How to eat tamales?

Unwrap and enjoy warm or at room temperature. They are delicious straight out of the husk or dipped into your favorite sauce or salsa. Try holding the husk under the tamale like a small, disposable plate.

Are tamales gluten free?

Yes! Made with a corn-based masa dough, they are naturally gluten free.

How long to steam tamales?

It takes 45+ minutes to fully steam tamales. This varies depending on the amount of filling and thickness of the masa layer. Test one at a time as suggested. When the masa pulls away from the husk easily, you have perfectly cooked tamales.

How long can you store tamales?

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Can you freeze tamales?

YES! To freeze, individually wrap each cooked and cooled tamale in plastic wrap and then foil. Place wrapped tamales in a disposable freezer bag or air tight container. Freeze for up to 3 months.

How to reheat tamales?

To reheat these, peel off the husk and wrap in a slightly damp paper towel. Microwave for 30 to 45 seconds, turning halfway through.

How to reheat frozen tamales?

It’s best to thaw a frozen tamale in the fridge overnight and reheat as directed above. If microwaving straight from the freezer, wrap in a dry paper towel and cook on 50% power in the microwave for 60 seconds. Remove the husk and rewrap in a damp paper towel and microwave for 20 to 30 seconds more.

Three pork tamales wrapped in corn husks on a plate.

What to serve with tamales?

Pork tamales wrapped in corn husks stacked on top of each other on a wooden board.
4.5 from 27 votes
Print Pin Recipe
Yield: 20 – 30 tamales

Homemade Tamales Recipe

Have you ever wanted to make your own homemade tamales from scratch? Follow this authentic Mexican tamales recipe to make tender tamales filled with juicy shredded pork in a savory red sauce. You won’t be disappointed!
Prep Time1 hour 45 minutes
Cook Time2 hours
Additional Time1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time5 hours 15 minutes

Ingredients

For the Corn Husks:

For the Pork and Pork Broth:

  • 4 – 5 pounds pork butt roast, or pork shoulder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 large white onion, peeled, and left whole
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 6-8 cups water

For the Sauce:

  • 8 Roma tomatoes, washed and quartered
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and quartered
  • 2 jalapeños, with the stems removed and cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons tomato bouillon

For the Masa:

Instructions 

Soak The Corn Husks

  • Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Once water is boiling, remove water from heat.
  • In the meantime, separate, wash and clean the corn husks. Once water is removed from heat, add the corn husks to the boiled water and push them down into the water to soak.
  • Cover pot and let corn husks soak for 2 hours, changing the water with more boiled water once the water cools down to room temperature.

Cook The Pork

  • Cut the pork off the bone and cut it into large chunks and remove any large fat pieces.
  • Add the pork to a large soup pot along with the salt, bay leaves, garlic, onion, cumin powder and pepper. Pour enough water in to cover the pork with one inch of water above.
  • Bring it to a boil and skim off the scum from the top of broth. Stir and continue skimming the top until there is barely any scum left.
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the pork simmer for 50 minutes, until pork is fork tender. Stir occasionally and add more water, if needed.
  • Remove the pot from the heat and take out the onion, bay leaves and garlic and discard. Then remove the pork and let it cool on a plate.
  • Pour the broth through a fine mesh sieve. Rinse the sieve, place it on the pan, pouring the broth back into the pot through the sieve one more time. Set broth aside to cool.
  • Once the pork has cooled, shred it into small pieces and set aside.

Make The Red Sauce

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F and prepare a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  • Add the tomatoes, onion and jalapeños and drizzle with oil and season with salt. Toss to coat.
  • Roast for 20 minutes, stirring half way through, until the veggies start to brown around the edges. Remove the pan from the oven and let the veggies cool for 10 minutes.
  • Add roasted vegetables to a blender along with the garlic and tomato bouillon. Blend until smooth and add more salt to taste, as needed.
  • Pour the sauce into a medium-size pot and add the shredded pork. Stir and let it simmer over low medium heat for 10 minutes. Then set aside to cool while you prepare the masa.

Make The Masa

  • Add the lard to a large mixing bowl and whip the lard by hand for 5-6 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Or use a hand mixer for about 3 minutes. Add the salt and baking powder and whip again until combined.
  • Add 4 cups of the maseca and 4 cups of the pork broth and stir by hand to combine. Stir and knead by hand for 10-15 minutes, adding maseca and broth as needed. If the masa is too wet, add more maseca and if it’s too dry, add more broth.
  • Don’t skimp on this step, it’s important to take your time and really put some elbow grease into this. Whipping and kneading it will make the dough have that signature soft and buttery consistency once cooked. Once you get a light and fluffy consistency, it’s ready.

Assemble The Tamales

  • Fill your tamale pot (or a large pot with steamer basket) with water up to the bottom of the steamer tray. Crumble a large piece of aluminum foil and place it in the center of the pot.
  • Remove 10 corn husks from the water they have been soaking in and squeeze any excess moisture from them. Make sure that they are all about 6-8 inches wide at the bottom. Don’t discard the tiny ones as you can use them for ties.
  • Lay one corn husk, rough side up on a plate or in your hand and add about two tablespoons of masa to the bottom half.
  • Spread it out smooth on one half only and add 1-2 tablespoons of the pork filling to the center of the masa.
  • Fold the sides into the center of the tamale and fold it in half. Tear off a piece of a small corn husk and tie it around the center of the tamale to seal it. You can also tie them with bakers twine.
  • Arrange tamales in the pot, with the open ends facing upwards. Repeat the process of making the tamales until all of the filling is used up.

Steam The Tamales

  • Once they are ready to cook, tuck in 5 to 6 corn husks along the sides of the tamales and fold them into the center to cover the tamales. This will keep excess water from falling into the open tamales.
  • Place the lid on the pan and bring water to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, immediately reduce the heat to low.
  • Simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until you can see that the masa starts to pull away from the sides of the corn husks at the top. (Check often and add more water as needed. Pour the water down the side of the pot, making sure to not get any water in the open top of the tamales and making sure to not overfill the pot. You only want an inch or two of water in the bottom of the pot at a time. If you overfill or pour the water directly over the tamales, they will turn out soggy and uncooked.)
  • Once you think they are done, take one tamale out and let it cool for 5-6 minutes, then try to remove the tamale from the husk. If they are ready, the tamale should come out easily and the masa should pull away from the sides. If not ready, let tamales cool for an additional 10 to 15 minutes and try again.
  • Once cooked, remove the pan from the heat and let them cool for 10 minutes. Then remove tamales from the pan and let them cool for 10 more minutes before serving as desired.

Notes

Storage: Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Freeze: Individually wrap each cooked and cooled tamale in plastic wrap and then foil. Place wrapped tamales in a disposable freezer bag or air tight container. Freeze for up to 3 months. Transfer to fridge to thaw overnight before reheating.
Reheat: Peel off the husk and wrap in a slightly damp paper towel. Microwave for 30 to 45 seconds, turning halfway through.
Serving Size: The number of tamales varies depending on corn husk size, amount of masa, and filling used.
Test Batch: I recommend making a test batch of 3 to 4 tamales and cooking them before making any more. Doing so will allow you to taste and see if the filling or masa harina needs more salt, or if the masa is too dry and needs more lard. 
Caution: Avoid soggy, improperly cooked tamales. Take special care when adding additional water. Pour water just inside the pot, slightly behind the extra corn husks layered over the top. Don’t overfill the bottom of the pan or pour water over/into the tamales.
Kneading the Dough: Take your time here. It takes 10 to 15 minutes for proper whipping and thorough kneading will produce a soft, buttery consistency once cooked.
Extra Masa Dough: Use it to make traditional, corn tortillas or simply discard it.

Nutrition

Serving: 1 tamale, Calories: 368kcal, Carbohydrates: 21g, Protein: 23g, Fat: 22g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g, Monounsaturated Fat: 9g, Trans Fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 58mg, Sodium: 897mg, Potassium: 501mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 285IU, Vitamin C: 5mg, Calcium: 83mg, Iron: 3mg

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Post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy.

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5 stars
This was my first time making tamales. It was a lot of work but so worth it! They turned out perfectly, my family said they were the best tamales they ever tasted!! Thank you for this amazing recipe, there were many steps but it was easy to follow.

How much lard and baking soda do I whip?

Jessica

1 ½ cup of lard or vegetable shortening and 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder (not baking soda!).

When you say whip by hand do you mean put your hands in it? Can you elaborate on that please?

Jessica

Hi Nat! Whip by hand, meaning to use a spatular or spoon and beat the lard until it’s light and fluffy. I recommend using a stand mixer or hand mixer, otherwise your arms will get tired, but you can do it that way!

Yummy! Must make this soon!

Thank You For Being Here!

Jessica
For the past 15 years, Jorge & Jessica have loved getting to share their families' favorite recipes with all of you. They live in Florida with their 3 kids.