Homemade Tamales

Prep 1 hr 45 mins
Cook 2 hrs
Add'l 1 hr 30 mins
Total 5 hrs 15 mins

Have you ever wanted to try making your own tamales? If so, follow this step-by-step tutorial for authentic Homemade Tamales with shredded pork, veggies, red sauce, and more! You’ll be making the best tamales ever in no time!

Tamales piled on a cutting board.

An Authentic Homemade Tamales Recipe

I hope you’ve got space on your meal plan this week, and a couple of free hours, because it’s time to make Homemade Tamales with pork! Making your own tamales may be time-consuming, but the end results are more than worth your time.

Growing up we would take an entire day to make tamales as a family. Usually we would make our filling the day before and then create an assembly line to put together our tamales. It can definitely be done with just one person, but it’s a lot quicker (and a lot more fun!) if you get a group together to make tamales!

This authentic tamales recipe is made with juicy shredded pork, spicy red sauce, homemade masa, and corn husks, of course. The steps are numerous, but they’re also super easy to follow. Nothing is more satisfying than sitting down to a plate of freshly cooked and assembled tamales!

Untied tamale with shredded pork.

What are Tamales?

Tamales are a traditional Mexican dish, consisting of corn husks stuffed with some kind of meat and masa (a corn-based dough). Once you’ve finished cooking these homemade tamales in the corn husks, you can discard the husks – or you can use them 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 made with fresh tomatoes and jalapeños.

Ingredients for pork tamales.

Recipe Ingredients

Alright, now that you’re totally excited to make these tamales, let’s review the ingredients you’ll need:

For the Corn Husks

  • Corn Husks: you’ll need 20-30, depending on how much pork you put in the center of the tamale. You can usually find these at a local grocery store or in the “ethnic” section of the grocery store. You can also order them on amazon: Corn Husks
  • Water

For the pork and pork broth:

  • Pork Butt Roast: 4-5 pounds, with the bone in.
  • Salt
  • Bay Leaves
  • Garlic Cloves: peeled.
  • White Onion: I used 1 large onion, peeled, and left whole.
  • Cumin Powder
  • Black Pepper
  • Water

For the sauce:

  • Roma Tomatoes: I used 8 tomatoes, washed and quartered.
  • White Onion: this time peeled and quartered.
  • Jalapeño Peppers: with the stems removed and cut in half.
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Garlic Cloves
  • Tomato Bouillon

For the masa:

Where To Find Specialty Ingredients

You can usually find the few specialty Mexican ingredients need to make tamales at a local grocery store in the “ethnic” or “latin foods” section of the grocery store. Every grocery store has a different name for the aisle, but usually you can use their app to see if they carry them.

If you can not find them in your local grocery store, check online to see if there are any latin food markets near you. They will for sure carry these classic ingredients you will need.

In a pinch, you can also order them on amazon and I linked them above and in the recipe to help you see what they look like. They will be cheaper in store, but if you can’t find them, this is a good back up option.

Overhead image of pork tamales all wrapped on a cutting board and one tamale opened to see the inside.

How to Make Homemade Tamales

Whew! Quite a list, huh? I know that these homemade tamales take a fair amount of time to put together, but the results are SO worth it. Here is the whole delicious process, written out for you.

Preparing the corn husks

Boil Water: Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Once water is boiling, remove water from heat.

Clean and Soak Corn Husks: 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.

Keep Soaking Husks: 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.

Pork broth ingredients in a pot.

For the Pork and Pork Broth

Cut Pork: Cut the pork off the bone and cut it into large chunks and remove any large fat pieces.

Combine Pork with Seasonings: 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.

Boil Mixture: 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.

Let Pork Simmer: Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the pork simmer for 30 minutes, then add more water if needed, stir and cover and let it simmer for another 20 minutes or until the pork is fork tender.

Let Pork Cool: 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.

Strain and Cool Broth: Pour the broth through a fine mesh sieve. Rinse the sieve, place it on the pan, pour the broth back into the pot through the sieve one more time and let the broth cool.

Shred Pork: Once the pork has cooled, shred it into small pieces and set it aside.

For the Red Sauce

Prep: Preheat the oven to 400°F and prepare a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Organize Vegetables: Drizzle the olive oil over the pan and add the tomatoes, onion and jalapeños.

Coat Vegetables in Olive Oil: Push the veggies around in the pan to coat the bottoms in the oil.

Roast Vegetables: Sprinkle the salt over the veggies and roast for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and stir then bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the veggies start to brown around the edges.

Vegetables in a blender.
Blended vegetables for the red sauce.

Blend Vegetables: Remove the pan from the oven and let the veggies cool for 10 minutes before adding them to a blender along with the garlic and tomato bouillon. Then blend until smooth and add more salt to taste, as needed.

Mix Sauce and Pork: 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. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for 10 minutes.

Shredded pork being added to the red sauce.
Red sauce mixed into shredded pork.

For the Masa

Whip Lard: Add the lard to a large mixing bowl and whip the lard by hand for 5-6 minutes, or until light and fluffy.

Add Salt and Baking Powder: Next, add the salt and baking powder and whip again until combined.

Mix in Maseca and Pork Broth: Then add 4 cups of the maseca and 4 cups of the pork broth and stir by hand to combine. If the masa is too wet, add more maseca and if it’s too dry, add more broth.

Stir/Knead Mixture: Stir and knead by hand for 10-15 minutes, adding maseca and broth as needed. Once you get a light and fluffy consistency, it’s ready.

to assemble

Add Pork to Husk: Spread it out smooth on one half only and add 1-2 tablespoons of the pork filling to the center of the husk.

Fold Corn Husk: Fold the sides into the center of the tamale and fold it in half.

Seal the Tamale: Tear off a piece of a small corn husk and tie it around the center of the tamale to seal it.

Tied homemade tamales in a pot.

Repeat: Lean it up against the aluminum foil in the pot and repeat the process of making the tamales until all of the filling is used up.

Cover Tamales with More Corn Husks: Once they are ready, tuck in 5-6 corn husks along the sides of the tamales and fold them into the center to cover the tamales.

Boil: Place the lid on the pan and bring it to a boil over high heat then reduce the heat to low high.

Cook Tamales: Simmer for 30 minutes then check and add more water as needed. Pour the water down the side of the pot, making sure to not get any water in the tamales and making sure to not overfill the pot.

Pot of tamales lined with corn husks.

Cook Tamales Some More: Cook for an additional 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.

Test Tamales to See If They’re Done: 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 it comes off easily, then they are ready, if not, let it cool for an additional five minutes and try again. If it still doesn’t separate from husk then they need 20-30 more minutes to cook.

Let Tamales Cool: Once cooked, remove the pan from the heat and let them cool for 10 minutes before removing them from the pan and letting them cool for 10 more minutes.

Serve and Enjoy: Serve just as they are or with any of your favorite sides: rice, black beans, refried beans, charro beans, fresh salsa, pico de gallo or queso fresco.

Pile of tamales on a wooden board.

Variation Ideas

This recipe uses pork for the tamales, but you can definitely use other proteins too! Here are some other ways to fill up your tamales:

  • Chicken: any shredded chicken will do! Usually if making chicken tamales, most recipes will use white masa.
  • Beef: leftover steak and ground beef both work.
  • Beans and Cheese: a mix of shredded mozzarella (or a similar cheese) and refried beans will work well.

Tips for Success

Now that you’ve been prepped on all of the hard work that goes into making these tamales, here are a few tips on how to get the best results:

  • Serving Size Note: The number of tamales varies by how much masa and filling you add, as well as how big the corn husks are that you are using.
  • Whip the Lard By Hand: It’s important to whip the lard by hand, so that the warmth from your hands and the whipping will make it nice and fluffy. If you skip this step, they will turn out stiff and rubbery.
  • Really Knead the Dough: 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 by hand will make the dough have that signature soft and buttery consistency once cooked.
  • What to Do With Extra Masa: You will have left over masa, you can use it to make corn tortillas or simply discard it.
  • How to Avoid Watery Tamales: Be careful not to add too much water or the tamales will be sitting in the water and they will soak it in. Also make sure you don’t pour the water over the top of the tamales, instead pour it over the sides, slightly over the corn husks that are covering the tamales. If you overfill or pour the water directly over the tamales, they will turn out soggy and uncooked.
Plate of three pork tamales.

What Goes with Tamales?

Are you wondering what to serve with your homemade tamales? If so, I’ve got some suggestions to make!

  • Rice: traditional Mexican rice is especially good with tamales!
  • Beans: we love to enjoy these tamales with a side of beans, any kind will do. We personally love refried beans and charro beans!
  • Salsa or Pico de Gallo: We usually serve them as is, but some people like to top theirs with salsa or homemade fresh Pico De Gallo. This Enchilada Sauce may also work if you want them extra sauce-y.
  • Other Mexican Dishes: why not also make something like these Vegetable Enchiladas, my families favorite Mexican Chicken Adobo, Picadillo or even Beef Empanadas!

How to Store and Reheat Leftover Homemade Tamales

These tamales can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. You can also individually wrap them in cling wrap and then in foil and store them in the freezer for up to 3 months.

To reheat these, place them with the peel off in a microwave for 30 seconds, turn it, then microwave for another 20 seconds or more as needed.

Bite of pork tamale on a fork.
Yield: 20-30 tamales

Homemade Tamales

Pile of tamales on a wooden board.

Have you ever wanted to make your own homemade tamales from scratch? The process is easy with this straightforward tutorial! Grab some pork roast and vegetables, and get ready to dig into these authentic Mexican tamales!

Prep Time 1 hour 45 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Additional Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 5 hours 15 minutes

Ingredients

For the Corn Husks:

For the Pork and Pork Broth:

  • 4 - 5 pounds pork butt roast, with the bone in
  • 2 teaspoons of 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 jalapeño peppers, 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:
  • 1 ½ cup of lard or vegetable shortening
  • 2 teaspoons - 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 4-5 cups Maseca instant corn masa flour
  • 4-6 cups pork broth (from the cooked pork)

Instructions

Prepare your corn husks:

  1. Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Once water is boiling, remove water from heat.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

For the pork and pork broth:

  1. Cut the pork off the bone and cut it into large chunks and remove any large fat pieces.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the pork simmer for 30 minutes, then add more water if needed, stir and cover and let it simmer for another 20 minutes or until the pork is fork tender.
  5. 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.
  6. Pour the broth through a fine mesh sieve. Rinse the sieve, place it on the pan, pour the broth back into the pot through the sieve one more time and let the broth cool.
  7. Once the pork has cooled, shred it into small pieces and set it aside.

For the red sauce:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and prepare a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Drizzle the olive oil over the pan and add the tomatoes, onion and jalapeños.
  3. Push the veggies around in the pan to coat the bottoms in the oil.
  4. Sprinkle the salt over the veggies and roast for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and stir then bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the veggies start to brown around the edges.
  5. Remove the pan from the oven and let the veggies cool for 10 minutes before adding them to a blender along with the garlic and tomato bouillon.
  6. Then blend until smooth and add more salt to taste, as needed.
  7. 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.
  8. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for 10 minutes.

For the masa:

  1. Add the lard to a large mixing bowl and whip the lard by hand for 5-6 minutes, or until light and fluffy.*
  2. Next, add the salt and baking powder and whip again until combined.
  3. Then add 4 cups of the maseca and 4 cups of the pork broth and stir by hand to combine.
  4. If the masa is too wet, add more maseca and if it’s too dry, add more broth.
  5. Stir and knead by hand for 10-15 minutes, adding maseca and broth as needed.*
  6. Once you get a light and fluffy consistency, it’s ready.

For assembly:

  1. Fill your tamale pot with water up to the steamer tray. Crumble a large piece of aluminum foil and place it in the center of the pot.
  2. Remove 10 corn husks from the water they have been soaking in and squeeze any excess moisture from them.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Spread it out smooth on one half only and add 1-2 tablespoons of the pork filling to the center of the husk.
  6. Fold the sides into the center of the tamale and fold it in half.
  7. Tear off a piece of a small corn husk and tie it around the center of the tamale to seal it.
  8. Lean it up against the aluminum foil in the pot and repeat the process of making the tamales until all of the filling is used up.*
  9. Once they are ready, tuck in 5-6 corn husks along the sides of the tamales and fold them into the center to cover the tamales.
  10. Place the lid on the pan and bring it to a boil over high heat then reduce the heat to low high.
  11. Simmer for 30 minutes then check and add more water as needed. Pour the water down the side of the pot, making sure to not get any water in the tamales and making sure to not overfill the pot.*
  12. Cook for an additional 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.
  13. 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 it comes off easily, then they are ready, if not, let it cool for an additional five minutes and try again. If it still doesn’t separate from husk then they need 20-30 more minutes to cook.
  14. Once cooked, remove the pan from the heat and let them cool for 10 minutes before removing them from the pan and letting them cool for 10 more minutes.
  15. Serve with rice, refried beans, fresh salsa or queso fresco.

Notes

  • *The number of tamales varies by how much masa and filling you add, as well as how big the corn husks are that you are using.
  • *It’s important to whip the lard by hand, so that the warmth from your hands and the whipping will make it nice and fluffy. If you skip this step, they will turn out stiff and rubbery.
  • *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 by hand will make the dough have that signature soft and buttery consistency once cooked.
  • *You will have left over masa, you can use it to make tortillas or simply discard it.
  • *Be careful not to add too much water or the tamales will be sitting in water. And don’t pour the water over the top of the tamales, instead pour it over the sides, slightly over the corn husks that are covering the tamales. If you overfill or pour the water directly over the tamales, they will turn out soggy and uncooked.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

30

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 379Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 58mgSodium: 523mgCarbohydrates: 25gFiber: 3gSugar: 5gProtein: 18g

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Jessica
I'm a trial & error, self taught, sugar addict who thankfully learned how to survive in the kitchen! I am also a wife, mama of 3.
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