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How to Cook Tamales

Co-authored by Vanna Tran


Homemade tamales are known for their soft, moist texture. To get this, you'll need to steam the tamales in a large pot with a steamer basket. If you don't have a steamer basket, you can create a makeshift steamer by setting a plate on bunched up aluminum. You could also steam the tamales in a pressure cooker or Instant pot. These methods work well regardless of how many tamales you are cooking.

** Please note that all times are estimates and may vary depending on your equipment. **

Using a Steamer Basket

1. Set an 11-quart (10.4 liter) pot on the stove. Pour in about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water into the pot and place a steamer basket in the pot. The water should come just below the steamer basket.

If your steamer basket has water in the bottom of it, pour out a little of the water.

2. Place each of the tamales into the steamer basket so they're standing with the folded ends on the bottom. The open ends should be facing up. Position the tamales so they're packed and won't fall over.

You should be able to get a few dozen tamales into the pot. If you're making more than this, you'll need to steam the tamales in batches or use several pots.

3. Cover the pot and turn the heat to high. Once the water starts boiling in the bottom of the pot, turn the heat down to medium. The water should bubble gently.

You can tell the water is boiling when you see steam escaping from the pot.

4. Let the tamales steam until the dough pulls away from the husks. You'll need to pour 1/2 cup (120 ml) of hot water into the pot every 30 minutes to keep the steam going.

5. Check the tamales to see if the husk comes off easily, then serve them. Take 1 tamale out of the pot and let it cool for 1 minute. Peel away the husk to see if the dough pulls away easily. The tamale itself should be firm to the touch and cooked throughout. Rest the other tamales for a minute and then let your guests peel and enjoy them.

6. If you have leftover tamales, place the cooled tamales in their husks in an airtight container. Refrigerate the tamales for 2 to 3 days. You can also place the container of tamales in the freezer for up to 3 months.

You can reheat the tamales in the oven. Wrap the tamales in their husks in foil. Bake them at 350 °F (177 °C) for 30 minutes.

Cooking with a Pressure Cooker

1. Pour 2 cups (473 ml) of water into the bottom of a pressure cooker, then unfold and set a steamer basket into the pot.

2. Add your tamales to the steamer basket so they're tight fitting and sitting vertically. The folded ends of the tamales should be facing down while the open end should be facing up. You should be able to arrange a few dozen tamales in the pot.

You can steam the tamales in batches, if you've made a lot of them.

3. Put the lid on the pressure cooker and lock it shut. Turn the heat to high until the pot reaches full pressure.

4. Turn down the pressure so it's at minimum pressure. Set a timer for 30 minutes and let the tamales pressure cook.

5. Turn off or unplug your pressure cooker. If you're using an electric burner, move the pressure cooker to a cool burner. Set a timer for 10 minutes so the pressure can naturally release from the cooker.

6. Open the pressure cooker and check the tamales. Once the pressure is completely released, you can open the lid of the pressure cooker. Lift out 1 tamale and peel back the husk to see if it's finished cooking. The dough should peel away easily from the husk. If not, return the tamale to the pot and steam them for a few more minutes.

You can cook another batch of the tamales, if you couldn't fit all of them into the pressure cooker.

Using an Instant Pot

1. Measure 1 cup (240 ml) of water into the inner pot of your instant pot. Unfold a steamer basket or steamer rack and set it in the pot. The basket should be raised up enough so that the water doesn't come through the basket.

2. Position as many tamales as you vertically in the Instant Pot so they're supporting each other. The folded ends of the tamales should be on the bottom with the open end facing up.

You should be able to get a few dozen tamales into the pot. You'll probably need to cook them in batches if you have more.

3. Set the lid on the Instant pot and seal it shut. Close the steam valve and turn the machine to the manual setting. Turn it to high and let it pressure cook for 30 minutes.

4. Let the pressure release naturally, so the pin drops, before you open the lid. Check the tamales to see if they've finished cooking. The dough should pull away from the husk. Steam another batch of tamales or serve them immediately.

If the tamales stick to the husk or still seem doughy, turn the machine on again and steam them for 3 more minutes. Check the tamales again.

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