How To Steam Tamales in 4 Easy Ways

How To Steam Tamales featured photo

Delicious, soft, chewy, and bursting with flavors—if you’re fond of Mexican food, you’ve probably tried tamale before. This delicious, doughy treat is a staple loved by many and is surprisingly easy to prepare.

Making tamales is fun but steaming it can make or break (literally) your tamales. Luckily, learning how to steam tamales is easy and there are different ways to do it. You can use a pot and steamer basket, a pressure cooker, a rice cooker, a slow cooker, and even your dutch oven.

But, depending on the method you use and the thickness of the masa and fillings, there may be variations in the steaming duration and process.

Below, we’ll show you the easy ways you can steam your tamales. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned cook, this ultimate guide will help you achieve the desired doneness for your tamales in no time.

How To Steam Tamales

How To Steam Tamales With a Steamer Basket

Steaming is the most common way to cook homemade tamales. Here are 4 easy steps you can follow to make this delicious Mexican treat the star of your dining table.

How To Steam Tamales With a Steamer Basket

Steaming using a steamer pot and steamer basket is one of the easiest ways to cook tamales.

Cooking time: 60 to 90 minutes

Here’s how to steam tamales with a steamer basket:

  1. Fill a large pot with water. If you’re only steaming a small batch of tamales you can go for a smaller pot, instead. The water level should be below the bottom of the steamer, but not too close that the tamales come in contact with the water.
  2. Place your tamales standing upright with the open end of the husk up and the closed side at the bottom. Don’t lay them flat on the steamer basket to keep water from entering your tamales.
  3. Cover and bring the water to a boil. If you see a slight bubble in the water, adjust the heat to medium.
  4. Keep in mind that your pot will run out of water as the steam cooks your tamales. Make sure to add water every 20-30 minutes and keep it at a gentle simmer.
  5. Open the lid and check your tamales are ready. At this point, it should feel firm and you can peel away the corn husks. Then, let it set for a few minutes before peeling the husk. If your tamales don’t feel firm or you’re struggling to peel them off, put them back in the instant pot and keep simmering until done.

How To Steam Tamales Using a Pressure Cooker

This method also involves a steamer basket. It’s similar to the previous method, except it cuts cooking time in half.

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Here’s how to steam tamales using the ​​pressure cooker method:

  1. Add water to the cooker below the bottom of the steamer. You’ll probably need about 2 cups but it will depend on the size of your cooker. Again, don’t let the water get too close to the steamer or the water will get to your tamales, making them soggy.
  2. Carefully place your tamales vertically, with the open end up and the closed side at the bottom.
  3. Close the cooker’s lid and set it to high pressure. Let it reach the maximum pressure and reduce it to the lowest setting and let your tamales cook for 30 minutes.
  4. After that, turn off the cooker and release the pressure for 10 minutes.
  5. Check for doneness. You already know the indication of cooked tamales. You can steam them for another 5 minutes if you can’t easily peel away the husk.

How To Steam Tamales Without a Steamer Basket

No steamer basket? No problem!

A heat-proof plate will do the trick. Just make sure that the plate has enough surface area to accommodate your tamale. The plate should also fit the pot but still leave some space around the plate for the steam to move through.

Cooking time: 60-90 minutes

Here’s how to steam tamales without a steamer:

  1. Get aluminum foils and form several large balls to create a space underneath the plate. The balls will serve as the base for the plate. You’ll need a lot of aluminum foil for this to make the base sturdy enough to support the weight of your tamales.
  2. Once that’s done, place your heat-resistant plate in the pot on top of the balls of aluminum foil you made. Then, fill the pot with water just below the bottom of the plate.
  3. Place your tamales in the pot upright, with the open end up. And since there are no holes for the water to get through, you can also lay them flat or vertically. Just make sure that there’s no water on the plate. You don’t want your tamales to simmer in the water.
  4. Now, cover the pot and bring the water to a boil and adjust the heat to medium.
  5. Check if the pot is running out of water and add 2 more cups to keep the steam going.
  6. Check if your tamales are ready. If the husk doesn’t come off easily, you can steam it for an additional  5-10 minutes.

How To Steam Tamales in the Oven

Instead of steaming tamales with a traditional steamer, using an oven is another way to cook them. It’s not the most ideal way, but it works. Plus, it reduces cooking time.

Cooking time: 40-60 minutes

Here’s how to steam tamales in the oven:

  1. Set your oven’s temperature to its lowest heat. You can set it to 170 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on your oven’s settings. A low temperature allows the steam to cook your tamales without overdrying their fillings.
  2. Place a steam rack on top of a roasting pan or casserole dish and add boiling water, making sure that it doesn’t spill.
  3. Lay your tamales with the folded part facing down and let them steam for 40-60 minutes.
  4. Check doneness. Again, if your tamales aren’t firm or you can’t peel away the husk, you can always put it back into the oven and steam for an additional 5-10 minutes.

How About Frozen Tamales?

Frozen tamales are pre-cooked. What you need is to steam the corn dough to cook it. The steaming process is just as easy as fresh tamales, and you can pick from one of the methods we’ve suggested above. Plus, you don’t need to thaw them.

Cooking time: 40-60 minutes

Here’s how to steam frozen tamales:

  1. Fill your pot with water, just below a steamer insert. If you have a dedicated tamale steamer, even better.
  2. Arrange the tamales upright. Again, with the open end up. Don’t overload the steamer insert or basket.
  3. Bring the water to a boil. You can also let the water boil first before placing your tamales. Once the water starts boiling, reduce the heat. Make sure to check the water level to keep the steam going.
  4. Allow enough time for the tamales to cook.
  5. Check doneness.

Keeping Tamales Warm

Keeping Tamales Warm

Tamales are traditionally served hot so you’d want to keep them warm to keep their texture and flavor. In this case, wrap your tamale or cover the dish you served them on. Aluminum foil is a good heat conductor that helps seal the warmness of your food.

How To Reheat Tamales

But if your tamales have been sitting on the table for a few minutes, you may opt to reheat them. This process usually takes 20-30 minutes. You can use a steamer, oven, pressure cooker, or microwave.

In the traditional Mexican way, though, they would often let the exterior of the tamale to brown or crisp up. It’s a common practice in rural Mexico to build a cooking fire and delicately toast the tamales on a comal.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Place your pan over your stove and set it to medium heat.
  2. Drizzle a tablespoon of cooking oil and preheat.
  3. Peel away the husk and lay the tamale on the pan.
  4. Turn them in every 1-2 minutes.
  5. Once they turn brown and crispy, they are done.


How Long Do You Steam Raw Tamales?

It depends on the thickness of the masa, the temperature, and the cooking method you use. Typically, raw tamales require between 60 to 90 minutes to be steamed, depending on the size.

Don’t steam it for too long or it will come out soggy. This makes it difficult to eat the tamales since they will break apart. They can also lose their flavor.

How Do I Know When My Tamales Are Done?

You know your tamales are done when they have a stronger golden or yellow corn husk color. You don’t want wet and soggy tamales, you’ll want them firm. But, the best indicator that your tamales are done is when you can easily peel the husk.

Also, if the masa sticks for 3 minutes after letting the tamales sit for 10-15 minutes after steaming, it isn’t ready. You can fold the tamales, put them back in the pot, and steam the tamales for 5 minutes more.

What Is the Best Way To Cook Tamales?

The best way to steam tamales at home is the pot and steamer basket method. It’s easy and all you need to do is fill a large pot halfway with water and bring it to a boil. Next, place the tamales in the steamer, making sure that they don’t come in contact with the water.

Then, cover the pot and steam for 30-45 minutes. Once that’s done, check if the tamales achieve a firm texture.

Do Tamales Need To Steam Upright?

Yes. If you use a steamer basket, positioning your tamales is the better way to steam tamales instead of laying them flat. Doing so helps keep water from entering the tamales.

How Often Do You Add Water To Steam Tamales?

Steaming tamales entails lots of patience in monitoring the water level in your pot to keep the masa nice and moist. Water is a crucial element, and you can add it every 15 to 20 minutes to keep the steam going. Keep the water below the steaming basket inside at all times.

What Is the Trick to Steaming Tamales?

One of the key tricks to steaming tamales is positioning the tamales in the steamer basket upright with one of the ends up, instead of laying them flat. Doing so lets water out. And once it comes to a boil, adjust the heat from high to medium. Make sure to keep the water at a very moderate simmer.

Your Turn!

Now that you know how to steam tamales, we cannot wait for you to enjoy this delicious treat with your friends and family.

If you have any questions about how to steam tamales, don’t hesitate to reach out and share which method you enjoy doing the most. Good luck!

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