How to Make Tamales

Grab some friends and get rolling.

Have you ever had tamales? Those small savory treats are packed with flavor and are so obviously made with love. But making them at home can seem downright daunting. How do you get the corn husks wrapped so perfectly around the filling? What is masa? What do I put in my tamales? Should I just go find the nearest food truck?
Really, you only need a few ingredients and some time. Grab a friend to help you assemble and you’ll be on your way!

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1 Gather Ingredients

To make tamales you’ll need corn husks for tamales. These come in a big package—you won’t have to worry about not having enough. I found them in my produce aisle. You’ll also need 6 cups of masa flour. This recipe makes a lot, so feel free to halve it, especially on the first attempt. Then you need 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, and 8 ounces of lard. Lard can be found with the cooking oil and shortening in most stores. After that? You’ll need 4 cups of chicken broth, up to 6 cups of water and your desired filling. has some excellent tamale filling resources, including this recipe for Traditional Pork Tamales. Here’s another with Red Sauce. You can also fill them with pulled chicken or cheese.

Make your filling ahead of time! The slow cooker can come in handy for this if you’d like to make it the day before. It really cuts down on the active time you will spend in the kitchen making the tamales.

2 Soak the Husks

In order to have pliable husks for filling, you will need to soak them in water for at least an hour. I like to use a big bowl and then fill a ramekin with water to weigh down the few on top. Then I turn them at least twice so they are all soaked and soft.

3 Make Masa

Masa is the filling that is spread inside the corn husks. When you wrap and then steam, the masa cooks around the filling to make a delicious, fluffy little pocket that is rich in corn flavor. To make masa you first whisk together the masa flour, baking powder and salt. I like to cut in the lard with my hands, like when you make biscuits or pie crust. Once you’ve done that, add the chicken broth.

Once your dough looks like the above image, you can continue stirring by hand, but I recommend using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or even a hand mixer to add the remaining liquid. You want to whip air into the masa dough so it steams up light and fluffy. You may not need all the liquid.

Pinch off a nickel-sized piece of dough and drop it into a glass of water. If it floats and will spread easily with the back of a spoon (think of the consistency of fluffy hummus), your masa is ready.

4 Fill and Wrap

This is the time consuming part. Find a friend, set up an assembly line, and fill your tamales like so.



In a large stock pot, add about 1 ½ inches of water. You can place a steamer basket in the pot. Then fill the basket with your tamales. Cover and cook for about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the tamales stand for a few minutes (to firm up) before serving.
Serve with your favorite red or green salsa!

About Heather T.

Heather, who runs, has been making messes in the kitchen since she was a little kid when her mom handed her a cook book and told her, “If you can read, you can cook.” Today she serves up fresh, healthy eats, easy weeknight meals and decadent sweet treats.