How Long do Tamales Take to Cook? Explained (2023)

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Are you a fan of Mexican cuisine? Tamales are a traditional dish that dates back hundreds of years and is enjoyed by family and friends during special occasions. If you’re looking to make tamales at home, one of the most important questions is ‘How long do tamales take to cook?’

Depending on the type of filling and the size, not to mention what kind of ingredients you choose, it can be difficult to estimate how long your tamale cooking process should last. Luckily for you though, this blog post covers everything from preparation time to cooking times so that you can bake up delicious homemade tamales with confidence! Read on for all the details on this traditional Latin food.

What Exactly Are Tamales?

Tamales are a traditional Mexican dish that has been enjoyed for generations. These tasty treats are made by spreading seasoned masa (a type of corn dough) onto a corn husk, adding a filling like meat or cheese, and then wrapping up the husk to create a neat, compact package. Tamales are typically steamed or boiled until the masa is cooked through and the filling is hot and fragrant.

Tamales can come in a variety of flavors, from sweet to savory, and are often served during holidays or special occasions. Many people say that making tamales is an art form and that the process of preparing and cooking them is a way to connect with Mexican culture and traditions. 

What Exactly Are Tamales

Ingredients Required for Tamales

To make the Masa Dough:

  • Masa Harina: This is a sort of maize flour that is used to make the dough. It’s prepared from dried corn that’s been lime-treated. It’s the main ingredient in tamale dough.
  • Broth or stock: To make the dough, broth or stock is frequently mixed with masa harina. It enhances the flavor of the tamales.
  • To make the masa dough wet and tasty, lard or vegetable shortening is typically utilized.
  • Baking powder is occasionally added to masa dough to make it fluffier.
  • To increase the flavor of the dough, add salt.

For the Filling:

  • Meat (Optional): Common meat fillings include shredded pork, chicken, beef, or even game meat. The meat is usually seasoned and cooked before being used as a filling.
  • Vegetables (Optional): Vegetarian tamales may use various vegetables like peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, or spinach as filling.
  • Cheese (Optional): Cheese, such as queso fresco or cheddar, can add a delicious creamy element to the filling.
  • Sauces and Salsas (Optional): Some tamales have sauces or salsas added to the filling for extra flavor.

For Assembly and Cooking:

  • Corn Husks: These are used to wrap the tamale filling. They need to be soaked in warm water before assembly to make them pliable.
  • String or Strips of Corn Husks: These are used to tie the tamales closed.
  • Steamer: Tamales are traditionally cooked by steaming. A large pot with a steamer insert is commonly used for this purpose.

Is it better to cook tamales on high or low heat?

One of the most debated questions is whether it’s better to cook tamales on high or low heat. While there are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches, many chefs and home cooks swear by low heat for producing the perfect tamales. This method allows the masa to cook more thoroughly and evenly, leading to a softer, more flavorful finished product.

How Long Do Tamales Take To Cook?

Cooking time for tamales varies depending on the size and filling of the tamales. However, tamales will take about 25-40 minutes for fresh ones, or up to 6 hours when cooking from frozen. If you’re having trouble getting your tamales to cook correctly or are unsure of how long they should take, it’s best to check them frequently for doneness.

Tamales Take To Cook

How Do You Make Tamales?

Making tamales involves several steps, including preparing the masa dough, and the filling, assembling the tamales, wrapping them in corn husks, and steaming them. Here’s a basic overview of how to make tamales:


  • Masa dough ingredients (masa harina, broth, fat, baking powder, salt)
  • Filling ingredients (meat, vegetables, cheese, etc.)
  • Corn husks
  • String or strips of corn husks
  • Steamer


Soak the Corn Husks:

  • Place the corn husks in a large bowl and cover them with warm water. Let them soak for about 30 minutes to soften.
  • Fill a big basin halfway with warm water and add the corn husks. Allow them to soak for 30 minutes to soften.

Make the Masa Dough:

  • Masa harina, broth, melted fat (lard or shortening), baking powder, and salt should all be combined in a mixing dish.
  • Mix until the dough is smooth and malleable. The dough should be sticky but not moist.

Make the Filling:

  • Cook and season the filler materials (meat, vegetables, etc.) according to preference. The filling should be flavorful and ready to go into the tamales.

Make the Tamales:

  • Spread a thin layer of masa dough onto the center of a softened corn husk, allowing room at the top and edges.
  • Place a spoonful of the prepared filling on the masa dough.

Roll and Fold the Tamales:

  • Roll the corn husk over the filling, folding the sides inward. The tamale should be closed but not too tightly to allow for expansion during steaming.

Secure the Tamales:

Tie the tamale with a strip of soaked corn husk to keep it closed. You can also use kitchen twine.

Steam the Tamales:

  • Arrange the tamales upright in a steamer basket, ensuring they’re not tightly packed.
  • Steam the tamales for about 25-40 minutes, or until the masa dough is cooked through and firm.

Check for Doneness:

  • To check if the tamales are done, remove one and let it cool slightly. If the masa easily separates from the husk and feels firm, they’re ready.

Serve and Enjoy:

Let the tamales cool slightly before serving. Unwrap them from the corn husks and enjoy with your favorite sauces, salsas, or toppings.

How Do You Cook Tamales in the Oven?

Did you know that you can also cook tamales in the oven? This method can be especially helpful if you want to cook a large batch of tamales all at once. First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, wrap your tamales in foil and place them on a baking sheet. Cook for about 30-40 minutes, or until they are heated through and the masa is cooked. This may vary slightly depending on the size and thickness of your tamales, so it’s always a good idea to check them periodically. Once they’re done, remove them from the oven and let them cool slightly before unwrapping them and serving them with your favorite toppings.

How Long Does It Take To Steam Frozen Tamales?

Steaming frozen tamales will take longer than steaming fresh tamales since you need to thaw them as they cook. The exact steaming time can vary based on factors like the size of the tamales, the type of filling, and your steaming setup. As a general guideline, here’s how you can steam frozen tamales:

Thawing Tamales:

Ideally, thaw the frozen tamales in the refrigerator overnight. This gradual thawing helps ensure even cooking.

Steaming Process:

Once the tamales are partially thawed, follow the regular steaming process for fresh tamales.

Steaming Time:

On average, frozen tamales might take around 1.5 to 2 hours to steam. This is longer than fresh tamales due to the additional time needed for thawing.

Check for Doneness:

After about 1.5 hours, start checking the tamales for doneness. The masa should easily separate from the husk and have a firm texture.

How Long Does It Take To Reheat Steamed Tamales?

The answer really depends on a few different factors, but generally, it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to reheat tamales in a steamer. Of course, the amount of tamales you are reheating and the thickness of the masa will also affect the reheating time. 

How Long Does It Take To Reheat Steamed Tamales

Why is it taking so long to cook tamales?

First and foremost, tamales are made with masa, a dough mixture that is quite dense and can take a while to cook through. Additionally, the steaming process used to cook tamales requires a lower temperature than traditional baking or roasting, which can add to the overall cooking time.

What Should You Serve With Tamales?

Some popular options include salsa, guacamole, beans, and rice. These sides complement the flavor of tamales and can help to balance out the dish’s texture. For a more substantial meal, you could also serve tamales with a salad or roasted vegetables on the side. 

What Should You Serve With Tamales

Recipes for Popular Tamales

Traditional Pork Tamales:

    • Ingredients: Masa dough, shredded cooked pork, red chili sauce, cumin, garlic, onion, chicken broth, corn husks.
    • These classic tamales are filled with tender and seasoned shredded pork, wrapped in a rich red chili sauce.

Chicken and Green Chili Tamales:

    • Ingredients: Masa dough, cooked shredded chicken, roasted green chilies, cumin, garlic, chicken broth, corn husks.
    • These tamales feature a flavorful filling of shredded chicken combined with roasted green chilies.

Cheese and Jalapeño Tamales:

    • Ingredients: Masa dough, grated cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack), diced jalapeños, green onions, chicken broth, corn husks.
    • These tamales offer a spicy kick with the combination of cheese and jalapeños.

Conclusion: How Long Does It Take To Cook Tamales?

Tamales are an incredible Mexican dish full of complex flavors and textures. There is no single answer as to how long it takes to cook a tamale because the cooking time depends on hull type, stuffing, and cooking technique. The most important key to success is mastering the techniques you use to make great tamales such as steaming, grilling, and baking. Making perfect tamales requires practice and patience but is worth the effort in the end! Be sure to use a thermometer when checking for doneness while cooking, monitor closely, and try out new methods if needed. With these tips in mind, take your time experimenting with delicious recipes that will make everyone swoon! What’s your favorite way to serve up a delicious batch of tamales? Let us know in the comments below!


Which cooking method is commonly used for tamales?

Steaming is the traditional method for cooking tamales. It helps maintain the texture and flavor of the masa while thoroughly cooking the filling.

Can I use a pressure cooker or Instant Pot to cook tamales?

Yes, pressure cookers or Instant Pots can be used to cook tamales more quickly. Cooking times can vary, but they are generally shorter than traditional steaming.

How do I know if the tamales are cooked?

Check for doneness by removing one tamale and letting it cool slightly. The masa should easily separate from the husk and have a firm texture.

Should I cover the tamales while they cook?

Yes, cover the tamales with extra corn husks or a damp cloth to prevent excess steam from getting inside. This helps cook the tamales evenly.

Is it better to steam tamales in batches or all at once?

It’s best to steam tamales in multiple batches if you have a large batch. Overcrowding the steamer can lead to uneven cooking.

Can I overcook tamales?

Yes, overcooking can lead to dry and tough tamales. Be cautious and check for doneness regularly.

Can I adjust the cooking time based on altitude?

Yes, cooking times can be affected by high altitude. At higher elevations, tamales might take longer to cook. Adjust the cooking time as needed

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