How Long Do Tamales Take to Cook

Tamales are a delicious and versatile dish that can be found in various cuisines, particularly Mexican. Knowing the proper way to cook them ensures they turn out tender and full of flavor. With a variety of methods available, such as steaming in a pot, Dutch Oven, or pressure cooker, you’ll want to understand which technique is most effective. Additionally, it’s essential to know how to reheat leftover tamales in the microwave, so they maintain their delicious taste and texture.

With cooking tamales being a common challenge, this article will provide helpful guidance on making perfect tamales every time, regardless of whether they’re homemade or store-bought. Through different methods, we will explore the optimal approach to achieve the best results. So, let’s start your journey to delicious, tender tamales.

Key Takeaways

  • Learn the proper techniques for cooking tender, flavorful tamales
  • Find out the best way to reheat tamales for maximum enjoyment
  • Understand the differences between various cooking methods

How to Determine Tamale Cooking Time

When cooking tamales, the time it takes depends on the recipe you’re using and the way you’re preparing them. Generally, steaming is the go-to method to ensure they stay tender. The cooking time can range from 10 minutes up to 1 hour 20 minutes in total, depending on factors like the size, thickness, and amount of filling in the tamales.

Imagine you’ve found a delicious batch of tamales filled with shredded salsa chicken at your favorite restaurant, but you’re unsure how to cook or reheat them at home. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Whether you buy them from a local Mexican restaurant once a month or you find frozen tamales filled with shredded beef at the store, knowing how to steam them properly is essential. So, when it comes to cooking and serving your tamales, consider factors like the type of tamal, filling (meat, sauce, cheese, or refried beans), and the thickness of the tamales to achieve that perfect cook time. Be aware of overcooking, which can make them too soft and compromise their taste.

Remember, experience and practice will help you master the art of finding the ideal cooking time for those delicious tamales. Happy cooking!

How to Steam Tamales

To steam tamales on the stovetop, you’ll need a large pot or Dutch Oven with a steamer basket and lid. Follow these steps for a simple and delicious result:

  1. Pour water into the pot: Add 1-2 inches of water to the large pot and place the steamer basket at the bottom.
  2. Position the tamales: Arrange the desired amount of tamales upright without overcrowding them.
  3. Prepare for steaming: Place a tightly fitting lid on the pot and bring the water to a boil.
  4. Begin steaming: Lower the heat to a simmer and allow the tamales to steam until the masa dough is firm and cooked through. It typically takes 45 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the tamales.
  5. Monitor the water level: Check the pot occasionally to ensure there’s enough water and add more if needed.
  6. Test for doneness: To check if they are properly cooked, remove one tamale and let it cool for a few minutes. If the masa is firm and not mushy, the tamales are ready to serve.

It’s crucial to ensure the tamales are fully cooked before serving, as eating raw dough is not recommended. The filling, usually precooked meat, should already be safe to eat. To confirm, open one tamale to check if the masa is cooked through and the filling is hot.

If you’re using a pressure cooker instead, the cooking time is reduced. Add the tamales to the steamer basket and cook on high pressure for about 10 minutes. Quickly release the pressure and let them rest for another 10-15 minutes before serving. Enjoy your perfectly steamed tamales!

Homemade Instant Pot Tamales

To create delicious homemade tamales using an Instant Pot, begin with preparing the dough, or masa. If you can’t find pre-made masa dough, you can easily mix it yourself. Look for corn husks in the ethnic aisle of your local supermarket or online. Here’s what you’ll need for the masa dough recipe:

  • 4 cups instant corn masa harina
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1.5 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 cups chicken broth

Making the masa is a bit like wrapping presents – the bottom is folded over and secured, while the top remains open, revealing the filling. Follow these steps to make the masa and assemble the tamales:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the masa harina, salt, baking powder, vegetable oil, and chicken broth. The mixture should resemble damp sand.
  2. Reserve the drippings from your shredded pork or other meat.
  3. Gradually add the chicken broth (about 1 cup at a time) and drippings (1/4 cup at a time) to the masa mixture, until it reaches a smooth peanut butter-like consistency.
  4. Soak and drain the corn husks.
  5. Spread approximately ¼ cup of the prepared masa mixture over the wide end of each corn husk, covering about 2/3 of the husk.
  6. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of shredded Mexican pot roast or another meat, such as pork, to the center of the masa.
  7. Fold the husk by bringing the sides over the meat filling so that they overlap, then fold the bottom tip upwards.

Once your tamales are assembled, you can steam them in your Instant Pot, or pressure cooker, for an easy, flavorful homemade treat!

Best Method to Warm Up Tamales

To reheat your frozen or homemade tamales, it’s best to steam them. This keeps them moist and prevents them from drying out. Steaming tamales is simple and easy. Here’s how to do it:

  • Boil water in a pot, and place a steamer basket inside.
  • Gently loosen the corn husks at the top and position the tamales upright.
  • Cover the pot with a lid, and allow the tamales to steam for 10-15 minutes.
  • Periodically check to make sure they’re thoroughly heated.

Although other methods, like using an air fryer, may be tempting, they’re not ideal for reheating tamales. Stick to steaming to enjoy delicious, warm tamales that taste as good as the first time.

Reheating Tamales in the Microwave

To reheat tamales in the microwave without losing their texture and flavor, follow these steps:

  1. Take off any corn husks or banana leaves from the tamales.
  2. Lay the tamales on a microwave-safe plate and cover them with a moist paper towel.
  3. Set your microwave to high or 100% power and heat the tamales for 1-2 minutes, based on their size and thickness.
  4. Begin with 60 seconds, then check if the tamales are warm. If they’re not heated through, wrap them again and microwave for another minute.

Keep an eye on them to avoid overcooking. To enhance their moisture, you can warm some tamale sauce and pour it over them. Enjoy your delicious reheated tamales!

What to Create with Masa

Masa, the versatile dough made from masa harina, can be utilized to create many delicious dishes. For instance, consider making gorditas, which are thick tortillas filled with ingredients like refried beans, cheese, and meat. To prepare them, form the masa into thick patties and fry on a griddle until golden brown. Once done, slice them open and stuff them with your favorite fillings.

Another delightful dish you can make is sopes. Similar to gorditas, but shaped like small cups, sopes are made by molding the dough into small rounds with an indentation in the center. Fry them in a pan until they reach a golden hue, and fill them with your desired ingredients.

Explore the countless possibilities with masa dough and find new favorite recipes to share with your friends and family!

How Long do Tamales Take to Cook

Easy tasty tamales!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 4
Calories 303 kcal


  • Pot, Dutch Oven, or Pressure Cooker
  • Steamer Basket


  • 6-12 pre-made tamales
  • 2-3 cups of water


Pressure Cooker Method:

  • Pour 1.5 cups of water into the electric pressure cooker.
  • Place a steamer basket inside the cooker.
  • Position the tamales vertically in the basket, with the open end facing upwards.
  • Secure the lid and steam valve.
  • Set the pressure cooker on high for 10 minutes.
  • Quickly release the pressure.
  • Allow the tamales to rest in the pot for an additional 10 minutes.
  • Remove the lid, check to ensure the masa is cooked, and enjoy.

Stovetop Method:

  • Fill a large pot with 1-2 inches of water and place a steamer basket at the bottom.
  • Arrange the tamales upright in the basket, ensuring they are not overcrowded.
  • Cover the pot with a lid and set the heat to high for the water to boil.
  • Reduce the heat to low and let the tamales steam for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the masa dough firms and cooks.
  • Check periodically to make sure the pot has enough water, adding more if needed.
  • Test the dough for doneness before enjoying your tamales.


Calories: 303kcal
Keyword how long do tamales take to cook
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Frequently Asked Questions

How long do tamales need to steam?

Tamales should usually steam for around 60-90 minutes, depending on their size. It’s essential to check if they’re cooked by seeing if the dough easily separates from the corn husk.

What’s the cooking duration for frozen tamales?

To cook frozen tamales, remove them from the freezer and thaw slightly. Then, steam them for approximately 90 minutes to heat them through.

How long should I microwave tamales?

Place three to four tamales in a microwave-safe dish and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave on high for 3-5 minutes, checking every minute to ensure even heating.

What’s the boiling time for tamales wrapped in foil?

If your tamales are wrapped in foil, you can boil them in a large pot for about 90 minutes to ensure they’re cooked through.

How can I steam tamales without a steamer?

To steam tamales without a steamer, follow these steps:

  1. Use a large pot with a tight-fitting lid.
  2. Place a metal colander or a heat-proof ceramic plate upside down at the bottom of the pot.
  3. Fill the pot with water, ensuring it doesn’t touch the colander or plate.
  4. Arrange the tamales standing upright on the colander or plate.
  5. Cover the pot and bring the water to a simmer.
  6. Cook for 60-90 minutes, depending on the size of the tamales.

What do Reddit users suggest for cooking time?

According to various Reddit users, cooking times for tamales can vary but they generally recommend around 60-90 minutes for steaming. Factors such as the size of the tamales, their fillings, and whether they’re fresh or frozen will affect the required cooking time.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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