How To Reheat Frozen Tamales: The Best Way

Tamales are a dish that originates from the Mesoamerican region. This was an indigenous region that existed prior to the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

It included areas that are now known as central Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and North Costa Rica. 

How to reheat frozen tamales: the best way

Tamales are made of a corn-based, starchy dough, or a maize-based dough called masa. It can be filled with a variety of things from meats and cheeses to fruits and vegetables.

This filled dough is then wrapped in a banana leaf or corn husk and gently steamed. 

Tamales hold up remarkably well to being frozen and thawed. However, there are certain methods to reheat them that produce much better results. 

How to prepare frozen tamales for reheating

You should ensure that you leave the wrapping around the individual tamales. This will help to lock in the moisture and prevent the tamales from becoming hard. 

For the best results during reheating, we advise allowing the tamales to thaw prior to completing any of these methods.

You should always thaw them in the refrigerator rather than on the countertop as this can be dangerous to your health. 

Steamer method

This is the best method to reheat tamales. The moisture content in the steam will gently rehydrate the tamales as they warm up. It is a very gentle heating method and there is little risk of the tamales drying out or overcooking. 

Flavors can be damaged if foods are reheated too quickly and steaming almost guarantees that this will not be the case.

How do you do it?

Your first step is to set up your steamer. If you have an electric steamer, fill with ¼ cup water and set the heat to medium. If you are using a stovetop steamer, add a few inches of boiling water to the base and turn the heat to medium.

Add the tamales to the steaming basket. Take care to place them with the open end facing up, to prevent the fillings from escaping. They should be left in the wrapping for the duration of the steaming process. 

Do not place too many in the basket and overcrowd it. This will stop the tamales from heating evenly. If in doubt, it is better to do two smaller batches than one larger batch.

You should leave them in the steamer, covered, for around 30 to 45 minutes. Set a timer so that you do not forget about them. 

Once the time has elapsed, we suggest probing a tamale to check the internal temperature. It should be at a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that the harmful bacteria have been killed off and the tamales are safe to eat.

Remove the tamales from the steamer using tongs, so that you do not burn your hands. Allow to cool slightly and then enjoy.

Alternative steamer method

This is virtually the same as the other steaming method, with an added element to lock the moisture into the tamales. 

How do you do it?

Fill the base of your steamer with a few inches of boiling water and place the steaming plate on the top. 

Place the tamales inside the steam basket, standing up on their closed end. 

Soak a dish towel in hot water and gently wring out some of the water. Place the damp towel over the tamales and cover the pot with a lid. 

Turn the stovetop to a high heat and allow the tamales to steam for an hour. The towel will help to trap in the moisture and prevent the tamales from drying out. 

After half an hour of heating, lie the tamales down flat in the steam basket. Re-cover with the dishtowel, taking care not to burn yourself. 

Replace the lid and leave to steam for a further 30 minutes. Check the internal temperature prior to serving. 

Crock-Pot

Also known as a slow cooker, this is a very low maintenance method of reheating tamales.

This will take a little longer than some of the other methods, but once they’re in you hardly have to do anything. 

How do you do it?

Your first step is to set up your Crock-Pot. Set the temperature to high and allow it to warm up on your countertop. 

Add your tamales to the pot, stacking them with the open end facing the lid. Again, you should not remove the tamales from the wrapping as this will help to protect them during the reheating process. 

As with the steamer, you should not overcrowd the Crock-Pot. 

Sprinkle your stacked tamales with a few drops of water. 

Add the lid to the pot and leave the tamales to reheat for around 1 to 1 and a half hours. You should check on the tamales about 45 minutes into the cooking process.

If they are reheating too slowly, try rearranging them in the pot to ensure they all heat evenly. 

Again, you should use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature has reached a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Microwave

This is definitely the fastest way to heat tamales when you just can’t wait any longer to eat them. However, it is not the optimal way to do it to retain the quality. 

If you are attempting to microwave frozen tamales, we suggest that you allow them to thaw in the refrigerator for a few hours first. 

How do you do it?

You will need a large, microwavable plate that is big enough to comfortably fit as many tamales as you are reheating. Place the tamales on the plate, leaving space between each of them.

They should not touch as this will cause uneven heating. 

As this method is so rapid, you can reheat multiple batches in a very short period of time. If your plate seems too crowded, opt for more batches. 

You will need to dampen a piece of kitchen paper and individually wrap each tamale loosely in it. Alternatively, if you are reheating an entire plate and do not want to waste this much paper towel, you can cover the top surface with a sheet or two instead of wrapping them individually. 

Depending on the power output of your microwave, you should set the tamales to reheat for 1 to 2 minutes. After around 30 seconds, you should stop the microwave and flip the tamales over. This will ensure that they reheat evenly. Keep doing this until the tamales are piping hot. 

Once the microwave has finished, remove the paper towels from the tamales and allow them to cool slightly before you tuck into them. 

Oven

This is another low maintenance method of reheating tamales and one that almost everyone will have the ability to do. 

How do you do it?

You must first preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Wrap the tamales individually in aluminum foil. We suggest giving them a double or even triple wrapping to seal in the moisture. Gently squeeze each tamale once you have wrapped them to press out any excess air. 

Place the tamales on a baking sheet or roasting pan, leaving a little space between each one. 

Place the tray in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes. After around 10 or 15 minutes, you should remove the tray from the oven and flip each tamale over. 

Once the time has elapsed, check the internal temperature of a tamale to ensure it is above 165 degrees Fahrenheit. 

How to reheat frozen tamales

Rice cooker

This is similar to the Crock-Pot method. You will need to take extra precautions though, as the water is very close to the tamales.

Roll up a little aluminum foil or find a metal rack to place at the base of the rice cooker. This will allow the tamales to be held above the water level and will prevent them from getting wet and mushy. 

This method will not work for reheating large batches of tamales and is optimal for around 4 or 6. Any more than this and you risk overcrowding the cooker and preventing the tamales from warming through correctly. 

How do you do it?

Your first step is to add a couple of inches to the base of your rice cooker. 

Add the tamales to the rice cooker, standing them up on their closed end. 

Turn the temperature to high and allow to cook for around 20 minutes. Once this time has elapsed, check the internal temperature of a tamale, and leave to cook for a further 10 minutes if they are not yet up to temperature.

Frying 

This method only really works for defrosted tamales.

We suggest leaving your tamales in the refrigerator for a few hours to thaw before attempting this method. 

It is a very traditional way to reheat tamales and is fast and highly effective.

How do you do it?

You should leave the tamales in their wrapping to protect the dough inside. 

Heat a griddle or frying pan over a very high heat. 

Place the tamales into the pan and gently press down on the top surface. You should wait until the husk has turned black before you flip the tamale over. 

Flip the tamale and allow it to blacken on all sides. This should take around 5 to 10 minutes to complete. 

If you did not wrap your tamales, or the wrapping has fallen off, you can still use this method. 

Add a small drop of oil to your pan to prevent the tamales from sticking. Fry for around 3 minutes per side to warm through and produce a crispy outer shell. 

Boiling

This is not a good method to reheat the tamales, however, it will work if you have no other option. 

How do you do it?

It is vital that no water comes into contact with your tamales as this will turn them mushy.

You should place them inside a sous vide bag, Ziplock bag, or a reusable silicone food bag that is suitable for heating.

Seal the bag and place in a pan of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Be sure to keep an eye on the bag so that no leaks develop. 

Panini press

This method is similar to the frying pan or griddle method and works on the same principle.

How do you do it?

You will need to keep the tamales in their banana leaf or corn husk wrapping. 

Preheat the panini press to a high heat. 

Place the tamales inside the panini press and close the lid. Allow them to cook for a few minutes until the husk has blackened on all sides. 

This is a good way to be sure that the tamales have heated completely all the way through. 

Barbeque grill

This is a great way to reheat tamales for serving at an outdoor grill party.

This method will infuse the tamales with a delicious smoky flavor. 

How do you do it?

You must first ensure that your grill has been preheated to a medium heat. 

It is vital to keep the tamales in their wrappings for this process. If you are not a big fan of the chargrilled flavor, place a double layer of aluminum foil on the top of your grill.

Place the tamales either directly onto the grill or onto the aluminum foil you have laid out. 

Turn the tamales over occasionally, and allow the husks to blacken. 

Deep fry

This works much better for thawed tamales than frozen.

This is because the time spent in the fryer is not long enough to defrost and cook the tamales.

How do you do it?

Defrost the tamales in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. Preheat your deep fryer to medium.

Take off the tamale wrappings and pat them dry with a paper towel.

Add to the hot oil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. 

Gently remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper. 

How to freeze tamales

The first step to freeze tamales is to allow them to cool completely before you even think about wrapping them.

You should leave the tamales in the banana leaf wrapping to protect the delicate dough. 

Wrap them in a layer of aluminum foil or plastic wrap, and then place them into Ziplock freezer bags or an airtight container. Label them with the contents and date frozen. 

Provided you have prepared the tamales correctly for freezing, they will last around 2 to 6 months in the freezer with no deterioration in taste or quality. 

If your tamales contain meats such as beef, pork, and chicken you should not keep them in the freezer in excess of 6 months. 

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