Okay, I looked around and haven't seen a tamale instructable up here so I thought I would put mine up. You should all feel pretty lucky, this is a secret family recipe for tamales.......not my family, but somebody's.
Anyway, I figure the instructable community is small enough so only a few people will see it.

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Step 1: Ingredients and Supplies

Here is a list of ingredients and supplies needed to make tamales. I've added links to some things so you can see what they are but I don't ever buy any of this online.

-Masa - Tamale Dough (I use the maseca brand for tamales) Note: Masa flour is not the same as cornmeal.

I also use the recipe that is on the maseca bag, which is:
-2 cups masa flour
-2 cups warm water or broth (I use the water I cooked the meat in)
-1 tsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp salt
-2/3 cups lard or shortening ( I recommend lard)

This recipe makes about 16 tamales. I triple this recipe for the meat and cheese tamales.

If you cannot find Maseca brand masa, just make sure its masa for tamales. Some Mexican grocery stores have premade masa you can purchase.

-You will need a very large bowl for the tamale dough, if you triple the recipe.

-You will need corn husks. Have a couple packs of husks. At least 16oz. Its better to have more than not enough.

-You're also going to need a tamale steamer It doesn't have to be a large steamer like this. Anything that steams will work. A pasta pot, bamboo steamer, etc... A large pot with a wire rack raised at the bottom will also work.

These are the ingredients for each of the 3 types of tamale I make.

Meat Filling:
-3lbs of beef, chicken, or pork
-8 Chile California
-3 garlic cloves
-1 tsp cumin
-1 thick slice of an onion
-10 medium tomatoes (i use roma, but any will do)

Cheese Filling:
Sliced Pickled jalapenos (26oz)
Monterey Jack cheese

Sweet tamales:
1lb can crushed pineapple with juice
red food coloring

Step 2: Before You Start

Take your corn husks and soak then in warm water to soften. They are going to float so I weigh them down with something.

Any husks you don't use can be dried and used another time. Dry them in a warm oven, don't let them stay wet too long, they will mold.

Step 3: Cooking the Meat.

Start with 3lbs of beef, chicken, or pork. I usually use pork but have also done chicken. Cut the meat into several large chunks.

Add the meat to a pot and cover with water. Add a few tablespoons of salt and 3-5 cloves of garlic to the water. Boil the meat until falling apart, about an hour.

Step 4: Making the Sauce.

While the meat is boiling, start the sauce.

In a large frying pan, saute 1 thick slice of an onion in a little oil until brown. Add about 10 medium tomatoes cut into large chunks and let them simmer until everything has dissolved into a sauce. About 30 minutes.

While the tomatoes simmer,  boil the 8 chile Californias until soft. This wont take very long.
Cut open the chiles and remove the seeds from the inside.
Put the chiles into a blender with 3 cloves of garlic and 1tsp. cumin.
Blend until liquid, this is going to be thick. Add water until you get a nice sauce. Set aside.
If you like a little spice in your food, boil a couple dry chiles (spicy ones) with the chile California's

When the tomato and onions have dissolved, add the blended chile sauce from the blender to the tomato and add salt to taste. Let the chile sauce boil until thick, but not too thick. Don't worry, you can always add more water.

Step 5: Meat Filling

To check if the meat is done just pull out a piece, (careful, its HOT) If the meat just falls apart, you're done.


Shred the meat. I use 2 forks and just pull it apart.

Add the shredded meat to the chile sauce from the last step. Mix well.
Put the meat filling in a bowl, cover, and set aside.

Step 6: Preparing the Masa

Use the recipe from the bag.

-2 cups masa
-2 cups warm water or broth (I use the water I cooked the meat in)
-1 tsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp salt
-2/3 cups lard or shortening ( I recommend lard)

I triple this recipe.
-6 cups masa
-6 cups warm broth
-3 tsp baking powder
-1 1/2 tsp salt
-2 cups lard

I don't quite follow the mixing recipe on the bag. I mix the masa with the baking powder and salt. Then I add the hot broth and mix until combined. I heat up the lard in the microwave till soft but not completely melted. Add lard to masa and mix well. I test the consistency of the masa by sticking 2 fingers in it. The masa should not stick to your fingers.
Taste the masa too. Add salt until it's almost too salty. The steaming process will strip a lot of the salt away at the end.
You are now ready to fill the tamales.

Step 7: Filling the Tamales

You remembered to soak the corn husks right? Go get those corn husks.

Start with the larger husks. Put a layer of masa to one side of the husk. Not too thick, remember the thickness of the masa will be double after you fold them.
Add a strip of filling to the edge of the masa.
Fold the tamale so the two edges of masa meet.
Now fold  the excess corn husk around the tamale again.
Next, find the bottom of the tamale and fold the bottom part of the husk up.
Pinch the bottom edge of the tamale and set aside.
If you find that you're running out  of large husks, you can double up 2 smaller husks, just make sure that the tamale is sufficiently wrapped.

Make sure you store the tamales upright so the filling doesn't fall out.

There are other ways to wrap tamales. You can tie them with strips of husk or fold them at both ends, but this way is simple and efficient.

Step 8: Cheese Tamales

For the cheese tamales, add a layer of masa in a husk like the meat ones.

Lay a slice of pickled jalapeno and a slice of monterey jack cheese. Wrap as usual.

Are jalapenos too hot for you? Try a poblano pepper. Slice it up length wise and saute it in oil with a little salt and garlic until its soft. Use as you would the jalapeno.

Step 9: Sweet Tamales

You've probably never heard of a dessert tamale. I never had, but they are quite tasty.

For the sweet tamales, make a fresh, single batch of masa dough. The salt has been omitted and you use water instead of the meat broth.

-2 cups masa flour
-2 cups warm water
-1 tsp baking powder
-2/3 cups lard or shortening

Mix the masa and begin adding sugar, 1/4 cup at a time until its a good sweetness to you. Yes, its okay to taste it. When it is sweet enough, add some more sugar. You want the masa to be a little too sweet because the steaming process will wash out some of the sugar.

Add a few drop of red food coloring until the masa turns pink. This is totally optional but it will help distinguish between the other tamales once they are filled.

Add 1lb can of crushed pineapple with juice to the masa, mix
Add a handful of raisins, as many as you want, or omit altogether.

This masa is now ready to be filled into corn husks.

Since all the filling is in the dough, you will add more to the husk.

Because the filling is not as thick as the other tamales, it tends to sink to the bottom of the husk. A couple ways to keep this from happening is to tie the husk so it can't expand. You can also wedge them together in the pot so there's no room to move.

Step 10: Steaming the Tamales

Your newly made tamales now need to be steamed. If you have a large steamer, you can steam them all at once. If not, you can steam them in groups.
Start by placing the meat and cheese tamales at the bottom. Make sure they are standing up. Start by lining them up around the edge of the pot. Angle them so they wont fall over.
If you are steaming sweet tamales as well, make sure that they are on top of the meat and cheese ones, otherwise you will get meat and cheese dripping into them. Its okay to stack them in layers.
Remember, If you don't have a steamer you can improvise by using a large pot with a wire rack raised at the bottom.

Cover the pot and steam the tamales for 2 hours.
Make sure the water at the bottom of the pot doesn't dry out. If it does, the bottom will start to burn and you will know.

Step 11: The Finished Product

Enjoy your tamales. Be careful, they are hot right out of the steamer.

Tamales freeze very well. To reheat, you can throw it on a frying pan, steam again, or just microwave.

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    21 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I have a problem if there is anyone that can help me. I am making tamales and have never experience the Masa not wanting to stick to the corn husk. Is there anyone that has experience this and has a solution to this. Thank you

    1 reply

    Reply 1 year ago

    Try using vegetable or coconut oil instead of the lard...


    To sticky means to much water. Add more lard to start with. Mix well. You fingers should be greasy when you touch the masa. You can also add more maseca but you don't want it to be too dry.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I am making your tamales for the third time, and finally I am printing out the instructions so I don't have to keep running over to the computer screen. Thank you, they are so delicious, and easy!

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I always make a filling of sauteed onions, black beans, corn, green onions, cilantro and different cheeses - motz, cheddar and monteray jack, which I mix in after it has cooled. There is another 'ible that says to use a corn husk to scoop and flatten the masa onto the main corn husk, and that is an amazing hint because nothing sticks to it and you can use your palm to totally flatten the masa to just the right thickness in two seconds.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Nice instructable.  I hope everyone goes out and makes tamales, it's fun to do in a group hanging out in the kitchen.  Also just an fyi for everyone the singular form of tamales is tamal, not the far more common tamale.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent instructable.  These look great.  I have Mexican in-laws and they would approve!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Beautiful!  My wife makes tamales every year for Christmas and gives them out as gifts and for Christmas Eve parties, etc.  She is always looking for new ideas and you have done a tremendous job on this Instructable.
    I printed out a .pdf copy for her. I'm sure she'll pick up some new ideas and hints from you.

    Mucho gracias!

    1 reply

    10 years ago on Introduction

    I have always wanted to know how to make tamales because I wanted to be able to put good quality meat inside (lived a good life, outside, saw the sun, ate grass, no growth hormones, etc), so thank you very much - your attention to detail is just great, 5 *'s.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    REALLY dumb question here, that I have been too embarrassed to ask... Do you eat the husk? or is it just a wrapper around the edible bits?
    I've obviously never been offered a tamale, and it is NEVER mentioned in the recipes...

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I had a friend in school who had a tamale for the first time, but thought that they were too tough. He was trying to eat the husk too.
    No, you don't eat the husk, its just a wrapper. You just throw it out.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you,
    Maybe I'll give them a try. They always sounded like they would be too tough and stringy to bother with....
     That would make all the difference!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    They make the best tamales at 7-11, i know, it's weird but they are Good.