Tamales Remix

This December marked my 4th year in a row of tamale-making.  I wrote a step-by-step tutorial of my first experience HERE, and apparently it’s a topic people are interested in, because it was our most pinned/viewed post during December.

Of course, you learn as you go, so each year tamales get easier and easier to me.  This year, I have to say, was the best year yet!  I have streamlined the process that makes the tamale-making much more manageable.  On the “tamale making” day, I started at 8:30 and by 11 we were completely done with assembly and the tamales were on the stove steaming.

I adapted the original recipes to make them less time consuming without, in my opinion, losing the “integrity” of the taste.  So, please feel free to read my original post, but here is how to do it in much less time!  By breaking down the steps into three days, all the prep work is done and makes “Tamale-Making Day” go much smoother.


Day 1:  Make the Ancho Sauce

Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour

If you have never cooked with dry chilis before, making the entire batch of sauce with chilis can be daunting.  Just the time spent over the strainer alone is enough to turn you off of never doing it again.  So this year, I made some adjustments to my sauce.  I still rehydrated a dozen chili anchos, but I also added enchilada sauce to the mix.  This kept the nice ancho flavor, without some of the bitterness, and made the process much more manageable.

12 dried ancho chilis (these should be raisin-like and not crispy-dried),
2 (19 oz) cans of Enchilada Sauce,
2 tsp. oregano,
1 tsp. cumin,
1 tsp. salt,
1 Tbs. sugar.

Steps:  Heat a pot of water to boiling on the stove.  Open the dried ancho chilis, scrape out all the seeds and stems.  Once water is boiling, turn off heat and immerse the chilis in the water to rehydrate.  Cover.  This takes about 30 minutes.  Once the chilis are rehydrated (they will change color and become more pliable), move them with tongs to a blender.  Blend them into a paste.  Add the spices and about half a can of enchilada sauce and blend again until well mixed.  Pour into a pan on the stove, add the remaining can and a half of enchilada sauce and heat.  Cook for about 15 minutes, then cool and pour into jars or a container that can go in the fridge (I used two quart jars).

Day 2:  Prepare the Meat


Prep: 15-20 minutes
Crock Pot: 6-8 hours.

In the past, we have always made pork tamales, but I’m more of a beef girl, so this year, I decided to go with beef.


6 lbs. beef roast
1/2 cup chopped onion
8-10 garlic cloves
chili powder

Cut the roast into 1-2 inch cubes.  I cut most of the big pieces of fat off but some fat is okay.  Place in the crock pot.  Pour seasonings on top.  I probably put in a couple of Tbs. of cumin and about 1/4 cup of chili powder, but you can do what “smells right” to you.  Cook in the crock pot on low all day.

*Note: I have a KitchenAid mixer that I LOVE.  If you don’t have a stand mixer that will chop beef, I’m sure you could use a fork for this step:

For me, when the meat is cooked in it’s juices, I take the meat pieces out a little at a time and blend in my mixer (I show how I do this in THIS post).  It will shred the beef for you perfectly.  Return the meat back to its juices, and unplug the crock pot to let the meat cool.  Once the meat is cool, I take the whole bowl out of my crock pot and place it in the fridge.  If yours doesn’t detach, you can put the meat in a separate bowl or ziplock bag.

Day 3: Tamale Assembly

Time:  Most of your morning

Step 1: Set out your meat & ancho sauce

You don’t have to heat the meat to make your tamales, but go ahead and set the meat and the sauce out on the counter so they can be coming to room temperature as you make the masa.

Step 2: Prepare the corn husks

You will need to purchase a package of corn husks at a Mexican market or even regular grocery stores carry them in Texas around the holidays, especially.  Fill your sink with hot water.  Separate each individual corn husk, brushing off any corn silks or dirt, and place them in the water to soften.  You may need to set a plate or something on top of them to make sure they sink and stay covered in water.  I flip them every now and then to make sure they’re all getting saturated.  You can leave them soaking while you prepare the masa.  (Once they’re soft, set them on a towel & pat dry).

Step 4: Prepare the masa


10 lbs. masa (these come in 5 lbs. packages at a Mexican grocer already prepared with water and lime.  Make sure you get one with NO SALT added, but if that’s all you can find, it’s fine, just don’t add salt when you prepare it).
2 lbs. lard
4 Tbs. salt
4 cups chicken stock

I divide this job into four batches in my kitchenaid mixer.  For each batch, melt 8 oz. of lard on the stove.  Crumble 5 lbs. of the prepared masa into your mixer.  Add 1 Tbs. salt.  Start the mixer.  Alternate pouring in the melted lard with 1 cup of chicken stock, then mix on a relatively high speed for several minutes until the mixture resembles a butter-like spread.  When the masa is ready, a pinch of it will float in a cup of cold water.  If it sinks, you just need to whip it longer.  Eventually, it will float.  Promise.

Step 5:  Assemble

Pour your chili sauce into your meat and mix well.

Pat your corn husks dry.

Put all the masa in a big bowl or container.

Bring all these things to the table.  Another thing that I find to be a HUGE time saver is a masa spreader.  I found mine at HEB on an endcap of the canning supply aisle.  Watch this video, and it explains how to spread the masa onto your cornhusks:

Place a spoonful of the meat mixture into the center of your masa, fold both sides over, and then the top (with no masa on it) down.  Stack these into a pan as you go.  When you have enough, it’s time to steam the tamales.

Step 5: Steam

What you need is a pan with a steamer tray at the bottom, similar to this one:


You want to leave room in the middle to pour in additional water, as it evaporates, but you just layer your tamales into the steamer, cover with a damp kitchen towel, and then the lid, and then steam on medium heat.  I put a penny in the bottom, so you can hear the water boiling.  If the penny stops making noise, you need to add water.

Steaming your tamales can take a while, depending on how many tamales you make.  With all the ingredients above, I made about 10 dozen tamales.  You can start checking for doneness after an hour or two.  When they are done, the corn husks will peel away from the tamale easily without the masa being gummy.


Once you’re done, you have about 10 dozen tamales to show for your hard work!  Eat some, share some with friends, and freeze the rest!

Happy Tamale-Making!

Related posts:

About Laura

A Christian wife, mother, daughter, former educator, photographer, amateur chef, pretend gardener, alto 🎶, book nerd, cancer-survivor and laundry-hater.


23 Responses to Tamales Remix

  1. Rhoda S. January 2, 2015 at 11:34 am #

    On your original post, you said you used between 5-6 cups of the ancho water. It sounds like you have come up with a better tasting solution.

    My mother never uses the chile water, she says it makes the sauce bitter. She would use broth to blend the chiles, strain and then complete the chile sauce a bit of tomato sauce and different spices.

    I use El Pato enchilada sauce since it has the spices that taste good. I use broth instead of chile water to blend the chiles. I break up the process in two days. I cook the meat and make chile sauce on day one. I mix the sauce with the meat and the meat has a chance to marinate overnight. I find it easier to scoop the cold meat onto the tamale and using an ice-cream scoop is the right measure for my tamales. On day two, I soak the husks, make masa and put together the tamales. It does make for a long day, but I like to get it done in two days.

    There are a lot of different way of making tamales. I like your changes. Good job!

    • Laura January 2, 2015 at 5:50 pm #

      Thanks for your comments! I did feel like the ancho sauce was much less bitter, and I could easily see combining the meat & sauce making into one day. I’m enjoying learning as I go. Hopefully my girls will appreciate it, and will enjoy the tradition even more as they get older.

    • Debra December 15, 2015 at 9:19 pm #

      Hello I love Mexican food grew up on it .I remember my dad and my mom use to make Tamales we were the only African American family that did this but that was ok because our neighbors ate them anyway .My question is will the ancho chilies make it spicy ?

      • Laura December 17, 2015 at 8:58 pm #

        Hi Debra! The anchos are not spicy. They have a good flavor, but are not hot.

  2. Rebecca Hogan February 25, 2015 at 11:34 am #

    Hi! Am so excited to have found you all thru Pintrest!! I love love love tamales! I made some years ago with a neighbor and boy can I say THAT was a tough experience. Since then have sought out those wonderful Hispanic ladies who make them for sale but am really wanting to give it a go again myself. (Am not sure if I’m brave or crazy).
    All that being said I need a bit of help. I found the great video tutorial on the masa spreader and will be purchasing one but am not able to locate the pot with the steamer tray anywhere around where I live in North Carolina. Could you point me in the direction of where to order one online? I checked on Amazon and am not seeing anything like what you show here. Most of what they offer have steaming “baskets” and I’m thinking that may not work…idk.
    Thank you in advance for your assistance and for the great guidance with tamale making!!

    • Laura February 25, 2015 at 11:39 am #

      Thanks for your post. Lots of options here on Amazon: Tamale Steamer Search Hope that helps!

  3. Julie Cribb July 18, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    I just wanted to tell you how much I love this recipe. I made tamales for the first time today after reading many recipes. This is delicious! Tamale making is time consuming but not hard at all! I enlisted the help of my husband, daughter, and grandson. Not only did we make a delicious dinner, we spent the afternoon together. Thank you for the memory!

    • Laura July 19, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

      Thanks so much for letting me know! Glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Erin November 4, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

    Hello, I found your original tamale recipe through Pinterest. I’ve read both and I’d like to try your new and improved recipe. I do have a few questions though.
    1. Did you strain your chili/enchilada sauce at any time?
    2. Which specific brand enchilada sauce did you use?
    3. Can you easily trade out the beef for chicken or pork or will other substitutions/additions need to be made?
    4. Was there a specific way you freezes them to keep them tasting good? Also, how long did you keep them in the freezer? Wondering how long they will keep.
    Many Thanks! I can’t wait to make my own instead of trekking all over Austin looking for good tamale vendors!

    • Laura November 4, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

      1. I did with the old recipe, but I did not this year. You could, if you felt the blender or food processor didn’t get the sauce as smooth as you wanted.
      2. Old El Paso
      3. Yes. You can change out whatever meat filling you like.
      4. Just be sure to use good quality freezer bags. I freeze a dozen per bag. I’ve never had any left over a year, but the longest I’ve had them in there was probably 10 months or so, and they still tasted great. The best way to reheat them is to use the steamer again, but I’ve also put a wet dishcloth over them and reheated them in the microwave!

  5. Catrina December 26, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    Semi-lame question: do you add water to the crockpot?

    • Laura December 29, 2015 at 6:07 pm #

      For the meat? No, but you could definitely do that and it would be fine.

  6. D14me December 27, 2015 at 9:40 pm #

    I have freeze my tamales before cooking them, then took them out and steamed them, they were great and fresh;)

  7. Diana Sawyer September 1, 2016 at 7:13 am #

    so do we use broth for the ancho sauce or water

    • Laura September 17, 2016 at 8:36 pm #

      I use broth.

  8. Anna Menchaca September 27, 2016 at 8:06 pm #

    Your recipe for the masa says 10 pounds of masa in 5 pound bags, then you state that you divide it into 4 batches but you state 5 lbs masa with 1 Tbsp salt and alternate with melted lard and 1 cup of stock. Wouldn’t it be 2 1/2 lbs masa, 1 Tbsp salt, 1/2 lbs melted lard and 1 c stock per batch if divided into 4 batches?

    • Laura September 30, 2016 at 11:27 am #

      That’s correct. Less salt is easier to fix if it tastes bad than too much salt. :) If anything, use less, then add to taste.

  9. Kathryn December 24, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

    Laura, I just had to tell you that my four daughters and I used your tamale tutorial yesterday to make a big batch of tamales. It was the best! We did something each day and on the third day, we made our tamales. We were able to buy prepared masa at a tiendita here in San Diego and thought we’d hit pay dirt because it had everything (lard, chicken broth, etc.) in it. The guy at the store told us it was already to use. Thankfully, we’d read somewhere that if you did a float test with your masa and it floated, it was ready to use. After trying the prepared masa and watching it sink to the bottom of our glass, we knew we still had some prep to do. The only thing that we had trouble with was getting the thickness right when we spread the masa on the husks – that took some trial and error, but the final product, whether it was spread thick or thin, turned out tasting great. Your directions are clear enough that the rank amateurs we are could make a very fine batch of tamales. Thank you so much for teaching us! Merry Christmas :)

    • Laura January 4, 2017 at 9:37 am #

      I’m so glad the tutorial worked well for you! Hope you had a Merry Christmas!

  10. Norma December 30, 2016 at 9:23 pm #

    Hi, I got the masa but it was left with somewhat of a bitter taste. Any advice on how to fix that?

  11. Wendy September 27, 2017 at 10:41 am #

    My husband like ps his spicy. What do we add to make them spicy?


  1. Make the Most of Your Cinco de Mayo! - Barielle - May 5, 2015

    […] Photo Source: Trains and Tutus […]

  2. 20 Amazing Facts About Authentic Tamales | My Heart of Mexico - October 21, 2015

    […] Step-by-step Tamale Tutorial […]

Leave a Reply