How to Make Tamales

In this post I want to show you how to make tamales. These particular ones are beef tamales but you can make them with chicken, pork, shrimp or vegetarian. Whatever trips your trigger. The spices that I use here are specific for beef, however.

In my opinion, when a tamal is moist and has the proper amount of filling you have succeeded! Making tamales in not super hard but it is labor intensive. So you do need to plan ahead. You could prepare the beef and chilies a day ahead of time if you wanted too.

This is a great project to involve friends and family in. Call them and ask them if they want to learn how to make tamales and you will have a nice amount of willing and able helpers!

Here is how to make tamales:

Makes 16 to 20 tamales

1- 2.5 to 3 pound flank steak or beef round roast
2 TBS ground cumin + 1 tsp. for the chilies
1 small white onion – cut into eighths + ½ for the chilies
1 chili pepper – halved (optional)
8 garlic cloves – smashed + 4 halved ones for the chilies
2 thyme sprigs
4 California dry chilies
2 ancho dry chilies
2 pasilla dry chilies
1½ a cup of soaking liquid
16 to 20 dry corn husks
4 cups masa harina for tamales
4 cups beef broth – hopefully the left over from the beef – luke warm
1 TBS baking powder
1 cup vegetable shortening
Boiling water
Salt & Pepper
2 TBS Canola oil

Rinse and pat dry the beef you are using. Season it with 1 TBS. salt, black pepper and 2 TBS ground cumin. Heat a large braising pan with the canola oil and brown the beef evenly on both sides. Set aside.

Discard all excess rendered fat. Add a little bit of water to the pan and scrape the brown bits from the bottom. Return the beef to the pot. Add the onion, garlic, chili pepper if using and thyme sprigs. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and reduce heat and cover. Braise meat for 2 to 3 hours, until soft enough to shred. Once cooked, remove meat from pan and allow cooling. Shred the beef by hand, discarding any fat. Strain the broth and save it. You will need 4 cups for the masa harina. If you do not have enough add water to complete the 4 cups.

Heat a large skillet. Add the chili pepper and dry roast until a bit charred and blistered on both sides. Place chilies in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Weigh the chilies down with a small plate. Soak for 30 minutes. Once soaked, remove the stems and seeds and place in a blender. Add the half white onion, remaining garlic cloves, 1 tsp. ground cumin, 2 tsp. salt and 1 ½ cups soaking liquid. Blend into a paste and taste for salt. Add more if necessary. Add the chili paste to the beef and mix well.

Carefully separate the corn husks and soak then in warm water in a clean sink for about 30 minutes. Once soaked, remove from sink and carefully pat dry. Place the husks in a baking sheet and cover with a damp kitchen towel.

Place 4 cups of masa harina in a bowl. Add the baking powder and 2 tsp. salt. Mix well. Place the shortening into a small bowl and whip until creamy. Using your fingertips, add the beef broth to the masa and mix well. Once you have incorporated it all, add the shortening and finish mixing.

Place a husk in front of you with the rough side down and the shorter end towards you. Spoon in a thin layer of masa harina – wetting the spoon as necessary to work. Spoon in some beef in the middle. Fold the short end onto the masa and start rolling the husk away from you until you have a nice tight roll. Press the ends. The dough will seal the husks. Do not worry if your filling seeps a little. It will steam into the masa harina and be absolutely delicious.

Stand the rolled tamales in a steaming basket. Cover them with a damp cotton towel. Cover the pot and steam for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Make sure you check the water levels in your steamer about every 30 minutes. Carefully remove the dish rag and one of the tamales. Let it cool a bit and check for doneness. If they are not fully cooked steam for a little longer.

Serve your tamales with your salsa of choice and enjoy. These will freeze beautifully so go ahead and make a bunch. Enjoy!

Note: You will find Mexican chilies, husks and the masa harina in the Hispanic aisle of your grocery store.

1 tamal – CALORIES 385.77; FAT 22.73 grs (sat 7.22; mono 7.21; poly 5.75); PROTEIN 22.56 grs ; FIBER 3.39 grs; CARBS 24.52 grs; CHOLESTEROL 48.98 mg; IRON 4.05 mg; SODIUM 881.85 mg; CALCIUM 90.57 mg

Print the Beef Tamales Recipe Here

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  • thank you so much for this. i was just talking about my dream for years has been to make tamales. I haven’t yet but can’t wait!!!!

  • Hi Lynda!
    I am so happy you will give this a try! Yay! I hope these come out wonderful! Thanks for coming by!
    Mary Ann

  • Thank you so much for this wonderfull recipe. I’ve made tamales before and they never come out right, my husband is begging me to stop making them. He is from Mexico so he defenetly know’s when they are good. I’ll try to make your way and I’ll let you know how they came out. Thank you (^^,)

  • Hi Olga!
    You are funny! Thank you so much for stopping by and giving these a try! I hope they come out perfect and your husband starts begging you to make more and more! I mix the masa only until the shortening is all incorporated into it. I do not over-mix it. Good luck my friend!
    Mary Ann

  • Thank you, if you are the frugal chef named Mary Ann i am pleased with every one of your receipes for mexican cooking. Tell me are you mexican. good proud of our heritage. So am I. Am a californmexican, first generation. I taught two my six kids and only the male boy does them for every holiday.

    dolores wharton


  • Hi Dolores!
    I am Mary Ann! Thank you so much for stopping by. I am very grateful for your message. I am not Mexican. I love Mexican food and have very close and dear Mexican friends. I love in California for many, many years and learned to cook Mexican dishes. I was born in New Mexico and raised in Bolivia. My dad is from Missouri and my mom is half German half Bolivian.

    Thank you again for stopping by! You made me very happy!
    Mary Ann

  • Hi Mary Ann!! I just discovered your website, via YouTube, and your recipes are wonderful!!! I want to make the beef tamales because they look yummy!!! Please excuse my ignorance, but what, exactly, is soaking liquid? Thank you so much for your reply and for all of these great recipes!!!

  • Hi Veronica!
    Welcome! I am so happy you found me and that you find value here. When you are hydrating the chilies you will cover them in water and they will soak for about 20 minutes. That is the soaking liquid. It absorbs some of the flavors and is great for adding to the blender when you are making a paste. Hope this helps! Much luck making these! They are delicious. Take care!
    Mary Ann

  • Mary Ann, I am so excited to have found your site via YouTube. I have never made tamales before but have always wanted to. This year my husband, who is a midwestern tamale lovin’ white boy, bought 2 dozen from his fabulous tamale connection at work. He came home and ate them all! I thought we’d freeze a few for Christmas, so now I have no Christmas dinner. My daughter, who loves the beef ones, was also upset, and mostly because he didn’t buy any beef tamales. That’s all it took for me to rally and look and find you and pledge to make her and me and MAYBE my husband beef tamales for Christmas dinner. I loved your video and your fun personality. Just my style!

  • Hi Ann!
    I am also very happy you found my website! I hope these come out perfect for you. Be nice. It is Christmas 😉 Let your hubby have at least one! Merry Christmas to you and all your family! Thank you for stopping by.
    Mary Ann

  • Hello, Mary Ann, I have an electric stove and would like to know if the steaming of the tamales should be at medium or medium high heat or low heat? Also, I live near a place that grinds the corn to make corn masa for tamales. Can you tell me how much masa to use…also with the same baking soda? I know that I have to mix the masa to be light enough to float a portion
    in water. Thanks very much. It seems that using the maseca is a lot easier!

  • Hi Grace!
    Thanks for stopping by! I recommend that you simmer your tamales on medium heat. Just make sure to add water to the steamer if it is running low. As for the masa, maseca is treated with lime and truly is great for making tamales. I have to be honest with you. I have never used freshly ground corn to make these. However, I think that if you use the same ratio of ground corn to liquid and you whip the shortening well you should be fine. I would go ahead and use the same amount of baking powder. I hope this helps! I would love to know how it works! Take care!
    Mary Ann

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