How Long Do You Cook Tamales?


Tamales are a popular traditional Mexican dish made of masa (dough) filled with various ingredients such as meat, cheese, vegetables, or sweet fillings. They are wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed until cooked. Tamales are not only delicious but also have cultural significance, often served during holidays and celebrations. Cooking tamales can be a bit tricky, especially for first-timers, but with the right technique, they can be easily prepared at home.

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive guide on how long to cook tamales, including tips and tricks to ensure they are cooked to perfection.

Preparation of Tamales

Before cooking tamales, it’s essential to prepare the ingredients and equipment. The following are the necessary items to make tamales:


  • Masa (corn dough)
  • Meat or vegetables for filling
  • Spices and seasonings
  • Corn husks or banana leaves
  • Water or broth

Cooking Utensils

  • Large pot for steaming
  • Steamer basket or colander
  • Mixing bowls
  • Spatula or wooden spoon
  • Kitchen twine or toothpicks

Preparing the Masa

To prepare the masa, mix the masa harina (corn flour) with water or broth until it forms a smooth consistency. Add salt and other seasonings to taste. The masa should be soft and pliable but not too sticky. It’s important to let the masa rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour to allow the flavors to meld and the dough to become more manageable.

Once the masa is ready, it’s time to assemble the tamales. Spread a spoonful of masa onto a corn husk, leaving space on the edges. Add the filling in the center and fold the husk around the filling, tying the ends with kitchen twine or toothpicks. Repeat the process until all tamales are assembled.

Cooking the Tamales

Once the tamales are assembled, it’s time to cook them. The most common method for cooking tamales is steaming. To steam tamales, fill a large pot with water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the steaming basket or colander. Arrange the tamales with the folded end down in the steaming basket, cover with a lid, and steam for 1-2 hours. It’s essential to keep an eye on the water level and add more water as needed.

Time Required for Cooking Tamales

The cooking time for tamales varies depending on the type of filling, size, and thickness of the tamales. Generally, tamales take between 1-2 hours to cook fully. However, it’s crucial to check the tamales regularly to ensure they are not overcooked or undercooked. Overcooked tamales can become mushy, while undercooked tamales can be tough and chewy.

Testing for Doneness

To test for doneness, remove one tamale from the pot and let it cool for a few minutes. Unwrap the tamale and check the masa. If it’s cooked through and no longer sticky, the tamales are ready. If the masa is still sticky or has a doughy texture, steam the tamales for an additional 10-20 minutes and repeat the test.

Factors Affecting Cooking Time

Several factors can affect the cooking time of tamales, including:

Type of Tamales

Different types of tamales require different cooking times. Meat-filled tamales take longer to cook than vegetarian or sweet tamales. Tamales with a wet filling, such as salsa or mole, also take longer to cook than dry fillings.

Size of Tamales

The size of the tamales also affects the cooking time. Smaller tamales cook faster than larger ones. It’s essential to ensure that all tamales are of a consistent size to ensure even cooking.

Cooking Method

The cooking method can also affect the cooking time. Steaming tamales in a pot takes longer than steaming them in an instant pot or pressure cooker. It’s important to follow the cooking instructions carefully and adjust the cooking time as needed to ensure the tamales are cooked through.

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