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How Long do Tamales Take to Cook

How long do tamales take to cook is here. How to steam tamales in a pot, Dutch Oven or pressure cooker so they are tender and cooked thru are explained. Reheating leftovers can be done well too in the microwave!

How Long do Tamales Take to Cook

Cooking tamales can be tricky. Whether you make them homemade or buy them at the store frozen or fresh you might need some help. We’re here to explain a few methods you might want to try, the best of them all and why. (affiliate links present)

How long to Cook Tamales

The cooking time for tamales can vary depending on the recipe and the method of cooking. Generally, they are steamed to remain tender. This can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes or so total. The cook time will depend on the size and thickness of the tamales, as well as the amount of filling.

If you have ever had one or a few of these filled with shredded salsa chicken you know that they are incredible. Not something you can get all the time either so typically it is a real treat. It would be tragic if you did find a batch to purchase and then had no idea how to cook or reheat them. I’ve been there done that. Let’s assume you aren’t making these from scratch. If you did you likely have your own method.

How long to cook tamales

We occasionally have bought these babies at our local Mexican restaurant drive thru, but they only have them once a month. I’ve tried them frozen at the store too and of course they aren’t as good but filled with shredded beef those are actually not bad. You DO have to know how to steam them properly though.

How to Steam Tamales

We will start with the old fashioned stove method for red tamales if you don’t want to use a countertop appliance. If you are cooking tamales on the stovetop, it’s best to use a large pot or Dutch Oven with a steamer basket with a lid.

  1. Fill a large pot with 1-2 inches of water and place a steamer basket at the bottom of it.
  2. Arrange the amount you want to cook upright, making sure they are not overcrowded.
  3. Cover the pot with a tightly fitting lid and bring the water to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat to low and let them steam until masa dough has firmed and cooked all the way thru.
    • This typically takes 45 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes (if they are really thick)
    • Timing depends on their size and thickness.
  5. Check periodically to ensure there is enough water in the pot and add more if necessary.
  6. To test if they are completely done, remove one from the pot and let it cool for a few minutes. If the masa is firm and not mushy, the tamales are ready.

It’s important to ensure that they are fully cooked before serving. The meat inside should already be precooked so that shouldn’t be an issue but you don’t want to eat raw dough. Check by removing one from the pot, opening it up, and looking to see if the masa is cooked through and the filling is hot.

How to Steam Tamales

If you are using a pressure cooker, the cooking time will be shorter. After adding to the basket, you’ll cook on high pressure for about 10 minutes, then release the pressure quickly and allow to stand to rest for another 10-15.

Homemade Instant Pot Tamales

If you want to try and make these from scratch I have a simple recipe here for you. The dough can be bought premade sometimes but isn’t hard to blend together either. You can find corn husks in the ethnic aisle typically or online. This is how to make tamales masa, you’ll need;

  • 4 cups instant corn masa harina
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1.5 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 cups chicken broth

Think of these like wrapping presents a bit so the bottom is folded over and secured while the top is open and you can see the filling peeking out.

  1. Making masa: in a large bowl, add all ingredients together and blend. The texture will be like damp sand. Reserve drippings from your shredded pork or other meat.
    • Then, add the chicken broth about 1 cup at a time. Add 1 cup of drippings 1/4 cup at a time into the mix until it reaches a smooth peanut butter texture.
  2. To assemble the tamales: Soak and drain corn husks. Spread about ¼ cup of the masa mixture over the wide end of the corn husk, cover about 2/3 of the it.
    • Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of your shredded Mexican pot roast in the middle.
    • Or make pork for tamales if you want that meat.
    • Fold it up by bringing the sides over the filling, overlapping the edges. then, bend the bottom tip, folding upwards.
Homemade Instant Pot Tamales

Best way to Reheat Tamales

The best way to reheat frozen tamales previously cooked, or your homemade tamales recipe is to use steam them again. This will help to prevent them from drying out. I would not recommend an air fryer. If that is all you have wrap in aluminum foil but it isn’t the best method. To do it properly you need to:

  1. Boil water in a pot and place your steamer basket inside.
  2. Loosen corn husks a bit at the top and arrange them upright.
  3. Cover with a lid and let them steam for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Check periodically to ensure they are heated all the way through.

How to reheat tamales in the microwave

It’s important to note that reheating tamales in the oven, on the stovetop, or reheating tamales in an air fryer can cause them to dry out. Using steam or the microwave is the best way to maintain their texture and flavor. You can use this method for frozen already made that you cooked, or if you made them from scratch the day or two before.

  1. Remove corn husks if present.
  2. Place on a microwave safe plate and cover with a damp paper towel.
  3. Microwave on high or regular 100% power for 1-2 minutes, depending on their size and thickness.
  4. Start with 60 seconds and check to see if they are warmed, if not rewrap and add another minute.

Be sure to remove any corn husks or banana leaves before reheating them too. You do NOT want to overcook these my friends. Then warm some tamale sauce and pour that over the top to give it even more moisture.

Best way to reheat tamales

What to Make with Masa

If you do have more than you could use to make these you could make other dishes with it too like gorditas! These are a type of thick tortilla that is filled with various ingredients such as refried beans, cheese, and meat. To make them you would just form the masa into thick patties. Fry them on a griddle until they are golden brown. Then, slice open and fill them with your desired ingredients.

Another idea would be to make a few sopes. These are similar to to the one above but are shaped like small cups. You would form the dough into small rounds and press a small indentation in the center. Fry in a pan until they are golden brown. Then fill them with your desired ingredients.

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How Long do Tamales Take to Cook
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How Long do Tamales Take to Cook

How long do tamales take to cook is here. How to steam homemade tamales in a pot, Dutch Oven or pressure cooker. Reheating perfectly too.
Course Entree, Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Keyword steaming, tamales
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings 12
Author The Typical Mom



  • 6-12 tamales already made
  • 2-3 c water


  • Pressure cooker: Fill the electric pressure cooker with 1.5 cups of water. Set a steamer basket into the bottom. Stand the tamales vertically in the basket with the open end facing up. Seal the lid and steam valve. Set pressure cook to high for 10 minutes. Perform a quick release of the pressure. Let the tamales rest inside the pot for an additional 10 minutes. Lift lid, take out, check to ensure masa is cooked and enjoy.
  • Stovetop: Fill a large pot with 1-2 inches of water and put your steamer basket at the bottom. Arrange the amount you want to cook upright, making sure they are not overcrowded. Cover the pot with a lid and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let them steam until masa dough has firmed and cooked, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Check periodically to ensure there is enough water in the pot, add more if necessary. Test dough if is completely done before eating.


Nutrition Facts
How Long do Tamales Take to Cook
Amount Per Serving (1 oz)
Calories 0
% Daily Value*
Sodium 2mg0%
Calcium 1mg0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Recipe Rating

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