Authentic Mexican Tamales: A Recipe for Delight

The aroma of freshly cooked corn dough, swathed in fragrant chile sauce, and packed with succulent meats and vegetables – this is the essence of authentic Mexican tamales. A dish that has been savored in Mexico for centuries, tamales are a symbol of tradition, comfort, and community.

As a chef who has spent years mastering the art of traditional Mexican cuisine, I believe that there is nothing quite like the taste of an authentic homemade tamale. That’s why I’m sharing my recipe for Mexican tamales—who knows better than my mom who makes the most amazing tamales ever? With the right ingredients and technique, you can recreate this beloved dish in your own kitchen.

In this article, I’ll guide you step-by-step through the process of making delicious pork tamales rojos using corn husks, masa harina flour and a red chili sauce that will knock your socks off! But before we dive into the recipe itself, let me tell you about why you’re going to fall in love with this authentic Mexican tamales recipe.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

Authentic Mexican Tamales
Authentic Mexican Tamales

Are you in the mood for something spicy and flavorful? Look no further than this authentic Mexican tamales recipe! Made with traditional ingredients like masa harina, red chili sauce, and succulent pork shoulder, this dish will transport your taste buds right to the heart of Mexico.

What sets these tamales apart from store-bought alternatives is the care and attention that goes into each step. From making the masa dough to wrapping each one in corn husks, these tamales are a labor of love. The end result is a light, fluffy dough filled with tender meat and the perfect balance of seasonings.

But why will you love this recipe specifically? For starters, it allows for flexibility and creativity in your fillings. While we recommend using pork shoulder, you can easily substitute it for beef or chicken to suit your preferences. You can also experiment with different fillings like beans, cheese, or even salsa verde.

Another reason to love this recipe is that it’s perfect for gatherings of family and friends. The process of making tamales can be turned into a fun group activity where each person can contribute to the filling or wrapping process. Plus, once they’re ready to eat, they make for a colorful and impressive display on any table.

Ultimately, you’ll love this authentic Mexican tamales recipe because it celebrates tradition while allowing for personalization. Whether you’re an experienced cook or just starting out, this recipe is a great way to connect with Mexican cuisine and impress your loved ones with your culinary skills.

Ingredient List

 Steaming hot tamales fresh out of the pot!
Steaming hot tamales fresh out of the pot!

Masa Dough:

  • 4 cups Masa Harina Flour
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1.5 cups Pork Broth or Chicken Broth
  • 1.25 cups Lard or Shortening
  • 2 teaspoons Paprika (optional)


  • 2 lbs Pork Shoulder or Beef Chuck Roast, cubed
  • 12 -16 oz Homemade Red Chili Sauce
  • 4 cloves Garlic, minced
  • Salt to taste


  • Corn Husks or Banana Leaves (soaked in water for a few hours and drained)

These are the main ingredients you need to make the authentic Mexican tamales recipe. You can adjust the recipe to your liking by adding different fillings – such as beans, cheese, or vegetables – in addition to the pork or beef filling mentioned above. Alternatively, you can keep it vegetarian by using cheese and veggies only.

The Recipe How-To

 Get ready for a delicious fiesta with these tamales.
Get ready for a delicious fiesta with these tamales.

Now that we have gone through the ingredient list, let’s start with the recipe. With this authentic Mexican tamales recipe, you will be able to experience the traditional and rich flavors of Mexican cuisine.

Cook The Meat

To begin, cook the pork shoulder or beef brisket in a large pot with enough water to cover it. Season the meat with two teaspoons of salt and let it simmer for two hours or until the meat becomes tender.

Once cooked, let it cool and shred into small pieces using a fork. Reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid.

Prepare The Masa Dough

In a separate bowl, combine 4 cups of masa harina flour with 1 tablespoon of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of salt, and mix thoroughly.

In another bowl, whisk together 2 cups of warm water and 1 cup of red chili sauce (or two tablespoons for every cup of water), gradually pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture while stirring until you reach a light and fluffy consistency.

Add a cup of lard or vegetable shortening to make the dough more pliable, Mix well until you achieve a spreadable texture.

Prepare The Corn Husks

Soak dried corn husks in warm water for an hour or until they become soft and pliable. Use banana leaves as an alternative but rinse them thoroughly first to get rid of any natural substances like dust, dirt or sap.

Assemble The Tamales

Grab one soaked corn husk or banana leave then scoop about 2 tablespoons of the masa dough with a spoon and spread it into a thin layer over the husk/leaves leaving at least an inch from the edges.

Add a spoonful of shredded pork or your chosen filling (i.e., beans and cheese) on top of the dough then fold both ends toward the center and roll it over itself tightly. Tie both ends using a small string.

Repeat the process until all the dough/filling is used up.

Steam The Tamales

Place the tamales onto a vegetable steamer or tamale steamer, making sure the opening is facing upwards. Pour in approximately two cups of reserved cooking liquid and let the tamales steam for an hour or until cooked.

Serve The Tamales

Once fully cooked, remove the tamales from the steamer and let them cool down for 10 minutes before serving. Serve it with your favorite garnish like salsa verde and enjoy!

This recipe may take some time and effort, but once you taste these authentic Mexican tamales, you’ll be transported to traditional Mexico in just one bite.

Substitutions and Variations

 The perfect balance of corn masa and savory filling.
The perfect balance of corn masa and savory filling.

When it comes to making Mexican tamales, there are countless varieties and substitutions you can experiment with. These versatile treats can be made with a range of meats, vegetables, and sauces, so feel free to get creative and try out different combinations. Here are some ideas for variations and substitutions:

– Instead of using pork or beef, try using shredded chicken or turkey in your tamales.

– Vegetarians can substitute the meat with beans, cheese or vegetables such as mushrooms, zucchini, or bell peppers.

– For a spicier flavor, try adding chopped jalapenos to your masa dough or use a hot salsa as your filling.

– For a sweeter twist on tamales, add raisins, cinnamon or sugar to the masa dough and use pineapple juice as liquid in place of water.

– You can also experiment with different fillings such as roasted poblano peppers, black beans, corn or even chocolate for a dessert version.

– If you don’t have access to corn husks or banana leaves for wrapping your tamales, parchment paper can work just as well.

Remember that authentic Mexican tamales rely heavily on the use of spices paired with unique local ingredients. So have fun experimenting with different flavors while staying true to the essence of this classic dish. With some creativity and experimentation, you are sure to surprise yourself with new mouth-watering tamales recipes!

Serving and Pairing

 Wrap up your taste buds in a flavorful experience.
Wrap up your taste buds in a flavorful experience.

After all the hard work put into making these authentic Mexican tamales, it’s time to relish in the deliciousness. While they can definitely stand alone as a meal, pairing with sides and sauces can elevate the flavors even further.

First and foremost, I recommend serving them with a generous amount of red chili sauce, which not only contributes to the taste but also adds some extra spice. For meat-lovers out there, these tamales pair perfectly with some rice and refried beans topped with queso fresco. However, if you’re looking for something more refreshing, consider pairing with a crisp salad and an avocado crema on top of your tamales.

For those hosting a dinner party or hoping to serve up these tamales as an appetizer, try preparing a variety of flavors like pork tamales rojos or beef tamales paired with sweet tamales or salsa verde chicken tamales. All in all, the customizable nature of this dish makes it versatile enough to be paired with almost anything.

Whether it’s a busy weeknight dinner or special occasion feast, you’re guaranteed to impress your guests with these moist and flavorful authentic Mexican tamales. Just serve them along your favorite toppings and dishes for an endless combination of taste!

Make-Ahead, Storing and Reheating

 These tamales will transport you straight to Mexico.
These tamales will transport you straight to Mexico.

Making tamales can be a time-consuming process, but luckily they can be made ahead of time and stored until ready to eat. Once the tamales are assembled and steamed, let them cool to room temperature before transferring them to an airtight container or re-sealable plastic bags. The tamales can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days or in the freezer for up to three months.

To reheat refrigerated tamales, wrap them in damp paper towels and microwave for 2-3 minutes per tamale on high. Alternatively, you can steam the tamales again by placing them in a steamer basket over boiling water for 10-15 minutes.

If reheating frozen tamales, thaw them in the fridge overnight before following the same reheating methods as refrigerated tamales.

It’s important to note that the texture of reheated tamales may not be as light and fluffy as freshly steamed ones. However, they still taste delicious and are perfect for a quick meal or snack.

Bonus Tip: Tamales also make great leftovers for breakfast! Try reheating them and serving with a fried egg on top for a tasty morning meal.

Tips for Perfect Results

 A true labor of love - it's worth the effort!
A true labor of love – it’s worth the effort!

Making authentic Mexican tamales can seem daunting, but don’t let that discourage you from trying. With a little patience and attention to detail, you can make perfect tamales every time. Here are some tips to help you achieve great results:

1. Soak the Corn Husks – Soaking corn husks in warm water for at least an hour before using them will make them more pliable and easier to handle. Make sure that the husks are completely submerged in water during this time.

2. Use Good Quality Masa Harina – The quality of the masa harina flour used can greatly affect the final taste and texture of your tamales. Be sure to use high-quality masa harina for an authentic flavor.

3. Don’t Overfill – When filling the husks with the masa dough and filling, be careful not to overfill them. Overfilling can cause the tamales to burst during cooking.

4. Keep it Moist – Adding a bit more fat or broth to the masa mixture will keep your tamales moist and tender.

5. Steam Them Right – Proper steaming is essential for perfectly cooked tamales. Be sure to use enough water in the steamer pot and avoid overcrowding the pot.

6. Let Them Rest – After steaming, let your tamales rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. This allows them to set and become more cohesive.

7. Try Different Fillings – Traditional Mexican tamales are made with pork or beef, but you can get creative with fillings like chicken, cheese, beans or vegetables.

8. Serve with Salsa Verde – A tangy salsa verde is a perfect accompaniment to these savory tamales.

With these helpful tips, you’ll be well on your way to making delicious, authentic Mexican tamales at home!


Now, we have arrived at the FAQ section of our Authentic Mexican Tamales Recipe. Here you will find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions by those who are attempting to prepare this delicious dish for the first time. Don’t worry if you’ve never made tamales before, with a little guidance and these helpful tips, you’ll be cooking up authentic homemade tamales in no time!

What are real Mexican tamales made of?

If you’re looking for a classic Mexican dish, tamales are a great option to try. These tasty treats are made with a mixture of cornmeal dough, filled with meat or beans and cheese, and steamed in either corn husks or banana leaves. Once cooked, the tamales are removed from their wrapping and ready to eat. Make sure to top with some pico de gallo and serve with guacamole and rice for an authentic and delicious meal.

What is the secret to moist tamales?

To achieve delicious and moist tamales, it is important to embrace the addition of fat. Traditional Mexican recipes call for the use of lard, but if you prefer a vegetarian option, you can substitute it for shortening or softened butter.

What is best masa for tamales?

When it comes to selecting masa harina, many culinary experts recommend going for the Maseca brand. This specific brand is known for its exceptional taste and texture. If you are planning on making tamales, Maseca also produces a coarser masa harina that is perfect for the job. To ensure the longevity of your masa harina, store it in a sealed container, in a cool and dry location for up to 3 months, or in the freezer for up to a year.

What’s the difference between Mexican and Cuban tamales?

When it comes to tamales, the filling can vary depending on the country of origin. While Mexican tamales typically have chunks of pre-cooked chicken or pork mixed with the masa, Cuban tamales have a evenly distributed mixture of seasoned fried pork throughout the dough. Additionally, Mexican tamales are commonly served with red or green chile sauce.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, this authentic Mexican tamales recipe is the perfect meal to share with your loved ones. Its unique combination of flavors and textures makes it a true delight for any food lover. With its traditional preparation and wholesome ingredients, you are sure to impress your guests and create a memorable experience. Whether you choose to make pork tamales rojos, beef tamales, or even sweet tamales with caramelized bananas and raisins, this recipe will guide you step-by-step towards an authentic homemade meal. So why not try making tamales the next time you crave a delicious and comforting dish made with corn-based dough mixture filled with various meats, beans, cheese, or even salsa verde? Trust me, your taste buds will thank you!

Authentic Mexican Tamales

Authentic Mexican Tamales Recipe

In response to a request. I have not made these myself...but have had many a happy New Years eating them when received from a neighbor! I have no idea how long this takes. Seems like the family all got together before the holiday and spent the day cooking various amazing Mexican delights.
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Prep Time 2 hrs
Cook Time 4 hrs
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Calories 644.8 kcal


  • 5 lbs lean pork or 5 lbs beef, cooked and shredded
  • 6 -7 lbs fresh masa harina flour
  • 1 1/2 lbs lard
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 1/2 pints red chili sauce
  • 1 bunch corn husk (oujas)


  • To make tamales, cook meat by boiling in a large covered pot with enough water to cover completely.
  • Add salt to taste and slow boil till completely done.
  • Cool meat and save broth.
  • When meat has cooled, shred and mix in the chili sauce.
  • Clean oujas (corn shucks or outer husk) in warm water.
  • (make masa by hand or with mixer) Mix the masa, lard, salt and enough broth to make a smooth paste.
  • Beat till a small amount (1 tsp) will float in a cup of cool water.
  • Spread masa (1/8 to 1/4 inch thick layer, or to preference) on ouja, add a small amount of meat and roll up.
  • Fold up ends of ouja and place (fold down) on a rack in a pan deep enough to steam.
  • Add 1 to 2 inches water, cover with a tight fitting lid and steam about 1 1/2 hours.
  • (a cloth can be used under the lid to make a tighter fit) You can use a combination of beef and pork, use chicken or even fried beans.
  • One or two olives may be added to the center or try adding a few raisins.
  • This recipe will make 4 to 5 dozen Mexican tamales.

Add Your Own Notes


Serving: 142gCalories: 644.8kcalCarbohydrates: 69.3gProtein: 24.6gFat: 30.5gSaturated Fat: 10.9gCholesterol: 66.2mgSodium: 276.4mgFiber: 5.8gSugar: 1.5g
Keyword For Large Groups, Inexpensive, Meat, Mexican, Pork, Potluck, Poultry, Southwestern, Spicy, Steam, Stove Top, Weeknight
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Dora is a chef well-versed in Brazilian and American cuisine. After a hard day's work in the kitchen of her restaurant, she finds the time to jot down recipes for her food blog. Her recipes are sure to delight foodies everywhere, as she strives to make each one unique and enjoyable to read.