Mouth-Watering Turkey Tamale Recipe You’ll Love!

Good Eats Turkey Tamales recipe by Alton Brown is a mouthwatering meal that provides a unique and memorable dining experience. As a chef specializing in Brazilian and American cuisine, I can attest to the amazing fusion of flavors in this recipe.

Alton Brown is widely known for his culinary expertise as a host of Food Network’s “Good Eats”, where he explores cooking science while providing easy-to-follow instructions for delicious dishes. In his 2009 recipe of turkey tamales, Alton successfully combines traditional Mexican tamales with Thanksgiving leftovers to create a wonderful fusion meal.

This recipe utilizes classic tamale preparation techniques such as soaking corn husks, creating masa dough, which is then filled with meat, vegetables and other ingredients, wrapped up in corn husks and steamed. The result is an incredibly soft and flavorful bread-like texture that compliments the filling beautifully.

Turkey tamales are perfect for holiday meals, family gatherings or even just an intimate dinner with friends. In this article, I will provide you with a detailed ingredient list, step-by-step instructions on how to make good eats turkey tamales, substitutions and variations you can try, pairing suggestions and tips for success. So, grab your apron, it’s time to experience the magic of Alton Brown’s turkey tamales recipe!

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

Good Eats Turkey Tamales (Alton Brown 2009)
Good Eats Turkey Tamales (Alton Brown 2009)

Are you looking for a succulent and savory dish that is both filling and flavorful? Look no further, because this Good Eats Turkey Tamales recipe from Alton Brown is sure to satisfy your cravings.

With its combination of traditional Mexican masa harina and tender turkey meat, this dish is both comforting and innovative. The spicy kick from the serrano chili and cayenne pepper will have your taste buds dancing with every bite, while the dried oregano adds a subtle and herbaceous touch. And let’s not forget the depth of flavor brought by the ground cumin and chili powder!

But what truly sets these tamales apart is their versatility. They are perfect for a festive dinner party or a cozy night in with family, able to pair well with a variety of sides such as roasted vegetables, rice or beans. And if you have leftovers, they make for an excellent lunch option that can easily be reheated.

So take a chance and give this recipe a try. You won’t regret it!

Ingredient List

 Masa dough ready for tamale-making fun!
Masa dough ready for tamale-making fun!

The key to a flavorful tamale is in the ingredients. Here’s everything you’ll need to prepare Good Eats Turkey Tamales:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 4 cups masa harina
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 serrano chili, minced (seeds and all)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • Meat filling made from turkey legs (6), see note below*
  • Corn husks (about 30) for wrapping the tamales

*Note: To make the meat filling, place chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano, salt, and black pepper in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add turkey legs (6) and enough water to completely cover them. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 3 hours until the meat is tender. Cool the broth and remove the turkey meat from the bones discarding any fat or vegetables. Shred the meat finely with a fork or your fingers.

Additionally, you will need cup of vegetable oil for frying the tamales after they are steamed.

The Recipe How-To

 Perfectly cooked turkey meat for a super flavorful tamale filling
Perfectly cooked turkey meat for a super flavorful tamale filling

Once you’ve gathered all of the necessary ingredients, it’s time to dive into making the Good Eats Turkey Tamales.

Prepping the Corn Husks

First things first, soak the corn husks so they’re pliable enough to roll around the filling. Place them in a large pot and cover with hot water. Allow them to soak for at least an hour, or until they’re soft enough to easily bend.

Preparing the Meat Filling

Begin by seasoning the turkey legs generously with kosher salt and black pepper. In a separate pot, add enough water to completely cover the turkey legs and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and allow the turkey legs to cook for 1-2 hours, or until they’re tender enough to shred.

Once the turkey has cooled down, start shredding it by hand and set it aside in a large bowl. Now, over medium heat, place chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano, salt and black pepper in a pan and toast it up. Add tomato paste and continue cooking until fragrant. Once fragrant add chopped onion, minced serrano chili peppers (remove the seeds) and minced garlic cloves (use as many as your taste buds prefer). Finally, stir in one cup of water then pour the mixture over the shredded turkey stirring until well combined.

Making the Masa Dough

In a mixing bowl combine masa harina with baking powder and kosher salt. Then slowly add in warm water while mixing until it becomes a smooth dough. It should be moist enough that it doesn’t crack when formed into a ball but not sticky either.

Assembling Tamales

Take a soaked corn husk on your palm like holding an open book then apply about 2 tablespoons of masa dough near one end without going all the way through. Once it’s spreaded nice and evenly add about 1 to 2 tablespoons of the meat filling on top of the dough in the center. Fold up the sides of husk over one another until dough surrounds filling tightly, and then fold up the bottom. Lastly, tie the tamale together with strips of husk or twine.

Steaming Tamales

Now, in a 6-quart pot, place a small rack at the bottom or wad up a few extra corn husks to prevent direct contact between tamales and water; add enough hot water to almost reach rack or corn husks. Over medium high heat bring the water to boil then reduce the heat to medium-low and allow tamales to steam for about an hour.

Enjoying Your Tamales

Once every aspect of the tamales is cooked through thoroughly, remove them from heat and let them sit for 5-10 minutes before unwrapping them. Serve hot with any toppings you prefer, such as salsa or sour cream, and enjoy your delicious Good E

Substitutions and Variations

 Adding just the right amount of filling to make the ideal tamale
Adding just the right amount of filling to make the ideal tamale

While this recipe is already a delightful twist on typical Tamale dishes, you can further customize it to suit your palate! Here are some potential swaps or changes you can make:

– Meat filling: If you’re not a fan of turkey, swap in shredded chicken or pork instead. For a vegetarian option, try black beans or sweet potatoes with onions and peppers.

– Chili powder: Depending on your spice preference, adjust the amount of chili powder you use. If you want it milder, use only 1 teaspoon or omit altogether. For a spicier kick, add up to 2 teaspoons.

– Corn husks: If you can’t find corn husks or prefer a different flavor, try using banana leaves in the same way. They impart a slightly sweet and earthy taste.

– Tomato paste: While this recipe calls for 1/4 cup of tomato paste, feel free to adjust it if you want more or less tomato flavor. You could also swap in diced tomatoes instead for a chunkier texture.

Remember that cooking is all about experimenting and finding what works for you. Don’t be afraid to try new combinations!

Serving and Pairing

 Tightly rolling the tamales to keep that stuffing inside
Tightly rolling the tamales to keep that stuffing inside

Once your turkey tamales are steaming hot and ready to be served, it’s time to think about the perfect pairing. The savory and spicy flavors of these tamales truly shine when paired with complementary dishes and drinks.

For a classic Mexican-inspired meal, consider serving your turkey tamales with a side of Mexican rice, topped with fresh guacamole, salsa or Pico de gallo. You can also add some black or pinto beans as a side dish for added protein and fiber.

If you’re looking for a more casual snack-style dish, try serving your turkey tamales with some tortilla chips or plantain chips, along with some creamy queso dip or fresh tomato soup. This is also a great option for a party or game-night spread.

For an adult beverage pairing, I highly recommend going for a cold cerveza, like a Pacifico or Dos Equis. If beer isn’t your thing, opt for a spicy Michelada to really bring out the flavors in the tamales. If you prefer wine, try pairing your tamales with an aromatic white wine such as a Riesling or Chenin Blanc. The acidity in the wine will help cut through the spiciness of the tamales.

No matter how you choose to serve these delicious turkey tamales, one thing is certain: they’re sure to be a hit with all of your friends and family.

Make-Ahead, Storing and Reheating

 Drizzling sour cream over the cooked and ready-to-serve tamales
Drizzling sour cream over the cooked and ready-to-serve tamales

Once the Good Eats Turkey Tamales are cooked, they can be stored for up to three days in the refrigerator. If you plan on making them ahead of time, wait until they cool down completely and then wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. To reheat, you can either use the microwave or the oven.

If reheating in the microwave, wrap one or two tamales in a damp paper towel and heat for about 2-3 minutes or until warmed through. Be careful not to overheat them and let them rest for a few minutes before eating.

For reheating in the oven, preheat it to 350°F (175°C). In a baking dish, arrange the tamales and add a small amount of water to create steam. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20-25 minutes or until heated through. Let them rest for a few minutes before serving.

Keep in mind that reheating may affect the texture of the masa harina dough which may become slightly drier than when freshly made. So, if possible, enjoy your Good Eats Turkey Tamales right after cooking them for the best possible experience.

Tips for Perfect Results

When it comes to preparing tamales, every detail counts. From the mixing of the dough to the wrapping process, each step has its nuances that can make all the difference between a perfectly fluffy tamale and one that is too dry or too chewy. Here are some tips for achieving consistent and delicious results when making Good Eats Turkey Tamales.

One of the keys to great tamales is getting the right consistency of the masa dough. Be sure to use masa harina, which is specifically designed for this purpose. Do not try to substitute with regular cornmeal or corn flour, as it will yield a different texture and flavor. When mixing the dough, make sure it is moist enough to spread easily on the corn husks but not so wet that it starts to stick everywhere.

Equally essential is correctly cooking the turkey legs or any other meat you use as a filling. Alton Brown’s recipe instructs boiling six turkey legs in a large pot until they are cooked through, and then shredding the meat off with two forks. If you have leftover roasted turkey from Thanksgiving, this can also be an excellent choice. The meat should be juicy and tender but not overly greasy or fatty.

When preparing your spice mix, take care to adjust quantities before committing everything. If you prefer spicier tamales like me, feel free to add more chili powder and cayenne pepper than what Alton Brown suggests in his recipe. Adjustments will depend mainly on personal preference, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

It also helps if you spend a few minutes soaking the corn husks in warm water before starting the wrapping process. This makes them pliable and easier to manipulate without tearing them apart.

Lastly, if you want your tamales’ flavor profile more diverse or nuanced, consider varying your fillings instead of using only turkey or another single ingredient filling. For instance, you can try adding diced vegetables and cheese, or even some fruit and spices to the mix.

By following these tips, you’ll be one step closer to achieving tamales that are as delicious as they are savory!


Now, let’s address some frequently asked questions about this tasty and unique recipe. We understand that tamales can be intimidating, especially for those who have never made them before. Don’t worry, because we’re here to answer any doubts you may have and make sure you achieve perfect results every time.

How much salt do you put in tamales?

For this recipe, you will need 30 dried corn husks that have rounded bases. It’s best to use pork lard, about 1 cup or 8 ounces, but you can also use a substitute if preferred. You’ll need 3 cups of tamal flour and 2 cups of hot water, around 110°F. For seasoning, add a teaspoon of fine salt, or 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Lastly, you’ll need 2/3 cup of vegetable oil to complete the dish.

What is tamales a delicacy of?

A beloved dish in El Salvador, tamales are commonly enjoyed during special occasions such as Christmas. They are made using a corn masa dough and wrapped in banana leaves, then filled with ingredients ranging from chicken to vegetables and beans.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, the Good Eats Turkey Tamales recipe by Alton Brown 2009 is a must-try for anyone who loves flavorful and exciting food. With the perfect balance of spices and a tender meat filling, these tamales are sure to impress even the most discerning palate. But don’t just take my word for it; try it out for yourself! Don’t be afraid to make substitutions and variations to suit your taste. The recipe is versatile enough to accommodate different preferences and dietary restrictions.

Whether you’re entertaining guests or simply craving a delicious home-cooked meal, these turkey tamales are sure to satisfy. So gather your ingredients, follow the steps carefully, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. As Alton Brown once said, “A tamale never dies; it simply goes on to a better place.” And trust me, with this recipe, you’ll be transported to a world of tantalizing flavors and culinary delights that you won’t soon forget.

Good Eats Turkey Tamales (Alton Brown 2009)

Good Eats Turkey Tamales (Alton Brown 2009) Recipe

Another Alton Brown recipe. Adding some shredded cheese to the filling sounds yummy. 🙂 Put here for safe keeping. Posted from Also try Recipe #369951
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Cook Time 4 hrs
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 24 Tamales
Calories 229.3 kcal



  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika (optional, our suggestion)
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 turkey legs, raw (approximately 2 1/4 pounds)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 serrano chili, seeded and finely minced
  • 3 ounces tomato paste (optional, our suggestion)


  • 15 ounces masa harina (about 3 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup lard


  • 24 dried corn husks


  • MEAT FILLING: Place chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano, salt, black pepper and turkey legs into a 6-quart pot and add enough water to completely cover the meat, approximately 2 1/2 quarts. Cover, place over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the meat is very tender and falling apart, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  • Remove the meat from the water to a cutting board, and set aside to cool. Leave the cooking liquid in the pot (add tomato paste to liquid now if using). Once the turkey legs are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bone and shred, discarding any skin or cartilage. Place a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat and add the vegetable oil. Once shimmering, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are semi-translucent, approximately 2 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and chili and continue to cook for another minute. Add the meat and 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking liquid and cook until heated through and the liquid has evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside until ready to assemble.
  • FOR THE WRAPPERS: While the meat is cooking, place the husks in a large bowl or container and submerge completely in hot water. Soak the husks until they are soft and pliable, at least 45 minutes and up to 2 hours. If you have an electric kettle, place the husks in the kettle, fill with water and turn on. Once the kettle turns off, allow the husks to sit for 1 hour in the hot water.
  • FOR THE DOUGH: Place the masa, salt, and baking powder into a large mixing bowl and combine. Add the lard and using your hands, knead together until the lard is well incorporated into the dry mixture. Gradually add enough of the reserved cooking liquid, 2 to 4 cups to create a dough that is like thick mashed potatoes. The dough should be moist but not wet. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and set aside until ready to use.
  • ASSEMBLY: Remove a corn husk from the water and pat to remove excess water. Working in batches of 6, lay the husks on a towel and spread about 2 tablespoons of the dough in an even layer across the wide end of the husk to within 1/2-inch of the edges. Spoon about 2 teaspoons of the meat mixture in a line down the center of the dough. Roll the husk so the dough surrounds the meat and fold the bottom under to finish creating the tamale. Repeat until all the husks, dough and filling are used. Tie the tamales, around the center, individually or in groups of 3, with kitchen twine.
  • STEAMING THE TAMALES: Place a steamer basket in the bottom of an 11-quart pot and add enough water to come to the bottom of the basket. Stand the tamales close together on their folded ends and lean them in towards the center, away from the sides of the pot. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat, then cover and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Check the water level every 15 to 20 minutes, and add boiling water by pouring down the side of the pot, if necessary. Steam until the dough is firm and pulls away from the husk easily, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  • Serve warm. Store leftover tamales, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, in the freezer, for up to a month. To reheat, remove the plastic wrap and steam until heated through.

Add Your Own Notes


Serving: 2466gCalories: 229.3kcalCarbohydrates: 15.3gProtein: 15.3gFat: 11.9gSaturated Fat: 3.5gCholesterol: 52.3mgSodium: 479.6mgFiber: 0.5gSugar: 0.6g
Keyword < 4 Hours, South American
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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.