How Long Does It Take to Cook Tamales

Tamales, a traditional Mexican dish wrapped in corn husks and filled with a variety of ingredients, have captured the hearts and taste buds of food enthusiasts worldwide. One question that often arises when preparing tamales is, “How long does it take to cook tamales?”

In this article, we will embark on a flavorful journey to discover the perfect cooking time for tamales and unravel the secrets behind achieving delectable results.

How Long Does It Take to Cook Tamales

What are Tamales?

Tamales are a popular traditional dish enjoyed in many Latin American countries, particularly in Mexico. These delicious treats consist of masa (a corn-based dough) filled with various savory or sweet fillings, wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves, and steamed to perfection. If you’re planning to make tamales at home, you may be doubting how long it takes to cook them.

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Traditional Ingredients and Variations

The beauty of tamales lies in their versatility. While the basic components remain the same, the fillings and flavors can vary widely. Traditional savory fillings include shredded meats like chicken, pork, or beef, combined with fragrant spices and sauces. Vegetarian options often feature beans, cheese, or a combination of vegetables. For those with a sweet tooth, tamales can be filled with fruits, such as pineapple or strawberry, and sweetened with sugar or cinnamon.

Preparation Time for Tamales

First, you need to prepare the masa dough, which involves soaking and grinding dried corn kernels. This can take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, depending on the technique you choose. Once the masa is ready, you’ll need to prepare the fillings, which can take an additional 30 minutes to an hour. Lastly, assembling the tamales by spreading the masa, adding the fillings, and wrapping them in corn husks or banana leaves will take around 1 to 2 hours, depending on your experience and the quantity you’re making.

Cook Tamales

How Long Does It Take to Cook Tamales?

Cooking tamales to perfection requires time and attention. The cooking time for tamales can vary depending on several factors such as the size of the tamales, the filling, and the cooking method.

1. Size of the Tamales

The size of the tamales plays a crucial role in determining the cooking time. Generally, larger tamales will take longer to cook compared to smaller ones. This is because larger tamales need more time for the heat to penetrate the filling and thoroughly cook the masa dough. Conversely, smaller tamales will require less time to cook as they have a smaller mass to heat through. Keep the size of your tamales in mind when estimating the cooking time.

2. Filling of the Tamales

The filling inside the tamales can also mark the cooking time. If you’re using meat as a filling, such as shredded chicken or pork, it may take longer to cook compared to vegetarian fillings or those that require minimal cooking, like cheese or beans. The additional cooking time for meat fillings ensures that the meat grasps a safe inside temperature and becomes tender. Consider the type of filling you’re using and adjust the cooking time accordingly.

3. Cooking Method

The cooking method you choose also affect the time it takes to cook tamales. There are several popular methods for cooking tamales, including steaming, using a slow cooker, or employing a pressure cooker. Let’s explore the cooking times for each method:

a. Steaming Tamales

Steaming is the traditional method for cooking tamales and often yields excellent results. To steam tamales, you’ll need a large pot with a steamer basket or a tamale steamer. Fill the pot with water, making sure it doesn’t touch the tamales when they’re placed in the steamer. On average, steaming tamales can take anywhere from 1 to 1.5 hours. However, it’s crucial to periodically check the tamales for doneness using the toothpick test.

b. Slow Cooking Tamales

Using a slow cooker is a convenient and hands-off method for cooking tamales. To cook tamales in a slow cooker, place them in the slow cooker and add some water broth to prevent them from drying out. Cook on low heat the tamales for 4 to 6 hours. Keep in mind that the cooking time can vary depending on your slow cooker, so monitor the tamales as they cook.

c. Pressure Cooking Tamales

Pressure cookers offer a time-saving option for cooking tamales. Add water and cook on high pressure for approximately 20 to 30 minutes. The high pressure and steam in the pressure cooker hasten the cooking process, reducing the overall cooking time. However, it’s essential to follow the specific instructions for your pressure cooker model and release the pressure safely before opening the cooker.

The Toothpick Test: Ensuring Doneness

To determine if your tamales are cooked thoroughly, you can rely on the trusty toothpick test. Insert a toothpick into the middle of a tamale, making sure to reach the filling. If the toothpick comes out clean or with minimal moisture and without any raw batter sticking to it, your tamales are done and ready to be enjoyed. Patience is key when it comes to achieving perfectly cooked tamales.

Serving and Enjoying Tamales

Tamales are typically served warm and can be enjoyed as a main course or as a snack. They can be served on their own or accompanied by a variety of condiments and toppings. Tamales are often enjoyed during holidays, family gatherings, and special occasions, adding a touch of tradition and flavor to the festivities.


Cooking tamales is a delightful culinary adventure that requires time, patience, and courtesy to detail. While the cooking time can vary depending on several factors, on average, tamales take about 1 to 2 hours to cook. By following the tips mentioned above and experimenting with different fillings and flavors, you can create mouthwatering tamales that will impress your family and friends.

FAQs about Cooking Tamales

Can I use store-bought masa for making tamales?

Yes, you can use store-bought masa harina, which is a type of corn flour specifically made for tamales.

Can I freeze tamales for later use?

 Absolutely! Tamales freeze well and can be reheated whenever you’re ready to enjoy them.

Can I steam tamales in a pressure cooker?

Yes, a pressure cooker can be used to steam tamales, reducing the cooking time significantly.

Are there gluten-free options for making tamales?

 Yes, you can find masa harina made from gluten-free corn and use gluten-free fillings and sauces to accommodate a gluten-free diet.

Can I make sweet tamales?

Certainly! Sweet tamales filled with fruits, chocolate, or sweetened coconut are a delicious dessert option.

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