Homemade Tamales Recipe – Carnita Recipe

Perfect Homemade Tamales and Carnitas

Stove top – Slow Cooker – Instant Pot Pressure Cooker Tamale Steaming Instructions

Our expert in Mexican and Southwest style cooking, Cynthia Detterick-Pineda of Andrews, TX, shares her Homemade Tamales Recipe and Carnita Recipe making secrets and lessons learned through the years. Cynthia says, “In all the years my husband and I have been married, I cannot recall a single Christmas or Thanksgiving without tamales. Though not “native” to New Mexico, tamales have been adopted by the state and are very popular. Numerous adaptations have been made on the basic tamale, including vegetarian tamales, chicken tamales, and even chocolate tamales.”

For most Mexicans and Mexican-American’s, Tamales are a Thanksgiving and Christmas tradition, especially in the state of New Mexico. Most people are intimidated by making tamales, but there is no need to be. This step-by-step process will insure that you make wonderful tamales!

Learn how to make perfect Homemade Tamales and Carnitas in your own home. For this recipe, we are covering the more traditional tamale using a pork filling although various different fillings can be used. Pork is probably the more traditional, but this recipe can use any sort of meat “stuffing” which has been marinated and cooked in a red chile sauce. We are also providing instructions to steam the tamales on the stove top, slow cooker or Instant Pot pressure cooker.




Molajete: For sake of time, and most likely sanity, I am listing more modern ingredients. I have never actually used a molajete to grind down corn for masa, but I can imagine that this would have been a time consuming and difficult job. In the distant past, metates and molcajete (see photo on right) were common place in the preparation of tamales, as well as many other dishes. I have used my molcajete, but more often I will use a food processor or blender, and am glad that I have these! Thankfully we now also have a corn masa for preparing tamales that can be found in almost all grocery stores.


There are three (3) important components to a tamale:

(1) Filling (Carnitas – Shredded Pork)

(2) Tamale (Masa) Dough

(3) Corn Husk Wrappers (hoja de ma)


Carnita (kahr-NEE-tahz) – Mexican for little meats. This dish is simply small bits or shreds of well-browned pork. It’ is made from an inexpensive cut of pork that’s simmered in a small amount of water until tender, and then finished by cooking the pieces in pork fat until nicely browned all over. This recipe for Carne Adovada may also be used in place of the below Carnitas Recipe.


Homemade Tamales Recipe:
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
2 hrs
Total Time
2 hrs 15 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Homemade Tamales Recipe
  • 4 to 5 pounds boneless pork shoulder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 onions
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1 dozen whole peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon, ground
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
Tamale (Masa) Dough:
  • 4 pound bag of Masa or Mase Para Tamales*
  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 3 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 cups corn oil**
  • 2 quarts pork broth or chicken broth (use your reserved pork broth)***
Corn Husk Wrappers:
  • 1 (16-ounce) bag of dried corn husks (hoja de maiz)
  • Hot water
Carnitas Instructions:
  1. In a large soup pot over medium heat, combine pork cubes and just enough water to cover the pork.  Add salt, onions, garlic, peppercorns, cumin seeds, and oregano; bring to a boil.  To keep the peppercorns and cumin seeds separate, place them in cheese cloth and tie before adding to the meat pot (or you can do like me and use a tea ball - these work great).

  2. As the meat comes to a boil, a foam will rise to the surface; skim this foam off, then reduce heat to low, and let mixture simmer.  You will need to simmer the meat for approximately 1 1/2 hours, adding water as needed to keep the pot from going dry.  Do not allow this to boil during this time, simmer only.  When done, remove from heat.

  3. Allow the pork to cool in it’s own broth.  Once cooled, removed the pork from the broth; reserving the broth for later use in making the Masa Dough.  Shred the pork by using two forks to pull the meat apart, or you can use a food processor fitted with the plastic “dough” blade to shred.

  4. Thoroughly mix the cinnamon, black pepper and paprika thoroughly into the meat.  Refrigerate the cooked pork and the pork broth, covered, until ready to make the tamales.  Cooked pork carnita meat may be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.  Reheat before using.

  5. Crock Pot/Slow Cooker Method: Cook on low heat for 8 to 10 hours or on high heat for 4 hours. Once the meat is tender, remove from slow cooker and let cool slightly before pulling apart with a fork.

Tamale (Masa) Dough Instructions:
  1. In a large bowl (and I mean a very large bowl), place 1/2 the bag (approximately 2 pounds) of Masa/Maseca mix. To this add the paprika, salt, chili powder, and garlic powder.

  2. Using clean hands, work the dry ingredients together, mixing well so that you don’t end up with clumps of spices (this wouldn’t taste too good, and the rest of the masa would not be seasoned well).

    Masa Mix
  3. Once you have the masa and the other dry ingredients well combined, add the corn oil all at once.

  4. Continue to work this with your hands, mixing the corn oil into the dry ingredients. Once this is distributed well, begin adding the warm pork or chicken broth, 1 cup at a time. Keep mixing, and adding broth, until your masa is the consistency of paste or peanut butter. You will probably be using both hands before you get to this point. NOTE: You may need to add more masa mix, or more liquid as you are mixing so you obtain the right consistency.

  5. It is important that the prepared masa must be very moist and light. When you’ve prepared your masa, do the “float” test: spoon a little bit of dough into a bowl of water. If it floats, it Is done. If it sinks, it needs more liquid, a little more fat and several more minutes of mixing.

  6. If you masa dough does not float – if it sinks, it needs more liquid, a little more fat, and several more minutes of mixing, ideally with a high-powered mixer. Once the dough is whipped with enough air and sufficiently aerated, the masa dough will float. Your dough should be soft and spoonable, but not runny or crumbly.

  7. Making Masa in advance: Cover the Masa Dough with plastic wrap or put in a plastic bag until you are ready to use it.

Corn Husk Wrapper Instructions:
  1. Corn husks hold the tamales together and help keep them from drying out.

  2. Dried corn husks can be found online and in the ethnic food aisle of most grocers. The corn husks allow the steam to penetrate just right, so the tamales are well cooked. There are some people who use aluminum foil or other wrapping materials, but I cannot see making tamales and not using the original ingredients.

  3. At least 30 minutes before assembling your tamales, soak the dried corn husks. Fill a large pot, or your sink, with hot water and place the dried corn husks in the hot water to soak (a dinner plate may have to be used to hold corn husks under water). Corn husks need to be pliable enough to wrap, but don’t have to be soft).

Recipe Notes

Masa Mix* Do not confuse Masa with cornmeal, as they are made from different types of corn and you will not achieve the same results in your tamales if you use cornmeal. Masa mix for tamales can be purchased in Latin American markets or supermarkets that carry Latin American products. It can also be purchased by mail order (online) if not available locally.

** Originally lard was used in making Masa Dough.

*** Skim the fat off of the chilled pork broth before using



Assembling the Tamales:

Carefully separate the soaked corn husks, and place them on a towel on the counter top. Arrange your ingredients in the order you will be assembling them (at least that is how I have found is easiest).

  • Corn Husks first
  • Shredded meat (Carnitas)
  • Steamer pot to cook the tamales in

2 corn husks

(1) Take 1 (or 2 if the corn husks are very narrow) softened corn husks and place them in your hand (pinched-looking end toward your fingers and smooth side of a corn husk up).

Corn Husks OverLap

(2) Slightly overlap the corn husks.

If a corn husk rips or one is too small, overlap two and continue wrapping tie as usual.Corn Husks- Tamales MasaTrick

(3) Using a butter knife or your other hand, take enough of the Prepared Masa to spread over the corn husks covering the top 2/3 and 2/3 of one side, about 1/4-inch thick. If you spread it too thick, it will be difficult to roll up with the meat added and it will squeeze out onto your hand or counter. If you make it too thin, you will have the meat falling out in the steamer.

The photo shows an idea that I came up with after watching the little kids use their hands to flatten out the Masa Dough. I took a hoja and used it to press down the Masa Dough under it. It makes it easy to get an even layer that is just the right thickness.

Tamales Ready To Roll

(4) Add approximately 1 to 3 tablespoons (according to your desires) of the prepared shredded meat (Carnitas), spreading it evenly down the center of the masa (careful to leave 1/2-inch at the top and bottom, and room on the sides for the masa to close around the meat).

After you have put together a few, you will be able to better gauge the amount to add and still be able to roll up your tamale.

Tamale Rolling

(5) Carefully roll the tamale, starting with the side covered with the Masa Dough. Turn right side over to center of filling; fold left side over filling, allowing plain part of husk to wrap around filling. Fold top end down over bottom end.

Tamale Rolling

(6) Roll it snug, but not too tight. Too tight and you might end up with a hand full of Masa and this really cannot be used to make a new one.

You may want to make your tamales “conveyor” style, or make several husks with Masa Dough, then proceed to the next step. Because of the amount of work put into making tamales, a great time to make them is when friends and family are present. Conveyor style allows you to get them into the pot faster, which means everyone gets to eat faster!

Stove Top Tamale Steaming Instructions:

Stand the tamales upright (folded side down) in a large steamer pot fitted with a steamer basked and a lid. For best results, the tamales should be firmly packed, put not too tightly, as the dough needs room to expand some. I use my pasta pot, or my extra large stock pot with a wire rack supported on two clean bricks (very well washed bricks). There are also “tamale” pots you can buy that are made specifically for tamale making.

Once you have a full pot of assembled tamales, fill the bottom of the steamer pot with water, making sure the bottoms of the tamales are not in the water. Cover and bring just to a boil. Keep the water bubbling, not a hard boil. Once steam has begun to escape from the pot, reduce the heat to medium; keep these steaming for at least 2 hours, adding water as needed so the pot does not go dry.

Tamale Steamer
Tamale Pot


The tamales are done when the Masa Dough around the meat feels firm there are no parts of uncooked dough left. To test the tamales for doneness, remove one tamale from the steamer. Let this cool for a moment or two. As you open the husks, the dough should come away easily from the husks and be completely smooth. To make doubly sure, open up the tamales and see if they are spongy and well cooked throughout.

Remove the tamales, and let them rest on the counter for a few minutes. This will help them finish “setting” up and let them cool so no one burns their mouth. Well at least not from the stove heat, they may get a burn if the chile is extra hot!

They can be eaten right way, stored in plastic bags or containers in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days, or they can be frozen for up to 3 months (that is if they last that long). If you use a vacuum sealer they can be kept frozen up to a year. To reheat the tamales, wrap in foil and place in 350 degree F. oven about 30 minutes.

IMPORTANT: Remember to remove the corn husk wrapper before you eat the tamale.


Tamale Prepared

Slow Cooker

Slow Cooker Tamale Steaming Option:

Tamales are meant to have the dough steam cooked. If you want to use your slow cooker, it is critical to make a steam barrier to keep the tamales out of the water at the bottom of the cooker.

Pre-heat your slow cooker on high heat and line the sides of the slow cooker all the way around with aluminum foil. Pour in 3 1/2 cups water into slow cooker. Next, take an aluminum pie tin and poke holes all around the bottom of the pie tin. Place the pie tin upside down in the slow cooker so it creates a rack for the tamales to stay out of the water while steaming. Place the tamales in the slow cooker standing them upright (with folded side down). Do not overcrowd the tamales as they need room for the dough to expand while steaming. Cover the tops of the tamales with extra corn husks, then cover the top with a layer of aluminum foil to help trap in the steam.

Place the lid on top and find something heavy to weight down the lid to hold in the steam. Cook the tamales on high heat for 4 1/2 to 6 hours. Check the tamales after 4 hours. The tamale dough is done cooking when the corn husk wrappers easily pull away. If not, then continue cooking and checking every 45 minutes until the dough is cooked.

Instant Pot Pressure Cooker Tamale Steaming Instructions:

Instant Pot Tamale dough can steam cook in the pressure cook in a reduced amount of time.

Add one cup of water to the inner pot, then place steamer rack or steamer basket in the pot (this will prevent the tamales from touching the water while steaming). Stand the tamales upright (folded side down) in the pot. For best results, the tamales should be firmly packed, put not too tightly, as the dough needs room to expand some.

Cover with lid and seal the lid to close. Then make sure the steam valve in closed. Select the Manual button and high pressure setting. Set the cooking time for 20 minutes. Once the cooking time is done, allow the pressure cooker to natural release the pressure until the pin drops. Once all the pressure is released, open the lid. Check the tamales. The tamale dough is done cooking when the corn husk wrappers easily pull away. If not, close the lid and steamer valve and cook for additional 3 minutes and check again.




Comments and Reviews

55 Responses to “Homemade Tamales Recipe – Carnita Recipe”

  1. Anna Menchaca

    In the ingredients you have 4 lb bag of prepared masa but it appears you used masa flour. To me prepared masa is already prepared with lard, broth and spices, ready to use. Unless you mean masa quebrada (sp) which needs lard, spices and broth that you buy at the Mexican meat markets. Please advice.

    • Linda Stradley

      I am confused! Where in the recipe do you see that I said to use masa flour and not prepared Masa/Mase?

  2. Emily Boggs

    Is it possible to cook these in a Slow Cooker/ CrockPot??? And if so, how long??

    • Whats Cooking America

      Tamales are meant to have the dough steam cooked. It is much quicker to steam cook on the stove. If you want to use your slow cooker, you need to make a steam barrier to keep the tamales out of the water at the bottom of the cooker. Pre-heat your slow cooker on high heat and line the sides of the slow cooker all the way around with aluminum foil. Pour in 3 1/2 cups water into slow cooker. Next, take an aluminum pie tin and poke holes all around the bottom of the pie tin. Place the pie tin upside down in the slow cooker so it creates a rack for the tamales to stay out of the water while steaming. Place the tamales in the slow cooker standing them upright (with folded side down). Do not overcrowd the tamales as they need room for the dough to expand while steaming. Cover the tops of the tamales with extra corn husks, then cover the top with a layer of aluminum foil to help trap in the steam. Place the lid on top and find something heavy to weight down the lid to hold in the steam. Cook the tamales on high heat for 4 1/2 to 6 hours. Check the tamales after 4 hours. The dough is done cooking when the corn husk wrappers easy pull away. Continue cooking checking every 45 minutes until the dough is cooked.
      Here’s a helpful Youtube video that demonstrates the setup in the slow cooker for steaming the tamales. This starts at about 8 minutes into the video: https://youtu.be/umpiwlr-8dE

      • Lisa Woodford

        Thanks so much for making this easy to learn! I have never learned how to make tamales, but now with your explanation, I am willing to try! Merry Christmas!

  3. Dena Mattausch

    Greetings. Love this recipe and have used it several times successfully. Thanks for posting!

    One comment: Every time I see that photo that accompanies the instruction to “place one tablespoon of the prepared shredded meat” … I’m like, WHA–? The photo shows considerably more than a tablespoon. And, being a carnivore, I USE way more.

    But, again, a fabulous recipe.

  4. becky

    Can the tamales be steamed in a roaster? Have you personally made them in a roaster?
    Thank you

    • Linda Stradley

      Yes, tamales may be steamed in a roasting pan that includes a rack. Basically you just want a big pot with a tight fitting lid, and some way to elevate the tamales a bit above a couple inches of water. (The most important thing is that you keep the tamales out of the water.)

  5. Robert

    Can the corn husks be re-used once you are done eating the Tamale, or are they one-time use only?
    I hope this is not a stupid question, but I have been all over the internet and found no comment about this.

    • Linda Stradley

      If you have had food in the husks, it would be very hard to clean them. If not cleaned and dried properly, they may mold. It would be best to discard them.

  6. Erica

    Can you mix the lard and salt,etc. by hand, I don’t have an electric mixer? If so, how long do you think I would have to whisk or mix it for?? Thanks.

    • Zac

      We have always mixed the masa by hand. Just make sure it’s mixed well.

  7. Theresa

    Can I use pressure cooker to cook the meet. Thank you!

  8. Tricia

    First time making tamales, everything about the masa seems right, but can’t get it to float. I mixed by hand, spoon, and have been “aerating” it with my kitchenaid mixer for over 10 maybe 15 minutes, checking it for “floatation”, nope still sits at bottom.

    • lori

      I couldn’t get mine to float either butI ket adding warm water and oil until it was like peanut butter. Worked fine

  9. Anna

    I use a roaster, it fits about 40 to 50 tamales. ( I use the large roaster ) I put the rack at the bottom of the pan, then line the roaster with heavy duty foil. Once the roaster is lined, you can line up your tamales. Once the roaster is full, add boiling water, between the foil, and pan, about 4 to 5 cups. Just enough to fill the bottom, not touching the tamales. I cook mine at 400 degrees for 3 hours. They’re done once you can take the corn husk off easily. Enjoy!

  10. Cindy

    Do you “tie” your tamales prior to steaming? The husks i have purchased did not come with ties. Any suggestions or substitute that can be used to keep them snug while steaming? I often see pictures of tamales tied.

    • Linda Stradley

      Looking at the photos of preparing and the prepared tamales, it seems that Cynthia Detterick-Pineda did not tie the tamales before steaming.

    • Gina

      When you become an expert at making tamales like my grandmother, you make them using a variety of fillings, not just pork meat. My grandmother would tie the tamales that had a different filling and were placed in the same pot to distinguish which were pork and which ones were beans or chicken. You are correct, the corn husks don’t come with ties. You simply tear the corn husk in a very thin strip to create the tie. At the widest part the strip will measure about 1/4″ but since the corn husk is wider at one end your strip will not rip in a perfect straight line. It will probably be thinner at the top and bottom. My aunt and I just made tamales yesterday (not this recipe) and I brought up the idea of using ties to keep the tamales closed because some of them didn’t want to stay perfectly closed if the husk was not soft enough. That’s when she mentioned what my grandmother used the ties for. I’m no expert but I had tasted some cream cheese and jalapeño filling tamales before and I wanted to try that filling, too. My aunt used the thin strip of corn husk to tie them. It was so easy to tell those apart once they were cooked especially when I was putting them away after they were cooled.

      • Karen

        cream cheese and jalapeño filling, sounds good, recipe for that filling please ?

  11. TIna Martinez

    You do not need to tie the tamales. As you stack them in you cooking pot of choice, they should be place cozy upon each other as to offer support for keeping the husks and tamale’s themselves in tack.

    • Martha Hdz

      The purpose of tying the tamales is to keep a count of them. Some people will tie 6 at a time. You can also wrap them in foil and steam several dozen wrapped. You will know when they’re done because the foil will turn a dull color.

  12. Maria

    Is this recipe for all four pounds of maseca?

    • Linda Stradley

      Since I can not get in touch with Cynthia Detterick-Pineda, I have to assume yes. If anyone else can answer this question, it would be appreciated.

      • Crystal

        No, it is half about 2 lbs of the 4 lb bag.

  13. Jeny

    For ties, use a couple of the corn husks that you cut into thin strips for the ties.

  14. Monica

    Very well explained recipe. Easy to follow. Exacally like my grandma’s tamales. Thanks a bunch!

  15. sally

    How much corn oil is used in the dough in this recipe. The text overlaps and I can’t read the the amount. Thank you

  16. Renee Hernandez

    My mother in law always made a sauce for the tamales with dried red chiles she soaked in hot water and then puréed in the blender with spices. She had us spread the masa very thin on the corn husks and put a lot of the pork filling inside. The sauce and less masa made the tamales moist and delicious!!!

    PS. I think the confusion from the last post was because the recipe ingredients list for making the masa said prepared masa not masa mix or masa harina.

  17. Lita Wasston

    Tamales taste very good but i think it’s difficult to keep them in good condition. Anyone have an idea to reheat them and store them longer?

    • Martha Hdz

      You can reheat tamales in the husk or without the husk. Simply wrap them in a wet cloth or soaked paper towels (depending how many your warming up) the damp cloth or paper towel keeps them from drying up. Keeps them moist. I always add salt to the water before steam cooking them, at the beginning. Otherwise they loose the salt flavor during the cooking

  18. Lita Waston

    Tamales can aslo be streamed by traditional Chinese bamboo streamer, it just take us 90 minutes .Have you tried it on? I think it’s useful for you.

  19. Jim

    Thanks Lita, I was looking at your recipe comparing it to mine. I lived in Laredo for a time and my X mother-in-law made tamales every year. At best I could remember I put together my recipe which is good but looking at yours I was wondering how many tamales yours made. I wanted to look at yours to see if I could pick up anything to better mine as well. Thanks for sharing. Can you share that with me Please? Thanks
    By the way, I use a mixture of deer meat and pork. Also, last year I went overboard and made 250 DZ, yes DZ of them. It was a blast and I gave lots of them away to people who are just baffled on how to make them. Of course you have to have a tamale making party right?

  20. Jenna Urben

    Thank you so much for sharing your recipe and including photos! I want to try making tamales this weekend with my husband, fingers crossed for results as yummy as yours 🙂

  21. Evonne

    I made tamales years ago and taught myself. They turned out pretty good I guess because they didn’t last long. Although I later asked a friend if she liked them and so or if not what could I do to improve them. Mine were very big, nearly as big as a burrito lol. I came here from California and noticed the difference in tamale sizes. Anyway what my friend told me is that I put too much mass, but everyone else said no so, that they liked the jumbo tamales. Preference I guess. But your recipe seems simple and easily explained. My daughter called me and wants me to come over and have a tamale making party. We will be making several different kinds per my son in laws request. We will be using your recipe as well. Ty.

  22. Cecilia Mc Williams

    I read the recipe it looks pretty simple to understand, there some areas that left open for you to put in your own touches. With the mixture for a beginner I am not sure how much of spices to put in like me I am a wimp on the hotness on the spice this i where I am not sure I know this is where you put your own touches in , maybe some guide lines would help.

  23. Eileen

    I don’t see where the red chili sauce comes into play the pictures of the masa bag is covering some of ur instructions and words are overlapping .

    • Linda Stradley

      I, personally, do not see the problems you are having.

      • Debbie M

        I reheat by steaming them. For 6 minutes or so in a deep pan with a steamer basket like you would use for veggies.

  24. Hotpeppergyrl

    Hi. Im looking for a green chili and cheese tamale recipe. Can you suggest one ? Thank you.

  25. proxy server list

    What’s up, I check your blogs named “How To Make Tamales Recipe. Your story-telling style is awesome – keep up the good work!

  26. June Tackett

    I am 84 years old and have cooked California style “authentic Mexican” and Santa Fe style, and also American Indian style! So now I am ready to try tamales for the first time! I am excited and my Navajo daughter and I are excited about the experience! I think I will use “Creama” in place of sour cream! I will start with the pork and try my lesser favorite, chicken later! Thank you for all of your graet hints and secrets! I will call mine, ” Nueva, Mexica, Arizical style! Thank you so much! June Tackett

  27. Yahaira

    Good directions I finally got the right instructions for using the corn husks Yay!

  28. Mary

    I believe I over put to much or less water they were dry

  29. Norma Sauceda

    Help! What am I doing wrong! My masa sticks to the corn shucks! Please help!

  30. Wendy J Mathis-Burns

    Norma, could it be that the masa isn’t cooked enough? Or maybe not enough ‘fats’ (lard, etc) to encourage the dough to not stick? Just my thoughts ….

  31. Chelsea

    This looks like an awesome recipe! I’m excited to try it. I like how you went in detail with the meat, tea ball, and also included steps for the instant pot or slow cooker. What kind of sauce are these typically served with? Thank you!!

  32. Cathy Ruiz

    I can not get my dough right. When i steam them they stay to soft and mushy. I steamed for 2 hrs. Still soft. Please help.

  33. Samantha Silas

    I’ve always found my tamales to be steamed after 1 1/2 to 2 hours of steaming. 4 to 6 hours seems like way too long.

    • Nancy

      The 4 to 6 hours is the Slow Cooker Tamale Steaming Option. Stove top is 2 hours +
      Happy Holidays!

  34. Shelly

    You don’t put baking powder in the masa?? That’s the way my grandma used to do it and most recipes call for it, also the bag of tamale flour calls for it!


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