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How To Cook Tamales in the Oven

If you want to try cooking tamales at home but aren’t sure how to get started, these simple steps will teach you everything you need to know.

While using a steamer basket is often considered the best way to make tamales, you can absolutely make homemade tamales in the oven.

Tamales can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks or stored in the freezer for a year. Making a large batch of tamales is an excellent way to save time.

Heating tamales in the oven is simpler than it seems! For the best results, following along with our step-by-step guide for the perfect tamales.

How To Cook Tamales in the Oven Photo

What Are Tamales?

Tamales are a traditional dish in Central and South American countries that have become popularized with the familiar Mexican tamale.

Filling and delicious, tamales have evolved into a diverse dish. Modern day tamales typically contain corn masa along with seasoned meats and veggies.

A staple in Aztec and Mayan cultures, tamales were traditionally made with beans and squash. These vegetarian tamales were also easy to make.

Over time, Europeans introduced chicken and pork filling, as well as a larger variety of vegetables and fruits, forever changing the contents of tamales.

A traditional Mexican dish, Tamales are symbolic in the Mexican culture as a comfort food that represents community, family, and kinship.

Often served at large family gatherings and celebrations, and special occasions such as Christmas, tamales are said to embody sustenance and provision.

Over time, Mexican tamales have also become the basis for many alternative Tex-Mex style casseroles and pies.

What Are Tamales Made Of?

These days tamales can easily be customized to suit dietary or personal preference but will generally contain a few basic ingredients:

  • Corn husk – Corn husk wrappers exterior is a crucial element of classic tamales. This holds all the ingredients together, helps shape and form the tamale, and prevents the contents from drying out during steaming.
  • Masa – A delicious corn dough is the key ingredient. Tamale dough mixes cornmeal with broth (usually sourced from the meat filling preparation), lard, and seasonings.
  • Protein – Typically chicken, pork, and/or beans, seasoned protein is often found in tamales to add substance and flavor.
  • Cheese – Fresh tamales often include soft, melted cheese of your choice to round out and balance all the flavors.
  • Vegetables – A variety of vegetables will add an array of flavors to your tamale filling. Try peppers or homemade chili paste to spice things up a bit. Vegetarians and vegans will also often add potatoes to make the tamale heartier and more filling.
Tamales Pic

Popular Tamale Toppings

Some great topping options for tamales include:

  • Salsa or salsa verde
  • Sour cream
  • Sautéed vegetables
  • Jalapeño peppers
  • Queso
  • Guacamole
  • Black olives

How To Eat Tamales

Wondering how to eat tamales is not surprisingly a very common question! Do you remove the corn husks or no? Do you use your hands or a fork?

In short – you need to remove the corn husk from tamales before eating. Otherwise use it to hold the tamale while you enjoy your favorite fillings.

Corn husk does not taste good and additionally can cause stomach upset and choking issues, especially in young children. Toss or compost your husk!

What’s the Secret To Moist Tamales?

Dry tamales are a bummer, resulting in tamales that aren’t nearly as enjoyable as properly made tamales.

Here are some foolproof ways for how to make tamales that are moist and delicious:

  • Use leaf lard as fat. You may be able to find this at a farmer’s market or from a butcher. This will add flavor and texture to your masa dough.
  • Spread out the dough on the corn husk as thinly as possible. The goal is to taste the rest of the filling inside a light blanket of dough. Using too much dough will make your tamale an inedible blob – yuck!
  • Steam them for a long time in a tall steamer. Steaming them longer can keep them moist. Rest for 10-15 minutes after steaming.
  • Add chile sauce. Chile sauce blended with pork or chicken will add flavor and keep the meat from drying out
Tamales Image

How To Cook Tamales in the Oven

One of the most frequently asked questions about heating a tamale is whether or not you can heat them in the oven and the answer is yes!

Using the oven is a great way to heat up your fresh or leftover tamales. You can cook them in the oven if they are frozen, previously frozen, or fresh.

Steaming is the traditional method for cooking and re-heating tamales, but sometimes it just makes sense to toss them in the oven.

Cooking Thawed or Fresh Tamales in the Oven

Skip steaming process and cook fresh (or thawed) tamales in the oven!

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. Wrap tamales individually in aluminum foil, creating a seal by using two layers of aluminum foil. This will retain moisture and keep the tamales tasting fresh.
  3. Place on a clean baking sheet and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
  4. Turn tamales over and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  5. Check tamales for doneness.
  6. If not yet golden brown and cooked through, place back in oven for 10 minutes and check again. Continue to check at 10 minutes intervals until they are a rich golden brown.
  7. Remove the tamales from the foil and allow them to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Cooking a Premade Frozen Tamale in the Oven

One of the great things about tamales is you don’t need to thaw them out to reheat them in the oven.

Doing so saves a lot of time during the cooking process and makes tamales a very convenient dinner option for busy families.

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Place, wrapped in aluminum foil, on a baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 25-35 minutes, turning halfway for even cooking.
  4. Check the tamale to ensure it is heated through and golden brown.
  5. Re-wrap and bake an additional 10 minutes at a time until tamale is done.
  6. Unwrap from foil and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Tamales Picture

What Other Ways Can You Reheat Frozen Tamales?

Steamer or Steamer Basket

  • Temperature: High
  • Time (from frozen): 30-45 minutes
  • Time (thawed): 20 minutes

Pot with Steamer Insert

  • Temperature: High, boiling water
  • Time (from frozen): 30-45 minutes
  • Time (thawed): 20 minutes

Rice Cooker

  • Temperature: High
  • Time (from frozen): 20-30 minutes
  • Time (thawed): 15-20 minutes

Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker

  • Temperature: High
  • Time (from frozen): 15 minutes
  • Time (thawed): 10 minutes

Microwave

  • Temperature (from frozen): Medium
  • Temperature (from thawed): High
  • Time (from frozen): 3 minutes, flip over, 2 minutes
  • Time (thawed): 1 ½ minutes, flip over, 1 minute

Oven

  • Temperature: 350°F
  • Time (from frozen): 25-35 minutes
  • Time (thawed): 15-20 minutes

Pot with Boiling Water

  • Temperature: High to boiling
  • Time (from frozen): 10-15 minutes
  • Time (thawed): 8-10 minutes
Tamales Photo

Can You Overcook Tamales?

Unfortunately, you can overcook tamales and it will leave you with soggy tamales.

The good news is there’s a simple way to recover and preserve the delicious flavor.

To fix them, drain off excess moisture as much as possible and blot with paper towel. Bake in the oven on a sheet pan for 10 minutes at 350°F then serve.