Basic Tamal Dough

Servings: 26tamales


  • 18-ounce packagedried corn husks
  • 10ounces ( 1 1/3 cups)rich tasting pork lard or vegetable shortening if you wish), slightly softened but not at all runny
  • Salt
  • 1 1/2teaspoon baking powder
  • 2pounds (4 cups)fresh coarse-ground corn masa for tamales OR3 1/2 cups dried masa harina for tamales mixed with 2 1/4 cups hot water
  • 1 to 1 1/2cups chicken broth
  • 2 1/2 to 3cups filling, such asPork in Red Chile or chicken in green chile


  1. Prepare the cornhusks. Cover the husks with very hot water, weight with a plate to keep them submerged, and let stand for a couple of hours until the husks are pliable. For forming the tamales, separate out 28 of the largest and most pliable husks—ones that are at least 6 inches across on the wider end and 6 or 7 inches long. If you can’t find enough good ones, overlap some of the large ones to give wide, sturdy surfaces to spread the batter on. Pat the chosen husks dry with a towel.
  2. Prepare the batter. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the lard or shortening with 2 teaspoons salt and the baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute. Continue beating as you add the masa (fresh or reconstituted) in three additions. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add 1 cup of the broth. Continue beating for another minute or so, until a 1/2 teaspoon dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water (if it floats you can be sure the tamales will be tender and light). Beat in enough of the remaining 1/2 cup of broth to give the mixture the consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter; it should hold its shape in a spoon. Taste the batter and season with additional salt if you think it needs some. For the lightest textured tamales, refrigerate the batter for an hour or so, then rebeat, adding a little more broth or water to bring the mixture to the soft consistency it had before.
  3. Set up the steamer. Steaming 26 husk-wrapped tamales can be done in batches in a collapsible vegetable steamer set into a large, deep saucepan. To steam them all at once, you need something like the kettle-size tamal steamers used in Mexico or Asian stack steamers, or you can improvise by setting a wire rack on 4 coffee or custard cups in a large kettle. It is best to line the rack or upper part of the steamer with leftover cornhusks to protect the tamales from direct contact with the steam and to add more flavor. Make sure to leave tiny spaces between the husks so condensing steam can drain off.
  4. Form the tamales. Cut twenty-six 8- to 10-inch pieces of string or thin strips of cornhusks. One at a time, form the tamales: Lay out one of your chosen cornhusks with the tapering end toward you. Spread about 1/4 cup of the batter into about a 4-inch square, leaving at least a 1 1/2-inch border on the side toward you and a 3/4-inch border along the other sides (with large husks, the borders will be much bigger). Spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the filling down the center of the batter. Pick up the two long sides of the cornhusk and bring them together (this will cause the batter to surround the filling). If the uncovered borders of the two long sides you’re holding are narrow, tuck one side under the other; if wide, roll both sides in the same direction around the tamal. (If the husk is small, you may feel more comfortable wrapping the tamal in a second husk.) Finally, fold up the empty 1 1/2-inch section of the husk (to form a tightly closed “bottom” leaving the top open), and secure it in place by loosely tying one of the strings or strips of husk around the tamal. As they’re made, stand the tamales on their folded bottoms in the prepared steamer. Don’t tie the tamales too tightly or pack them too closely in the steamer. They need room to expand.
  5. Steam and serve the tamales. When all the tamales are in the steamer, cover them with a layer of leftover cornhusks; if your husk-wrapped tamales don’t take up the entire steamer, fill in the open spaces with loosely wadded aluminum foil (to keep the tamales from falling over). Set the lid in place and steam over a constant medium heat for about 1 1/4 hours. Watch carefully that all the water doesn’t boil away and, to keep the steam steady, pour boiling water into the pot when more is necessary. Tamales are done when the husk peels away from the masa easily. Let tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up. For the best textured tamales, let them cool completely, then re-steam about 15 minutes to heat through.

Looking for Masa Harina? Our friends at Masienda have some of the best: https://masienda.com/collections/all/masa-harina


  1. I’ve finally found tamales I like.

    Attempted my first foray into tamales tonight with a half-batch, filled with a spicy elk meat & onion ragu.

    I wish I would have doubled the recipe instead of halving it. Thank you!!!!

    Aside from having THE BEST recipe for tamales of all, you use THE VERY MEXICAN TIPS OF ALL GREAT MEXICAN MOMS OUT THERE! Now the other part is that,
    I can’t believe that your recipe has the CORRECT TITLE!!
    Every single, English online title says; “tamale recipe”. What?? Last I checked, when speaking of a single TAMAL, you do not say; “tamale”?… You write and say; “tamal”. Now if you’re talking about more than one, then you ADD “es”. This really irks me. ..

    1. Well I believe the title to be misleading… We are talking about making over 26 tamales. So in the case of “Tamal” being single, then this is not a correct title. But then again I majored in English Literature.

    2. I used to agree with you Edy G Soto about using the Spanish singular word “tamal.”
      But I recently learned that the word “tamale” is a borrowed word from the Nahuatl word “tamalli” which means “enveloped or wrapped.”

      I am not sure that the Spanish word “tamal” is any more correct than “tamale” when using the word in English. By the time it gets to English it is a borrowed word thrice over. I think it must be a matter of preference.

      In any case, I really do like this recipe. I find that it aligns with my personal experience and family traditions of making tamales, too!

    1. Yes, more air and possibly a bit more water. But add the water slowly in drops. Then keep whipping until it is light as air!

    2. I found that whipping the lard more at the beginning helps but I whipped about 1/2 cup more for a masa that I had used pure rendered pork lard in and was not floating and then added that to the 1/2 c whipped
      white lard. The masa floated!!!

  3. Hi Rick,
    On your basic tamal dough, can I substitute vegetable broth instead of chicken broth? My daughter is vegetarian and cannot use the chicken broth. Also, some people make tamales with green chilies and cheese. Do you have a recipe for these? Since a lot of people are starting to go vegetarian, it would be great if on your show you could tell people what recipes are vegetarian or how you could substitute ingredients to make them vegetarian. Thank you very much for your time.

    1. Hello there on the veggie tamales u can saute onions red tomatos and jalapeños once u have placed your dough in the corn husk and the veegie mix inside, then place a slice on queso fresco with that and you have a tamal called rajas very very good…

    2. You can make corn tamales but adding creamers corn and butter or butter flavored crisco to masa. This requires no filling. Just the corn tamale masa in the husk and roll. You can fill with cream cheese and chilies.

    3. Our roots are from Sonora, and we love the green chile and cheese tamales.
      The filling we use consists of Anaheim chiles seeded and charred to remove the skins then chopped–or even easier, canned, chopped, green Anaheim chiles mixed with creamed corn and a shredded chedder cheese I can only guess on the spelling–Tillamook–since it sounds different with a Spanish-from-Mexico accent. Remember to adjust recipes to your family’s and guests’ likings. Heat can be added using hotter chiles. I add a few shakes of cumin to the mixture, but it is up to you. If using canned goods, careful with salt. Taste everything and adjust the recipe to your taste. Make the recipe your own.

  4. Do you recommend butter or olive oil for the month as an alternate to the lard? What is a good vegetarian as a meat substitute?

    1. Honestly, butter or olive oil is not a great substitute for the lard, the flavor and the texture cannot be matched. And I am not a fan of meat substitutes, such as soy chorizo, but I do love a great quality tofu.

    2. I’ve been making them with olive oil for five years. The masa doesn’t float and they turn out tender and certainly crave-worthy. I add several other spices to the dough yet the faint olive oil flavor still comes through and we love them filled with potatoes, vegan cheese and a thick roasted Chile salsa. This year I may try the soyrizo, rehydrated soy bits or seasoned crumbled tofu. Yum!

  5. OUTSTANDING. ! I have so many complements with this Tamale recipe. I modified it a bit. I use rotisserie chicken from Costco, shred the meat, add salt, pepper, a little oregano , cumin and chopped olives. I stir in one jar or salsa verde. One chicken makes about one tamale dough recipe. I have tried using the recipe with lard and the vegetable shortening. The vegetable shortening is healthier , very good alternative.
    One key I discovered after reading up on tamale’s, is the need to beat the shortening , salt and baking soda for longer than a minute before adding the masa. I usually do this with my mixer for 10 minutes. Then there is no problem with the masa dough “floating”, and it comes out very light and fluffy. These are simply delicious. !

    1. The chicken from Costco is so good! I get the 2 lb package of breast meat from the rotisserie chickens it’s already pulled off the bird and little bit more shredding and good to go!
      I’ve always used masa harina to make my tamales and get requests to make tamales for my family and friends. I’m making some now with beef with red chile, pork with a chunky green chile, chicken and a mild green sauce and green chiles stuffed with cheese. I have to admit only twice I’ve had the masa float. I use the consistency as a marker more than the float. Cake batter consistency and I melt a stick of butter at that point and pour it in just stirring it once or twice before I refrigerate. But I do whip the lard up for about 10 minutes before adding the reconstituted masa harina so maybe that is the key to a good masa. I don’t buy the prepared because it’s salted by the store and sometimes too salty. I like to control the salt amount. Tamales are laborious but so worth all the time and effort! I just wish they lasted as long as it takes to make them!

      1. Eva, I would love to have your complete recipes for all your tamales if I may and you can find the time. We moved to Texas and can’t seem to find the products I was so used to or good molinos that I knew back home in Arizona. I love Texas but until I find substitutes or actual good products to cook with I’m stuck my family will just have to endure until then. I would be forever grateful Eva if you could share your recipes with me.

  6. I have been trying for years to make a nice light masa. Previous years my masa resembles mortar for bricks. Tried this recipe and did a full batch filling them with my smoked pork green chili…WOW! I found my new go to recipe. I didn’t have any lard or shortening, so I used real homemade butter and vegetable oil as a replacement, and used a great bone stock for the broth. I made 32 tamales out of this recipe… in one sitting, they were all consumed with rave reviews! THANK YOU for such a great recipe!

  7. I was able to get my dough to float after beating the lard + baking powder + salt first for 10 minutes, and then adding the masa. Since the instructions say to refrigerate the batter for an hour or so (in order to have the lightest-textured tamales), that was what I did. However, after refrigeration, I could never get the dough to float again. Upon removing from the refrigerator, the dough still seemed wet enough (smooth peanut butter consistency) and I was reluctant to add more liquid/broth, so I just re-beat for 5 minutes. The dough did not float, so I added no more than 1 tablespoon of broth and re-beat for another 5 minutes. It still did not float (but seemed wet enough already that adding more liquid might turn it too watery). I didn’t add anymore broth but continued to beat for an additional 10 minutes. The dough still did not float and my stand mixer was actually starting to overheat, so I stopped beating and proceeded with filling and wrapping. Did I perhaps over-beat the dough (is that even possible)? Did I really need even more liquid? Thanks in advance for your insight/guidance!

  8. Rick:
    My family makes tamales every year and we always use basic lard from the supermarket.
    I have the opportunity to buy lard from a farmer who only uses humanely raised animals and natural farming techniques. Heritage breed of pigs, Non-GMO etc etc. I would assume that using a higher quality lard would only yield a better masa but I am concerned that this could throw things off.
    Do you have any thoughts on this?

    1. I have rendered my own lard from pasture raised heritage pork and used it as well as bone broth for the masa (used organic) and it was phenomenal !

  9. Hi! We’ve had a Christmas Eve tamale party every year and in the past I’ve always purchased pre-made masa from the deli at our mercado. My husband has recently developed a food allergy, and after a reaction last year, I’ve decided I need to make our masa. Can this be made ahead and frozen? I make 2-3 different fillings plus all the sides so anything I can make ahead really helps keep my sanity! Thank you!

  10. I am wondering if I can do part of the tamale prep (making the dough to chill) the day before I fill and steam them. Would it screw them up? I’m making these for a dinner party and only have about 2 hours the night of. Thanks!

    1. The easiest way to form the tamales will be to form them with fresh masa. However, you can form them and wrap them in the banana leaf or corn husk and then freeze them. Then just thhaw 1 day in your refrigerator and steam that night!

    2. Yes you can make the masa and your meat ahead of time. Instead of stock, I use the broth from my seasoned meat to add to the masa for an extraordinary flavor. Be sure to let your masa come back to room temp and beat it back to the right consistency (thick peanut butter). Better than making your masa ahead of time is to make the whole batch of tamales ahead of time then you only have about 30 minutes of steaming to warm them up! I think they taste better the next day! Good luck!

  11. Dear Rick, I made a small batch to test. I’ll freeze the rest of the pork filling and the prepared masa later during the holidays. These came out ok. I steamed for an hour, but had to steam an additional 30 minutes to “set” the masa, and I think I should add additional corn masa to the remainder when it’s thawed for the extra batches. What do you think?

    1. It is possible that the consistency will be different once thawed. Use your best judgement. If it feels too loose then definately add more masa.

  12. When mixing the dried masa harina, can I substitute the 2 1/4 cups hot water with pork broth instead? And use pork broth instead of the chicken broth? My family always used the broth from the pork we used to fill the tamales. We never wasted anything. 😀 Thank you for posting this recipe.

  13. I’m making vegan tamales. Can I substitute coconut oil , vegan butter or vegetable oil for the lard?

  14. Help! I want to make tamales, but I am confused on setting up the cooking vessel. I have a collapsible vegetable steamer which I can set into a large, deep pot. But my question is, how much water do I pour into the pot? Should the water touch the bottoms of the tamales at all?

  15. ¡Hola amigos! I’m in a middle eastern country where pork is forbidden (so no lard) and Hispanic foods are rare. Do you have any suggestions on alternative ingredients that still make me believe they are “Rick” approved? Gracias.

  16. Unfortunately, these came out very, very greasy. There were pools of grease at the bottom of each tamale wrap. I would be willing to try again, using much less lard.

    1. Hello Veronica –
      I have never heard of that being done, I have heard of butter as a pork-less substitute. It may work similarly but I cannot say that I have tried that! Let us know if you have any success with it!

  17. For years, I wondered what people thought was so special about tamales. The ones I tried at restaurants were on, but nothing to rave about. Then, my nephew, Ben, and I decided to try to make our own. Armed with Rick’s recipes and advice from out Latino friends, we made our own. OMG!!! Wonderful! NOW we understand. Worth the work! Thank you Rick Bayless!!!

  18. Though I’m an authentic Mexican, I almost never cook anything ‘authentically traditional’! Perhaps my first go, but even then I find myself adding or substituting ingredients! Any who…I starting my tamale adventure decades ago and never do it exactly the same but this particular way brings my elders trying to pre-order them throughout the year! So last night I started my stock with a variety of flavors; cumin, cinnamon, paprika, ground pepper, 8 garlic cloves, small onion minced, a handful of minced cilantro, a few minced jalapenos, some type of ‘Green’ salsa verde or mole, or tomatillo type jar and then my low sodium chicken stock…,but then I also add Goya brand ‘Ham’ seasoning (2 pkts) with my 5-7 lbs of whatever meat (usually pork!!!) & about a tbsp of lime zest with a whole lime juiced…Get that brewing in my crock-pot overnight, then later I dredge the meat out making sure to keep my stock…letting it cool while I get my husks ready. Then I shred my meat -let it cool and then add some fresh salsa verde, fresh squeezed lime, minced cilantro & japs. I use a strainer type tool with decent sized holes to strain my stock to keep the big chunks out but still let the tidbits blend in with my masa mixture, instead of broth or water…I also add more paprika and even a dash of tapatio or cayenne too. But my other tricks are adding black olives, OR nacho jalapenos slices OR a mixture of fresh diced onions with cilantro (or ALL!!) with my meat mixture before folding my wraps for steaming. ANYWAY! Ricks recipe seems delish indeed, but I say, never be afraid to change it up from ‘Tradition’–experiment with flavors, and if you know what corn meal/bread tastes like, then its easy to pick flavors that would taste good with Corn Masa–Ive added diced potatoes and even chorizo to several of my concoctions and people Rave and Beg for more! Good Luck and remember-its easier than it seems-have a plan, attack and don’t wait till Xmas to buy them off someone or beg someone else to make them for you!! LOL THESE ARE FOR YEAR ROUND PEOPLE!! Woot! Woot! lol

    1. “Remember-its easier than it seems-have a plan, attack and don’t wait till Xmas to buy them off someone or beg someone else to make them for you!!” – Solid advice, Shellrae!

  19. I’m concerned about tying these and how I catch the bottom fold in that. Isn’t it difficult to catch the bottom fold in the tie-up? Or will it stay folded tightly enough once you stand it up?
    I’m excited to try this recipe but don’t want to mess it up.
    Thank you!

    1. I have a kid (or anyone else who may want to eat a tamal) hold their finger on the string “christmas package style”. Fun time with family members!

  20. To freeze a batch, do I steam first, then freeze? If so, do I re-steam straight from the freezer to re-heat?

    Or do I wrap and freeze without steaming?

    1. I would wrap and freeze without steaming first. You could take them right out of the freezer and place in your steamer. Good Luck!

  21. Is it possible to refrigerate the leftover prepared tamal dough and use it the next day for a different kind of tamal? I am too tired after making tamals and would like to start again tomorrow. !Muchos Gracias!

  22. So, you’re saying 3-1/2 cups of dry masa flour equals 4 cups of dough after it’s been hydrated? If so, thanks for that because I’ve been looking all over the ‘net for that info, and this recipe is the only site so far that has it.

  23. I just used my Instant Pot to steam 18 tamales in 25 mins. While one batch was cooking, I was making the next batch! This is so much faster than waiting 2 hours the traditional method!

  24. Wondetful tamales! Have gotten to doubling the batch using then for several meals! Have tried for YEARS to make good tamales and finally with this recipe ( and the pork lard that is made inhouse at my local hispanic market) have made awesome tamales! The explanation on what the dough should be like is key. And they are better the second day after being resteamed. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!

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