How to Steam Tamales – Steamer or No Steamer!

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Tamales, the delectable Mexican party treats, are traditionally cooked by steaming. When tamales are steamed in corn husks or banana leaves, the steam heat not only cooks the masa dough, but the moisture in the steam keeps the masa and filling wet.

If you have a steamer in your kitchen, excellent; if not, you can still prepare tamales because I teach you how to steam tamales on the stovetop, in the oven, in a rice cooker, an Instant Pot, a pressure cooker, and more.

1. How to Steam Tamales in A Steamer

Before we get into how to steam tamales without a steamer, let’s take a look at how they’re typically steamed.

Tamalero is a kind of steamer used specifically for steaming tamales. This is a huge saucepan with a cover and handles that is also used for street tamale sales.

Since tamaleros are the expert choice for steaming tamales, just use a standard steamer pan or a bamboo steamer over a pan.

Use a bigger steamer basket and pan to produce a larger quantity of tamales. Put the steamer basket in the bottom of the pan and fill with water to just below the basket’s bottom. Note that when the water begins to boil, it may migrate to the bottom of the steamer basket and make the masa soggy if it gets inside the tamales. This is why, while cooking tamales in a steamer basket, they should be stacked standing up (vertically) to avoid the chance of water entering into the tamales.

After the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low to reduce the chance of water getting into the tamales. It is also critical to adjust the heat to medium or low.

Tamales should take around an hour to an hour and a half to cook thoroughly in a steamer, but keep an eye on the water level and add extra boiling water as needed.

Take one out and let it aside for a few minutes before peeling the husk to see whether they’re done. When the tamale is done, the husk should easily peel away and the masa dough should be firm.

If you want to reheat previously steamed tamales, it will take 15 to 20 minutes in the steamer from chilled or 30 minutes from frozen.

If you use a bamboo steamer with tiers to steam your tamales, you may need to place them horizontally with the seam up and rotate the tiers while cooking.

2. How to Steam Tamales Without Steamer

In this segment, I look at several methods to cook tamales without using a steamer!

How to Steam Tamales on Stove

As a basic steamer, dangle a metal colander or mesh strainer over a big pan with boiling water in the bottom. Ideally, the pan cover should lie perfectly over the colander, preventing steam from escaping, although this is not always achievable.

To compensate, add some additional cooking time, or build a temporary aluminum foil lid and drape it over the colander and the edge of the saucepan to form a fitting cover instead of using the pan lid. Remember to move this foil cover using oven gloves or a kitchen tongs.

Sadly, this approach only allows you to steam a limited amount of tamales; however, there is another method for how to steam tamales using steamer that allows you to steam more.

To do this, use a large pan with a cover that is large enough to accommodate a heatproof plate within while leaving a one-inch space between the plate and the pan wall. Scrunch up a piece of aluminum foil into a two-inch ball after you’ve found the correct size plate and pan. Continue until you have three identically sized aluminum foil balls. The following step may be simpler to do on the cooktop rather on the countertop.

Put the balls in the bottom of the pan as though they were the points of a triangle facing the pan wall. This are what the plate and tamales will be resting on. Place the plate on the foil triangle and check for balance before gently pouring water into the pan via the space at the plate’s side. Fill with water until it reaches about an inch below the plate. Fill no farther because the tamales may get wet when the water boils.

Spread the tamales out carefully and evenly on the platter, with the open end facing up. Turn on the burner and place the cover on the saucepan. Let the water to come to a boil before lowering the heat to the lowest setting. The tamales should steam for about an hour, but check on them periodically and add extra boiling water if the water level becomes too low.

After an hour, take a tamale using a kitchen tong, inspect it, and if not fully done, return to the pan and steam for another hour. Otherwise, remove from the heat and set the tamales aside for a few minutes before serving.

Instead of the plate and aluminum balls steamer, if you have a suitable wire rack that will fit in the bottom of the pan and is deep enough to enable you to add water for steaming, you may use it or even attempt the chopstick approach. To do this, lay a heatproof bowl upside down in the bottom of the pan and use four chopsticks to create supports across the bowl. After that, the tamales may be laid across the chopsticks.

Tamales may also be steamed in a pressure cooker.

Setting the pressure to low for 15 to 20 minutes before manually releasing it. To do so, fill the pressure cooker and steamer basket with one to two cups of water. Put the tamales in the basket upright and close the pressure cooker lid. Let the cooker to reach high pressure before lowering the heat.

Inspect the tamales for doneness and continue to steam for a few minutes if necessary.

How to Steam Tamales in The Oven

You will need a big roasting pan or Dutch oven to do this effectively. If using a roasting pan, lay a wire rack in the bottom to allow for an inch or two of boiling water to be added to the bottom of the roasting pan without touching the tamales on the rack.

After the tamales are evenly distributed on the wire rack, cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil and put it in the oven on the lowest setting. It is critical to cook them over low heat to prevent the water from evaporating too soon and the tamales from overcooking.

Similarly, if using a Dutch oven, place a wire rack or steaming rack in the bottom and then add boiling water before spreading the tamales out with the open end facing up.

In the oven, they should take around an hour to cook.

You may also reheat frozen tamales in the oven for 20 minutes at a higher temperature of roughly 350F. Wrap each tamale in aluminum foil and put on a baking sheet in the oven. Cook them for around 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 420F or higher, flipping them after 10 minutes.

How to Steam Tamales in an Instant Pot

Many Instant Pots can be used for steaming, but be sure yours has this feature before you use it. The number of tamales you can put in an Instant Pot depends on the size of the IP and the tamales, but you should be able to fit around a dozen in a 6 quart Instant Pot.

Since an Instant Pot is so adaptable, you may sauté and fry your veggies and meat in it before adding the broth and letting it to simmer. When the filling is cooking, prepare the masa and soak the corn husks.

When the filling has been cooked, thoroughly wipe out the Instant Pot and add the steam rack and one cup of water. If you have extra husks, place one or two across the rack to prevent the tamales from dropping through.

After adding the masa and filling to the husks, folding and tying them off, place them upright (vertical) on the steam rack, cover with the Instant Pot lid, and start the steam program. Steaming should take around 40 minutes at high pressure, followed by allowing the steam to naturally escape for a bit before venting and then opening. Let the tamales to stand for up to 30 minutes before serving.

Steaming Tamales in A Crockpot

Tamales will take a long time to steam, but they may be prepared in a slow cooker. Before constructing the tamales, simmer the pork in the crockpot overnight.

Some people cook tamales in the crockpot dry, and if you do, make sure the filling mix is wet rather than dryer, since the masa will need to absorb the extra moisture to cook correctly.

You may also add water to the crockpot, as well as a homemade steamer rack. Make a basic rack by drilling holes in the bottom of an aluminum pie pan. Then coat the sides of the crockpot with aluminum foil. After the pot is lined, pour in about three cups of water and lay the pie pan upside down in the bottom of the crockpot. You may easily add a bit extra aluminum foil to plug up any huge holes in the pot and keep the tamales from toppling over if you space them out and set them up on the pie pan.

Before covering the crockpot with the lid, add another layer of aluminum foil over the top. This additional foil will retain moisture within the crockpot rather than allowing it to condense on the lid.

Tamales may be cooked dry or steamed for four to six hours. While this is a long time, the benefit of using a crockpot is that you can leave them alone for a while.

How to Steam Tamales in A Rice Cooker

Several rice cookers come with steamer baskets or pots, making them suitable for preparing tamales. If you do not have a steamer basket for your rice cooker, you will need to lay a wire rack in the bottom of the cooker and add water, preferably 2 inches deep but not so deep that it hits the rack.

Tamales may then be arranged in a single layer. It will take some trial and error the first few times you cook tamales in a rice cooker since you will need to open it regularly to check whether there is still enough water in them and, if not, add more.

After the cover is on and latched, steam the tamales for one to two hours, depending on their size.

How to Steam Tamales in Microwave Oven

While some of you may object to cooking tamales in the microwave, it is possible to do so in modest quantities. To do so, soak the husks in warm water before filling the tamales with masa, stock, spices, and your favorite fillings. Check that they are neatly wrapped and that the ends are sealed.

After assembling the tamales, place them in a microwave-safe dish and cover with an appropriate lid or plastic wrap. Cook for six minutes, then check for doneness. If they need a bit more time, cook in shorter bursts.

Alternatively, if done, set them aside for a few minutes before eating.

Tamales may also be reheated in the microwave by wrapping each cooled tamale in a moist paper towel and placing on a microwave safe tray for one to two minutes.

If you want to reheat frozen tamales, defrost them first in the refrigerator to prevent them from drying out too much in the microwave.

How Long it Takes to Steam Them

Since the contents will have already been prepared, the emphasis will be on cooking the masa dough during the steaming process. Masa will take between 30 minutes to an hour to cook thoroughly and firm, depending on how you steam them. Ready-made tamales, such as frozen ones from the grocery, are precooked and do not need as much cooking time; they normally take around 30 minutes to steam.

When steamed from frozen, it may take up to an hour longer to cook than when steaming fresh tamales. Tamales that have not been cooked from frozen

Tamales should be cooked completely, and if the husk isn’t peeling away from the masa, you should be able to easily take it away.

Tamales may be stacked either vertically or horizontally for steaming. If you’re going to steam them vertically or laying down, the closed end should be at the bottom and the opening should be facing up. It is critical that they be constantly carefully positioned to prevent any boiling water from entering into the tamales, since this would leave the masa soggy and less than delicious.

End tamales cook quicker than middle tamales, and how quickly they cook is also determined by the amount of space between them to enable hot wet air to flow. Regardless of how they are arranged, the outside

You can shuffle them about while cooking depending on the technique you choose, but if you steam them in a pressure cooker or rice cooker, it is more difficult to rearrange them during cooking, so you will need to modify the cooking time instead to ensure they are all adequately cooked.


While a steamer is the conventional method for steaming tamales, the good news is that you do not need one to steam tamales.

There’s no reason why you can’t make tamales for the big game by steaming them on the stovetop, in the oven, in an Instant Pot, crockpot, rice cooker, or even in a microwave oven!


What can I use instead of a tamale steamer?

If you don’t have a steamer basket, you may steam your tamales using aluminum foil and a heat-proof plate. Make many huge balls of folded up aluminum foil and arrange them within the pot to form a layer of aluminum foil.

Is it better to steam or boil tamales?

If you’re unfamiliar with tamales and want to learn how to make them, we’ve got you covered. Tamales are best cooked by steaming them. This post will teach you all you need to know about steaming tamales in a steamer, oven, stove, or Instant Pot.

How long to steam tamales without a steamer?

Insert a baking rack onto the baking pan, high enough to keep the tamales out of the water. Put the foil-wrapped tamales on the rack and cover securely with foil for 1-2 hours.

How do you steam without a steamer?

To begin, roll three sheets of aluminum foil into baseball-sized balls. Pour approximately an inch of water into the pot and place them on the bottom. Finally, place the plate on top of the foil balls and add any food you’re attempting to steam. Cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting cover and let the steam escape.

How long do I steam 1 dozen tamales?

Tamales should be steamed for 35 minutes.

Bring the water to a simmer. Put the tamales in the steamer vertically, open-side up, but not too tightly, or they will not be able to expand. Cover with the remaining corn husks. Cover and steam for 35 minutes, or until the corn husk easily peels away from the tamal.

Why are my tamales soggy after steaming?

Tamales get mushy if they are steamed for an extended period of time. To cure soggy tamales, drain excess liquid. Put them on a moist paper towel or a steam rack to dry.

How long to steam tamales on stove top?

In most situations, this will take around 15 minutes of steaming, however larger quantities should take longer. It may seem like a long time for something already cooked, but since tamales contain an exterior maize husk, heat may take some time to permeate through to the core.

What happens if you don’t have a steamer?

2 inch of water, three golf ball-sized aluminum foil balls in the bottom, a heat-proof plate on top of the foil balls, cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Cover the platter with the veggies and steam until crisp-tender. The method is straightforward: 1 cup in a medium saucepan

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