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+ servings
An oval plate with red tamales.

Authentic Red Tamales - Step by Step guide

Learn how to make tamales at home with my step by step instructions and an easy guide. I guarantee to make you an expert with this recipe!
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 3 hours
Servings 24 Tamales
Calories 145kcal
Author Ana Frias


  • Electric mixer or hand mixer.
  • Large steamer pot


To Make The Beef (substitute with pork or chicken)

  • 2 pounds beef shoulder roast or chuck roast cut in 2 inches squares and most of the fat removed
  • 1 onion cut in half
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 cups of Red Chile Sauce

To Make The Masa

  • ¾ pound vegetable shortening
  • 1 tablespoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 ½ punds fresh masa
  • ½ cup beef stock
  • ½ cup Red Chile Sauce
  • 1 bag corn husks

Optional fillings:

  • 2 potatoes sliced in long strings par cooked - see notes.
  • pitted olives 1 per tamal, cut in half


Make the shredded meat

  • In a large pot add the beef, onion, garlic, oregano, salt & pepper. Cover with enough water to cook the ingredients (about 2 liters).
  • Cook until the meat is fork tender and comes apart with no resistance, about 2 hours. When done, remove the roast to a platter to cool, reserve the beef broth.
  • Hand shred the meat
  • Add the 2 cups of red chile sauce and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Soak The Husks

  • Place the corn husks in a large container or bowl and cover with warm water. Place something heavy on top of the husks in order to keep them submerged. Soak for at least 20 minutes to soften them up.

Make The Massa

  • In a mixing cup, add the broth and red sauce and combine.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the shortening, salt, and baking powder.
  • Mix on medium/low power until it's light and fluffy. About 8 to 10 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to mix the ingredients on the sides.
  • Alternate wet and dry ingredients: With the mixer still running, add some of the masa (the size of a tennis ball) and mix. Then add some of the sauce and mix.
  • Repeat until all the masa and sauce are fully incorporated and have a smooth & silky batter.
  • To test when the masa is ready, add a dollop of it in a glass with cold water: if it floats, then it's ready.
    Note: What if the masa doesn't float? Just continue kneading the masa for a few more minutes. This will make it more fluffy and eventually will float.
  • To Assemble The Tamales
  • Get all of your ingredients lined up and ready for assembly.
  • Scoop about a ¼ cup masa into one large or two overlapping smaller husks and smear it with a small spatula or back of a spoon.
  • Add about 2 to 3 tablespoons of shredded meat, 1 potato slice & olives (optional).
  • Fold one side of the husk to enclose then the other side on top of it.
  • Tie the tamales: Fold up the bottom to the top (the narrow end), leaving the top open. Then tie with a string made from the husk.

Steaming Tamales

  • Using a large steamer or a tamalera pot, add water to the bottom of the steamer making sure it will not overflow into the steaming tray. The tamales should not touch the water.
  • Place the tamales standing up and do not over pack the pot since it may affect how they cook.
  • Cover and steam on medium heat for one hour.
  • To test whether tamales are done, remove one from the pot and gently unfold one of the sides. The dough should pull away from the husk easily not leaving any wet masa on the husk, and the tamal should hold together.
  • The texture of a fully cooked tamal is bread like but very fine-grained and moist.
  • Serve hot with beans or your favorite side dish and your favorite salsa.


Here is a recipe on how to make masa for tamales with maseca flour. 
To cook the potatoes:
  • Slice them thinly then place in small to medium pot.
  • Cover with water and cook for about 4 minutes or until they're cooked half way only. They will finish cooking when you steam the tamales. 
Freezing Cooked Tamales
  • Let the tamales cool completely before freezing.
  • Place the tamales in airtight freezer bags or thick aluminum foil and remove as much air as you can. Do not remove the husk as it will help maintain the flavor.
  • For extra protection and to conserve the freshness, place the bags in a plastic or glass container.
  • Freeze tamales for up to 5 months.
How to defrost:
It's best to let them thaw overnight in the fridge. This is the safest way to thaw tamales and to ensure they're not left at temperatures that could lead to bacterial growth.
If you don't have time to wait overnight, a few hours in the fridge should defrost the tamales long enough for you to reheat them later. Alternative, you can defrost them in the microwave on the defrost setting.


Serving: 1Tamal | Calories: 145kcal | Carbohydrates: 16g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 28mg | Sodium: 740mg | Potassium: 2mg | Fiber: 1g