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tamales steaming in a pot

How to Steam Tamales

Learn how to steam tamales the RIGHT way, step-by-step with our easy to follow instructions using just a plain old stock pot with a steamer basket.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr 50 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 6 tamales


  • 12-24 Qt Stock Pot with Lid
  • Steamer Basket for Stock Pot
  • Long Handled Tongs or Heat Proof Gloves


  • 4 cups Water depending on size of pot


Set Up the Steamer

  • Place the steamer pot on the largest burner you have and put the steaming basket inside of it.
    putting colander in pot to steam tamales
  • Slowly add water until the level comes up to just below the holes in the steamer basket. 
    pouring water into a pot to steam tamales
  • Once the water is at the correct level, turn the heat up to HIGH.
  • After the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat until you get a gentle simmer.

Position the Tamales

  • Set the tamales upright in the steamer basket with their open ends pointing towards the top of the pot.
    placing tamales in a pot to steam
  • You can place a heat-proof bowl upside down in the middle of the steamer basket or ball up some aluminum foil to support the tamales if needed.
  • Leave about an inch of free space around the edge of the pot to prevent burning the corn husks.
    steaming tamales in a pot

Steam the Tamales and Maintain Water Level

  • Cover the stock pot or close the steamer and set the timer for ONE HOUR.
  • Watch the amount of steam escaping from the lid. When it starts to decrease, go ahead and just add a little more water.
  • When you need to add water, make sure to remove the pot’s lid carefully.
  • To keep from getting scalded, tilt open the cover away from you and let the steam escape before removing entirely.
  • Pour the water along the inside edge, being careful not to wet the tamales. Fill the pot to just below the bottom of the steamer basket, and work quickly.
  • As the water level lowers, you will have to turn down the heat to avoid the water from coming to a rolling boil.
  • If you add more water, you will need to raise the heat temporarily to keep the water steaming.

Check the Steamed Tamales for Doneness

  • After about 75 minutes, carefully take one tamale of the pot and try to open it.
  • If the corn husk easily peels away from the masa, and it’s firm, it’s cooked. But, if it’s difficult to peel off the corn husk or the masa is still soft, steam the tamales for another 10 minutes and then try again.
  • Turn off the heat, remove the tamales from the pot and let them cool on a plate for at least five minutes before serving.



Video courtesy of skoggit.
Keyword How to, how to steam tamales, steamed tamales, steamer basket, steaming tamales in a pot, stock pot, tamale steamer, tamales