homemade beef tamales

Beef Tamales I One Lovely LifeThis post could also affectionately be called “what to make when time is not a limiting factor” or “a recipe that is really good for making in a large group” or “how to fill your freezer with delicious, easy lunches or dinners for a long time.”

Any of these would work.

Tamales are one of my favorites. My mom would get some once or twice a year and it was always a DELICIOUSdinner–one of the only dinners I can think of that we ate growing up where beef was a key player. I thought it was SO COOL that they came in little corn husk wrappers and loved the tender masa and spicy beef filling. Sigh.

You’d be surprised how often I catch my mouth watering when I write these posts. It’s almost embarrassing. Almost.

For our Cook Around the World meal of March (I know it’s April. Let’s not talk about it.), we decided to tackle beef tamales. Heaven help us. They were SO delicious, not as hard as I thought they would be, but rather time-consuming to make.

I would highly recommend making the recipe below, which has been modified to make HALF as many as most of the recipes I used to compile this one. And it still made LOTS–perfect to freeze and use as a quick lunch or dinner later this month when we’re preparing to move.

A few tips:

  • Make sure that you soak the husks in warm water. This keeps them pliable and less likely to tear.
  • Make the tamales over two days. I slow-cooked the beef on day one, shredded it, and put it in the fridge. Day two, I made the masa mixture and wrapped up the tamales.
  • Don’t overstuff them. Please. I’m serious. Just believe me, and go with it. Homemade tamales are a LOT smaller than store-bought ones. And this is as it should be.
  • Feel free to freeze them uncooked. They will steam beautifully and you’ll be fine.
  • They taste REALLY good with red enchilada sauce and refried black beans. Again with the drooling.

Beef Tamales I One Lovely LifeBeef Tamales
Printable Recipes

For beef:
3lbs beef roast (buy something leanish and inexpensive-ish)
1 large onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic, halved
2Tbsp chili powder
salt and pepper
1-2 Tbsp cumin

For masa:
4c masa harina
1c shortening
1/4c chili powder
2 tsp salt
corn husks (I bought 1 large bag and it was perfect).

Day 1:
Place beef, onion, and garlic in a slow cooker. Add 2 Tbsp chili powder, 1 Tbsp cumin, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour in enough water to cover or almost cover the meat. (You could use low-sodium beef broth.) Cook on low 8-10 hours or till very very tender. Don’t discard the broth! Shred beef and refrigerate. Store broth separately in a container in the refrigerator.

Soak corn husks in warm water overnight.

Day 2:
1) Rinse corn husks and drain well.

2) Skim fat off of the broth. Throw it away because it’s gross. Add just enough broth (only a few tablespoons) to just moisten the meat. Taste and check seasoning. If somewhat bland, add more cumin and chili powder. You may need to add a little more broth.

3) To make masa mixture, combine masa harina, shortening, chili powder, and salt. Add enough broth to the dough so that it is very moist and pliable but not liquidy.

To assemble: Spread masa about 1/8″ thick on each husk and lay a thin line of the beef mixture down the center, leaving about 1/2″ border on each side. use the corn husk to fold the masa over the beef mixture till the masa just overlaps. Fold the ends under the tamales. You can optionally tie a small strip of husk around the ends to secure them.

To cook: Steam fresh tamales for about 35 minutes or frozen ones for 60 min. You CAN use a microwave vegetable steamer, or, if you’re like us and didn’t have either, I can give you directions using a large lidded pot, a metal pie plate, and a mug…but I recommend the other methods first. Note that my tamales were very small (about the size of my two front fingers put together). For larger tamales, you’ll want to steam longer.

Masa on Foodista


  1. I make “A LOT” of tamales when I do make them (10-12 dozen at a time), and use my granite ware canner to steam them. Leave the jar rack in the canner and place a perforated pizza pan on top of the rack. Because steaming so many tamales at one time takes about 45 min., I punched holes in the bottom of a clean metal 1 pound coffee can with a beer can opener and place that in the center of the canner, on top of the pizza pan and pack the tamales around this. I put a kettle of water on to boil when I start the water boiling in the canner so if I need to add more water to the canner while the tamales are still cooking I just pour the boiling water from the kettle into the coffee can in the center and it doesn’t slow down the cooking process. If you’re going to go to all the trouble to make tamales you might as well make “A LOT”!!! Like you said in your article, this is a great “large group activity” make a party out of it and send everyone home with a dozen tamales!! ENJOY!!

  2. I made the meat filling yesterday. I’m conflicted about the steaming part. A couple other sites say to steam from 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hrs. You say only 20 min. Do you know why such a wide margin?

    1. Joy – I only steamed a few small tamales at a time. Mine were about the size of my two front fingers put together (quite small). For anything larger (or for more than 6-8 small ones at a time), you’ll absolutely want to steam much longer. I haven’t updated my notes on this recipe in a while. This was a good reminder!

      1. Thanks so much for the info, Emily. I’m also making Homemade Red Sauce today, and getting a pack of frozen homemade refried beans from the freezer. It’s a kind of ‘Mexican’ day. 🙂

  3. wrong for your timing it needs to be in there for about 45mins to 1hr and 15mins. You need to upgrade your resources.

    1. Alexander – Thank you for your comment. You’re right! I haven’t updated this post in years, and this is one of my first recipes. A longer steaming time will yield softer tamales.

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