Don’t own a tamalera? No problem, let me show you how to steam tamales without a steamer. Your homemade tamales will still be perfectly good and so delicious.
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How to Steam Tamales With These Easy Methods
One of the easiest part about homemade fresh tamales is the steaming process.
I’m going to share with you some really easy methods for cooking your tamales. They will include using the traditional tamalera, as well as steaming without a steamer pot and all the different ways and tools you can use to cook your tamales.
So grab those extra corn husks, your tamale steamer, instant pot, or regular large pot. Because as you’ll see there are several alternative ways to steam tamales without a steamer.
Before you begin with this step make sure to read through the other steps in my tamales making series.
How to Steam Tamales with a Tamalera Steamer
These Mexican delicacies, are traditionally steamed in a steaming pot called a tamalera. You can purchase them at your local Mexican or Hispanic food store, or of course Amazon.
To steam tamales in a tamalera it’s first filled with warm water to the maximum water level indicated inside of the pot. Then the steamer shelf is put into place, the corn husks arranged around the steaming shelf, then the raw tamales are placed on top of the corn husks.
Once the tamales are arranged (try not to pack in too tightly), then you can cover them with extra corn husks or with aluminum foil and make a small whole in the foil, place the lid on the tamalera steamer and steam on the stove.
The flame needs to be set to high and the water needs to come to a boil. This will take about 15 minutes, then the heat is turned down to low and the tamales are allowed to steam.
The steaming time for a tamalera steamer pot will be anywhere from 1 hour to 2 hours. This will highly depend on the size of your tamalera pot and how many tamales are inside of it.
After about an hour you can start checking for doneness. More tips on that below.
Don’t own a tamalera pot? Continue readying.
How to Steam Tamales without a Steamer
If you don’t happen to own the traditional Mexican tamale steamer, don’t stress it because you can still cook your tamales without one.
There several different methods and you can choose which one works best for you based on what you have at home.
You can use an electric pressure cooker or a large pot, a vegetable steamer basket or rack from your pressure cooker are great tools to use with either the pressure cooker or pot.
But even if you don’t have either the vegetable steamer basked or Instant Pot, you can still use some very basic items to steam the tamales.
How to Steam Tamales with an Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker
For me, when I don’t want to use my tamalera, the easiest way…and quite possibly the best way and how to steam tamales without a steamer is to use a pressure cooker.
When I use the pressure cooker I always use a metal vegetable steamer basket or the steam rack that comes with my Instant Pot. This is what I use to stand up the tamales for steaming.
What you do is place the vegetable steaming basket or the steaming rank into the pot of the Instant Pot (or whatever brand of electric pressure cooker you have). Then pour in boiling water just enough water that it only reaches to the bottom of the basket or rack. Don’t let the water go above either because you don’t want your tamales to touch the water.
Next you can lay hydrated corn husks on the steamer basket or steam rack — definitely don’t skip this for the steaming rack, but the vegetable steamer basket will be sturdier.
Now place the raw or frozen tamales on top of the basket or rack, arranging them carefully so that the tamale masa dough doesn’t squeeze out of the sides of the corn husks. So it’s important not to overcrowd the tamales.
I can fit about 18 to 20 tamales into my 6qt pressure cooker. You may be able to fit around the same or less, depending on the size of your tamales and the pressure cooker you use.
Do not place tamales on top of the ones standing upright. Just one layer is all you should do.
Cover the tamales with hydrated corn husks. Place the lid on the pressure cooker. Set the valve to Sealing, set pressure to low pressure (I’ve also cooked on High Pressure and it doesn’t make much of a difference.), set time to 35 minutes.
Let the tamales cook and once the timer goes off allow the pressure to naturally release. It should take about 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Then you’re ready to eat your tamales!
Please note that I have also tried using the steam function and I find that the pressure cook function is a better function to use. But feel free to test it out yourself.
How to Steam Tamales in a Pot
Another easy way to steam tamales without a steamer is inside a regular pot.
That’s right, you can steam tamales right inside a regular stock pot or medium pot. There are a couple of different methods you can use for this and it’s a very reliable alternative for how to steam tamales without a steamer.
The first method is to use a vegetable steamer basket like we did with the pressure cooker method. Just make sure it’s wide enough to cover the inside circumference of your pot.
Place it inside then pour in a couple cups of water, or enough that the water level is right below the bottom of the steamer basket.
You’re going to also arrange some hydrated corn husks on the basket before arranging the tamales on it. Make sure to stand up the tamales upright and fit just enough without squeezing them in to tightly.
You can now cover the tamales with more hydrated corn husks or aluminum foil, then place the lid on the pot — make sure it’s a tight seal. Turn to high heat and allow the water to come to a boil. Once boiling you can turn the heat down to low or medium-low and steam.
The cooking time here is similar to using the regular tamalera steaming method. You can start checking on the tamales after about an hour.
Make sure you keep an eye on them and that the steaming water doesn’t dry out. You can always add more water by pushing one tamal aside, or removing it, then lifting the corn husk on the bottom so you can carefully pour in more water into the bottom of the pot. Make sure you don’t get water on the tamales!
You can start testing for doneness after about an hour — again steaming time will depend on how many tamales are in your pot as well as the size of them.
How to Steam Tamales in a Pot with Aluminum Foil
If you don’t have a steamer basket then you can use aluminum foil with a heat-proof plate to steam your tamales.
What you would do is make a full large balls of scrunched up aluminum foil and place them inside your pot to create a layer of aluminum foil. Then take a plate, flip it upside down, and place it on top of the foil balls. (You could also use an overturned bowl.)
Next pour in the water, making sure that it doesn’t touch the plate. Then arrange the tamales on the plate, making sure it doesn’t tip over. Cover the same with hydrated corn husks or cover the pot with aluminum foil, make a small hole then place the tightly sealed lid on the pot and steam just the same.
How to Steam Tamales in a Pot with Disposable Pie Pan
Another alternative to steaming tamales without a steamer is to use a disposable pie pan inside a regular pot.
You can use the steaming rack from your pressure cooker or create the aluminum foil balls to hold up the disposable pie pan.
But first make some whole around the bottom of the pie pan so that no water or moisture gets trapped inside it and leaves you with soggy tamales sitting in all that water an preventing them from cooking properly.
Once the pan has wholes you can set it on top of the steaming rack or the foil balls. Make sure it’s large enough for the inside of your pot and it doesn’t tip over or to one side or another.
Pour water to the pot before placing the pie pan with the wholes inside the pot, just make sure there’s enough water but that it doesn’t reach the bottom of the pan. Then arrange the tamales inside of it and steam just like you would with the other pot methods.
More Tamales Making Tips
Make sure you read through all of the helpful tamale making tips in my series. If I haven’t answered one of your questions don’t hesitate to reach out.
- How to Prepare Corn Husks for Tamales
- Masa For Tamales | No Lard Recipe
- The Masa Float Test for Tamales
- How to Spread Masa on Corn Husks for Tamales
- How to Fold Tamales
- How to Steam Tamales without a Steamer
- How Long Does It Take to Cook Tamales on the Stove?
- How Long do Tamales Last
- How to Store Tamales
- What to Eat with Tamales | 24 Tamales Side Dishes
When steaming corn husk tamales you really don’t want to have multiple layers. Just create the one layer of tamales. This way you neither squash the tamales and risk masa spilling out the sides, and also it will prevent the tamales from taking longer to cook.
The exception to this would be if you’ve made banana leaf tamales. Since these are completely wrapped into small pouches, you can stack them without a problem of spillage. In fact that’s what is done when cooking tamales with banana leaves.
I think covering the tamales with either hydrated corn husks or aluminum foil is important. This single layer prevents the steaming droplets or moisture to drop back onto the tamales as they’re cooking. This means that they’ll stay dry and cook faster.
If you don’t have neither extra hydrated corn husks or aluminum foil then you can use a clean kitchen towel to cover the tamales. But what I highly recommend you don’t use are paper towels or a damp paper towel to cover your tamales when steaming.
These don’t hold up well and there’s no guaranteed that they won’t fall apart and into the tamales — nobody wants to eat their tamales with bits of paper towels. So for best results use either corn husks or aluminum foil for steaming.
How to Steam Tamales Without a Steamer
- 1 large pot stock pot or your largest pot
- 1 vegetable steamer basket
- 1 batch tamales of your choice I used my vegan birria tamales as an example
- 2 cups water
- Place vegetable steamer inside the pot and pour in a couple cups of water, or enough that the water level is right below the bottom of the steamer basket.
- You’re going to also arrange some hydrated corn husks on the basket before arranging the tamales on it.
- Make sure to stand up the tamales upright and fit just enough without squeezing them in to tightly.
- You can now cover the tamales with more hydrated corn husks or aluminum foil, then place the lid on the pot — make sure it’s a tight seal. Turn to high heat and allow the water to come to a boil. Once boiling you can turn the heat down to low or medium-low and steam.
- Make sure you keep an eye on them and that the steaming water doesn’t dry out. You can always add more water by pushing one tamal aside, or removing it, then lifting the corn husk on the bottom so you can carefully pour in more water into the bottom of the pot. Make sure you don’t get water on the tamales!
Nancy Lopez is a food blogger and author of the cookbook Mexican Tamales Made Meatless. Born in Mexico, raised in the US, and currently living in Southern Mexico, she has followed a meatless diet for almost 10 years. It is her passion and mission to share all she has learned about vegan Mexican cooking and vegetarian Mexican recipes. Mexican Made Meatless is a blog dedicated to preserving the authentic flavors of Mexican cuisine just without the meat. It’s a place to celebrate Mexican culture and all it’s delightfully delicious traditional foods. Read more…