How to Steam Tamales Without a Steamer

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.

How to Steam Tamales without a Steamer
Raw Tamales Ready to Be Steamed

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.

Tamalera for Tamales
Mexican Tamalera Pot

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.

How to Steam Birria Tamales
Tamales inside Tamalera

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.

Steamer Basket and Steam Rack for Tamales.
Vegetable Steaming Basket and Steam Rack

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.

Let’s begin.

Pressure Cooker Tamales with Vegetable Steamer Basket.
Vegetable Steamer Basket Inside Pressure Cooker

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.

How to Steam Tamales in a Pressure Cooker
Cooking Tamales Inside a Pressure Cooker

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
How to Steam Tamales in a Pot

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.

How to Steam Tamales in a Pot
Steamer Basket in Pot to Steam Tamales

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.

How to Steam Tamales without a Steamer

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.

How to Steam Tamales in a Regular Pot
Corn Husks Liner

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.

How to Steam Tamales without a Steamer
Tamales Ready to Steam without Steamer

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.

How to Steam Tamales without a Steamer
Steaming Tamales in a Regular Pot

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!

How to Steam Tamales without a Steamer
Steaming 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.

Mexican Tamales Made Meatless
Mexican Tamales Made Meatless Cookbook

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.

Steamed Tamales in Tamalera
Steamed Tamales in Tamalera

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 Steam Tamales without a Tamalera
Tamales Ready to Eat!

Important Tips

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

How to Steam Tamales Without a Steamer

Nancy Lopez & MexicanMadeMeatless.com
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.
5 from 1 vote
Save Recipe Pin Recipe Leave a Review
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Course Main Course, Main Dish
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 24 servings
Calories 207 kcal

Equipment

  • 1 large pot stock pot or your largest pot
  • 1 vegetable steamer basket

Ingredients
  

  • 1 batch tamales of your choice I used my vegan birria tamales as an example
  • 2 cups water

Instructions
 

  • 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.
    How to Steam Tamales without a Steamer
  • You’re going to also arrange some hydrated corn husks on the basket before arranging the tamales on it.
    How to Steam Tamales in a Regular Pot
  • Make sure to stand up the tamales upright and fit just enough without squeezing them in to tightly.
    How to Steam Tamales without a Steamer
  • 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.
    How to Steam Tamales without a Steamer
  • 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!
    How to Steam Tamales without a Steamer

Video

Notes

Please notice that the calorie and nutritional information will depend on what tamales you use. I’ve used my vegan birria tamales as an example, you can get that recipe here Vegan Birria Tamales

Nutrition

Serving: 24tamalesCalories: 207kcalCarbohydrates: 22gProtein: 3gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 465mgPotassium: 192mgFiber: 3gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 251IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 53mgIron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Leave me a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review and tag me on social media @MexicanMadeMeatless or tag #mexicamademeatless!

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