Do you love tamales? Me too! I have always planned on making this traditional Mesoamerican dish at home, but sadly, I have no steamer, and so I have always thought that it is impossible for me to create this delicious treat! Maybe you have had this problem too. But guess what? I have already found a solution to that. I have discovered the secret on how to cook tamales without using a steamer and I am going to share that with you today.

For those of you who are wondering what Tamales is, it is a dish made of either a starch- or corn-based dough filled with either fruits, meats, vegetables or chilies and wrapped in either a banana leaf or corn husk. Before, this dish used to be a portable food for travelers, hunters, and soldiers. Today, it has become a favorite snack of people from America, Guam, Caribbean and the Philippines.

So are you ready to find out how to cook tamales without a steamer? Then continue reading!

What You Will Need

Before we go to our cooking tutorial, here are a few items that you should prepare first:
To make the tamales, here are the ingredients that you will need:


  • 2.5 lbs of boneless pork.
  • 1 teaspoon of salt.
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper.
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic.

You can choose from different types of fillings—vegetables, meat or fruits or a mix of these three.


  • 10 lbs of cornmeal flour.
  • ¼ cup of water.
  • 3 tbsps of baking powder.
  • 4 cups of lard.


  • 6 dozens of dried corn husks.

You can opt for banana leaf if that is what’s available.

For the makeshift steamer, these are what you need:

  • 3 pieces of equal sized aluminum foil.
  • Heat-proof plate.
  • Large pot with lid.
  • Tongs.

You can also try baking your tamales however steaming has become the cooking method of choice by many because it keeps the dough as soft and tender as possible. And since you have no steamer on hand, you are given two options for steaming tamales—pan colander and plate method.

I have chosen to go for the plate method for two reasons. First of all, a plate is more readily available than a colander. Second, the plate technique is perfect for flat-laying items like asparagus, eggplants and in this case, tamales.

How To Cook Tamales – Step by Step Instructions

how to cook tamales

So, are you ready to discover how to cook tamales without using a steamer? Here are some steps that you should take:

Step 1. Prepare the dough.

Prepare the dough

Place cornmeal flour into the mixing bowl. Add baking powder, salt and ¼ cup of water into the bowl.

Start kneading the dough with your bare hands. Add in the lard and continue kneading. Once it starts to feel compact and thick, the masa is ready.

Place it under a bowl turned upside down and set it aside.

Step 2. Prepare the filling.

Place boneless pork together with salt, pepper, and garlic into a stock pot. Pour cold water until the pork is fully covered. Bring water to a boil then reduce heat and allow it to a simmer. Partly cover the pot and cook for ½ hours.

Afterwards, remove pork from pot. Allow it to cool down. Once it is already cool, shred the meat using a fork.

Step 3. Assemble the tamales.

Assemble the tamales

Allow the corn husks to soak in warm water for 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Once it is already soft, pat it dry using a kitchen towel. Carefully arrange two tablespoons of dough into the corn husks.

At the center of the dough, place two tablespoons of the filling.

Step 4. Fold corn husks.

how to steam tamales

Carefully fold the corn husks, ensuring that no part of the dough is left uncovered. To prevent the wrapper from unraveling during the cooking process, it is recommended that you secure the ends or the corners of the wrapper using cornhusk strips.

Step 5. Arrange aluminum foil balls in the pot.

how to cook tamales without a steamer

Make sure that the aluminum balls are of equal sizes as these will serve as a stand for your steaming platform which is the heat-proof plate. Arrange the aluminum balls to form the shape of a triangle at the bottom of the pot.

Step 6. Place the heat-proof plate on top of the aluminum foil balls.

Put the heat-proof plate (which is your steaming platform) at the top of the three aluminum balls. Make sure that it is properly secured and stable on top of the balls to prevent its contents from falling to the bottom of the pot.

Step 7. Pour water into the pot.
The water level should be just below the plate. Don’t go beyond that mark because of you do; the tamales will be soaked in water.

Step 8. Place tamales in the plate.
Carefully arrange the tamales wraps in the heat-proof plate. It must be placed open side up in the plate. You can add a few more empty corn husks on top of the tamales to prevent it from being soaked with water. Turn the heat to medium-high, bring it to a simmer. Reduce heat and place the cover of the pot.

Step 9. Steam tamales for an hour.
Make sure that you check the water level inside the pot after every 15 minutes. In the event that the water level is already low, you can add more water, so it will not get dry.

Step 10. Remove tamales from the pot.
After an hour or so, remove the tamales or the entire heat-proof plate from the pot. Keep in mind that the plate is hot so take some precaution by wearing kitchen mittens and using a pair of tongs in getting the plate. Set it aside and allow to cool for a while.

Step 11: Serve and enjoy!

You can serve this warm, or if you plan to eat it later, you can put it in the freezer and steam it again when it’s time to eat. Serve this with any sauce of your choice on the side.

Pro Tip: For the pork tamales, any type of chili sauce is highly recommended.


So, did you enjoy our comprehensive tutorial on how to cook tamales? We hope you do!

Cooking tamales is not an easy feat, especially if you have no steamer on hand. But thanks to the steps mentioned above, we can now rejoice in the fact that you can easily build a makeshift steamer anytime using a pot, aluminum foil sheets, and heat-proof plate. Now, we can make our all-time favorite snack that is not just delicious but healthy and filling as well.

What did you think of our tutorial? If you have a few feedbacks, comments and suggestions, please share them with us in the comments section. Oh, and don’t forget to share this article with your fellow tamales lovers too!