How to Heat Tamales: Everything You Need to Know!

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Tamales are the ultimate labor of love when it comes to Mexican cuisine. They are pretty hard to make, so making a batch of tamales from scratch may be the best way to show someone you care. They are great for festive occasions, family dinners, or even a kitchen project meant to take your mind off things.

We also love how they are so customizable. Your tamale can be filled to the brim with decadent meats and cheeses if you like savory dishes. 

If you have a sweet tooth, you can use dulce de leche or fresh fruit for a heavenly dessert. The choice is all yours.

But what do you do when you’ve made too many tamales? You refrigerate or freeze them but reheating tamales can be tricky, as most people end up with soggy tamales. If you’ve bitten into one of these and discovered what regret tastes like, we’re here to make sure that never happens again.

This article looks at how to heat tamales while keeping the inside soft and perfect. We will also show you the best way to heat up tamales so that they taste freshly made. 

Whether you have a microwave, instant pot, or an electric skillet, you can revive frozen tamales and enjoy them in no time at all!

What are Tamales?

how to heat tamales

Tamales are a dish with Meso-American origins and the most popular version is the Mexican variant. They are made from a masa or cornmeal dough and various fillings, wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks, and are then steamed.

Because they are wrapped up, tamales are portable and mess-free. The meat and vegetable filling and cornmeal dough make it a complete meal. 

They have various names and variations, and different people attach their own traditions with tamales. In Venezuela, they are consumed at Christmas, and in the Andes, they are made with fresh cornmeal instead of dried cornmeal.

The masa of the tamales is usually made from masa harina or cornmeal. To make a dough, the masa harina is combined with some kind of broth, fat, and seasoning.

The fillings vary and can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. People often use slow-cooked meat, cheese, and vegetables.

Tamales are cooked by wrapping in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed. The wrappers aren’t eaten but they do infuse the tamales with a distinct flavor during the steaming process.

Different Kinds of Tamales

best way to heat up tamales

As mentioned, there are different varieties of tamales, depending on their ingredients, fillings, and cooking process. Tamales also differ from region to region, and families also have their own recipes. There’s no wrong way to make tamales, and there are almost 500 varieties of this dish!

With that being said, let’s look at the 5 most common kinds of tamales:

Tamales Verdes and Tamales Rojos:

These may be Mexico’s most classic iteration of tamales. They are made with chicken or pork and either a red or green chile sauce. This kind of tamale is more of an everyday tamale and is consumed all year round.


This Nicaraguan version of the tamale is an entire meal in itself. It uses plantain leaves, which are stuffed with lots and lots of masa, rice, meat, tomatoes, potatoes, olives, and even raisins. This dish takes much longer to prep and has lots of ingredients. You can eat this tamale as is, or pair it with tortillas.

Tamales Colorados:

This colorful variant of the tamales has lots of interesting and flavorful components. They get their color from achiote and tomatoes. The tamales are flavored with sesame seeds, tomatillo, and a touch of cinnamon, onions, garlic, and cloves.

The filling includes either chicken or pork. They are wrapped in Maxán leaves that permeate the tamal with a unique taste. Served with a side of bread, this kind of tamal is popular during Christmas, New Year, and other special occasions in Guatemala.

Dulce Tamales:

If you want to finish off your meal on a sweeter note, make a small batch of tamales de dulce. While sugar is the main filling for this kind of tamal, people also add dulce de leche, whole berries, pineapple chunks, dried fruit, and shredded coconut. Pink food coloring is also added to set these sweet tamales from their savory counterparts.


Garifuna-style tamales don’t have any corn or cornmeal in them. Instead, coconut milk and grated green bananas make up this unique variant. They are wrapped in Maxán leaves and steamed. These tamales are savory and are generally served with fish or soup.

How to Reheat Tamales: The Ultimate Guide for Perfectly Warmed Tamales

If you’ve been struggling with how to heat up tamales, this section will change that. We are going to go through every possible method of warming up tamales that will make them taste freshly cooked.

Reheating Tamales in a Steamer:

This is the best way to reheat tamales as it imitates the way they are cooked. Also, steaming warms them up evenly, making the fillings soft and juicy without being soggy. When steaming frozen tamales, defrost them first, or steam them for an additional 10 minutes.

  1. With that out of the way, let’s check out how to steam tamales.
  2. Fill most of your steamer with water, then turn the heat to medium.
  3. Once the water starts boiling, place your tamales in the basket. They should remain in their husks and be spaced out evenly.
  4. Steam the tamales for 15-20 minutes.

This is the best method as it keeps the texture perfect while retaining the original flavor. It also requires no fancy equipment and takes very little time to work.

Reheating Tamales in an Oven:

Most people know how to heat tamales in the oven, but not how to do it right. This is the easiest and most convenient way to warm up tamales as you can work in large batches. It is also a relatively labor-free method.

  1. Preheat the oven to 425F.
  2. Wrap each tamale in a couple of layers of aluminum tightly, making sure there is no air in layers.
  3. Place the tamales on a sheet pan, spacing them out evenly.
  4. Bake the tamales for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Want to know how to heat frozen tamales in an oven? Bake them for 25-30 minutes, or until the fillings are piping hot.

Reheating Tamales in a Microwave:

This is a quick way to reheat a tamale, especially if you just want to warm one or two portions.

  1. Wrap the tamal in a paper towel, then spray a little water onto the towel to dampen it.
  2. Place it on a microwave-safe plate. If you want to heat multiple tamales, make sure you space them out.
  3. Heat for 1-2 minutes, checking to prevent them from drying or being overcooked.

Reheating Tamales in an Instant Pot:

You can absolutely warm tamales in pressure cooker devices. Reheating tamales in Instant Pot is a good way to get dinner ready quickly, without much thought or effort.

  1. Set your instant pot to high.
  2. After the pot is heated through, dampen each tamal with 2-3 drops of water and put them inside without crowding the instant pot.
  3. Warm the tamales for about 10 minutes, or until the fillings are heated up thoroughly.

Reheating Tamales in a Double Boiler:

If all you have are pots, you can fashion a double boiler by filling one pit with water and placing another pot on top, making sure the water in the bottom pot isn’t touching it all.

  1. Fill half the pot with water and wait for it to heat up.
  2. Once the water is steaming, place the second pot on the top.
  3. Place the tamales on the second pot, arranging them with space between them.
  4. Double boil them for 15-20 minutes, covered. If they are frozen, heat for up to 30 minutes.

Reheating Tamales in a Crock-Pot:

Using a slow cooker or crockpot is a good way to reheat tamales, especially if you have a bit of spare time. This method is extremely easy to do, as you can forget about the tamales without worrying about them drying out.

  1. Assemble your crockpot and plug it in.
  2. Set the temperature of the slow cooker on high.
  3. Remove your tamales from the refrigerator and place them in the crockpot or slow cooker. Leave the husks on and then stack them with the open end up. You should also leave space between them for even cooking and heat distribution.
  4. Sprinkle the tamales with a little water.
  5. Cover the crockpot and reheat for about one hour.
  6. After half an hour, check on the tamales. Rearrange them if needed, or turn them over.
  7. Once the cooking time is up, check the tamales and see if the fillings register 165F on a probe or meat thermometer.

Reheating Tamales in a Skillet:

You can still reheat tamales if all you have is a skillet or non-stick fry pan. Here’s what you need to:

  1. Heat a cast-iron skillet or any kind of pan on medium-high.
  2. Place the tamales in the skillet. Make sure they spaced out and the husks are still wrapped around them.
  3. Cook the tamales until the husk is charred. Flip over and cook the other side until charred as well- around 8 minutes per side.

Cooking Frozen Tamales

Don’t have the time or patience to let your frozen tamales thaw first? No problem!

Here’s what you can do instead:

  • Use a defrosting tray, or leave the tamales (kept in a plastic freezer bag) in a large bowl or pot of room temperature water.
  • Simply reheat them using one of the methods mentioned above, but leave them on the heat for an additional 10-15 minutes.
  • You can even boil the frozen tamales in their plastic bags, sous vide style. If you have special sous vide bags, even better.

    Use sturdy plastic or silicone bags that seal perfectly. Boil these bags for 15 minutes, keeping an eye to make sure the bags don’t get damaged and let water leak through.

Tips for Reheating Tamales

These tips will help make reheating tamales safer and tastier to eat.

  • Always freeze tamales if you aren’t going to eat them in a day or two. They can get moldy or dry in the fridge.
  • Allow the tamales to cool down after cooking before freezing them. To avoid freezer burn, wrap them in airtight freezer bags.
  • They stay fresh in the freezer indefinitely, but it is best to eat them within 6 months as there may be a loss of flavor and freshness after this time.
  • You can safely reheat tamales without thawing them, as long as you follow the steps mentioned.
  • Always make sure that the tamales are wrapped in their husks or in layers of aluminum foil to prevent loss of moisture during the reheating process.

Any More Questions?

Still confused about heating methods and tamales? You might just  find the answers you’ve been looking for here!

01. How Long Should I Steam Tamales?

Tamales that are thawed or taken from the fridge should be steamed for 15-20 minutes. When steaming frozen tamales, steam for an extra 10 minutes.

02. How Do I Heat Up Tamales in Boiling Water?

You can steam them using a steamer, use a double boiler, or even cook them by boiling them in their plastic bags. Using boiling water gives you lots of methods to reheat your tamales.

03. Can I Freeze Tamales?

Freezing tamales in airtight plastic packaging is the best way to keep them fresh. They can also be stored in the freezer indefinitely.

04. What is the Best Way to Reheat Tamales?

Steaming tamales is the best way to heat tamales, as this method is quick, easy, and keeps the fillings soft without any sogginess.

Closing Thoughts

Since tamales are pretty labor-intensive, it is always a good idea to make a really big batch in one go and store them in the freezer for later use. Once you know how to heat tamales properly, you can plan meals and warm them for weeknight dinners. 

They take very little time to reheat, and the methods we show are easy and pain-free. With all that being said, what kind of tamale do you like best for quick reheated dinners?

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