How To Heat Tamales In 8 Different Ways

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This guide will teach you how to heat tamales in 8 easy ways by using any kitchen gadget you have so that you don’t need to throw away tamale leftovers. 

best way to heat up tamales
best way to heat up tamales

A tamale is not just another dish; it’s a taste of Mesoamerican history. Wrapped in corn husks and filled with delightful ingredients such as pork, chicken, veggies, corn, olives, dried fruits, and cheese, it’s a culinary masterpiece that has garnered fans globally. Especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, tamales are a staple, with the bean, pork, and cheese-filled Mexican version taking a special place in many hearts.

The preparation of tamales involves a mixture of maize/corn dough (masa) combined with a filling. This mixture is then encased in banana leaves or corn husks and steam-cooked to perfection. The result? A firm corn masa that’s ready to be savored. While the corn husk wrapper adds an earthy flavor note, remember, it’s not edible!

Wondering why your tamales are soft? Steam cooking is the reason! Now, let’s see how to keep that softness intact while reheating.

How To Heat Tamales In 8 Different Ways 1
How To Heat A Tamale In 8 Ways

The Essentials of Reheating Tamales

Before delving into the various methods, it’s pivotal to understand some reheating essentials. When reheating tamales, the primary goal is to maintain the moisture and not let them dry out. The method you choose plays a crucial role in achieving this. Whether it’s using a steamer, microwave, or oven, each method has its pros and cons.

Tip: Always ensure your tamales are stored correctly. If they’re frozen, consider thawing them before reheating.

Method 1: Using a Steamer

Steamers are a natural choice for tamales, given they are steam-cooked in the first place. Reheating tamales in a steamer ensures they retain ample moisture, giving them that fresh, homemade taste.

What You Need:

  • Bamboo steamer or metal double-boiler steamer
  • A large pot of water
  • Tongs


  1. Fill the pot with 2-3 inches of water, ensuring the steamer basket doesn’t touch the water.
  2. Place the steamer basket, cover with a lid, and turn the heat on high.
  3. Once boiling, reduce to medium heat. With tongs, place tamales in the basket, ensuring their ends face downwards.
  4. Maintain space between tamales for uniform heating.
  5. Steam for 20 minutes if thawed, or 30 minutes if frozen.
  6. Use tongs to remove and serve immediately.

👩‍🍳Pro Tip: Always use a steamer with a tight-fitting lid. This ensures maximum steam retention, which translates to perfectly moist tamales. If you don’t have a steamer, a colander over a pot of boiling water, covered with a lid, will suffice.

Method 2: Microwave Magic

If you’re pressed for time, the microwave can be your best friend. It’s quick, but caution is the key to prevent dry tamales.

What You Need:

  • A microwave
  • Microwave-safe plate
  • Damp paper towel


  1. Remove aluminum foil from tamales.
  2. Cover tamales with a damp paper towel or sprinkle water on corn husks.
  3. Place a couple of tamales on a microwave-safe dish, spaced out.
  4. Cover with a damp towel.
  5. Microwave at 70% heat for 15 seconds.
  6. Flip tamales, cover with fresh damp towels, and microwave for another 15 seconds.
  7. Let them stand for 30 seconds, then check if they’re evenly warmed.

👩‍🍳Pro Tip: Place a damp paper towel or cloth over the tamales before microwaving. This helps to retain moisture and prevents them from drying out. Remember to space out the tamales evenly for uniform reheating.

Method 3: Heating Up on the Stovetop

Using a skillet on the stovetop gives your tamales a crisp outer coating. It’s ideal for thawed tamales.

What You Need:

  • Skillet
  • Oil


  1. Preheat skillet on medium flame.
  2. Add a tablespoon of your preferred oil.
  3. Once heated, remove corn husks and place tamales in the skillet.
  4. Cook each side for a minute or two, aiming for a crispy brown coating.
  5. Serve immediately!

👩‍🍳Pro Tip: A non-stick skillet works best for this method. If you like a slight crispness to the outside of your tamale, refrain from using too much oil. A little goes a long way!

Method 4: Oven-baked Goodness

An oven is perfect for reheating a batch of tamales. It provides an even heat, ensuring a consistent golden brown finish.

What You Need:

  • Oven
  • Ovenproof dish or sheet pan
  • Tongs
  • Aluminum foil


  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
  2. Wrap each tamale in aluminum foil.
  3. Place them spaced out on a sheet pan.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, then flip and bake for another 10 minutes.
  5. Check for even heating before serving.

👩‍🍳Pro Tip: Wrapping each tamale in aluminum foil before placing them in the oven can help in retaining their moisture. Also, ensure they’re placed in the middle rack for an even distribution of heat.

Method 5: Slow Cooker Warmth

A slow cooker provides consistent, uniform heating, though it takes time.

What You Need:

  • Crockpot or slow cooker
  • Tongs
  • Instant thermometer


  1. Set your slow cooker to high.
  2. Place tamales with their open ends facing up.
  3. Sprinkle some water.
  4. Cover and cook for an hour, checking midway.
  5. Ensure they’ve reached a temp of 165°F (74°C) before serving.

👩‍🍳Pro Tip: When using a slow cooker, layer the bottom with a few corn husks or a damp cloth to prevent the tamales from sticking. This method not only warms the tamales gently but also allows them to marinate in their own juices, enhancing their flavor. Remember to set the cooker on a low setting to avoid overcooking and drying them out.

Method 6: Air Fryer Quickness

An air fryer can surprise you with its efficiency in reheating tamales, ensuring great texture and flavor.

What You Need:

  • Air fryer
  • Tongs
  • Basting brush


  1. Allow tamales to reach room temperature.
  2. Moisten each tamale with a brush.
  3. Preheat the air fryer.
  4. Place tamales spaced out in the basket.
  5. Air fry at 400°F (204°C) for 8 minutes. If frozen, add 3-4 minutes.
  6. Serve hot!

👩‍🍳Pro Tip: To avoid drying them out, lightly brush or spray the tamales with oil before air frying. This will give them a crispy exterior while keeping the inside moist and flavorful.

Method 7: The Grill Method – Getting That Smoky Flavor

What You Need:

  • Tamales: Preferably thawed for even heating
  • Grill: Gas or charcoal, both work well
  • Aluminum Foil: For wrapping the tamales


  1. Preheat the Grill: It’s essential to get a medium heat for the best results. You don’t want it too hot, as this might burn the tamales.
  2. Wrap the Tamales in Foil: Ensure each tamale is wrapped securely to protect it from direct flame.
  3. Place on the Grill: Distribute them evenly across the grill’s surface. This method will give your tamales a unique smoky flavor that’s hard to resist.
  4. Rotate Occasionally: Every 5 minutes, rotate the tamales to ensure even heating and avoid any potential burning.
  5. Check for Readiness: After about 20-25 minutes, your tamales should be hot and ready. The outer husk should be slightly crispy with a delicious, smoky aroma.

👩‍🍳Pro Tip: If you’re using a charcoal grill, adding a few wood chips can enhance the smoky flavor even further!

Method 8: The Oven Bag Technique – Ensuring Moisture Retention

What You Need:

  • Tamales
  • Oven Bags: Available at most grocery stores in the baking aisle
  • Oven


  1. Preheat the Oven: Set your oven to 325°F (165°C).
  2. Prepare the Oven Bag: Add a tablespoon of flour into the bag and shake it well. This prevents the bag from bursting.
  3. Place the Tamales Inside: Arrange them in a single layer, ensuring they aren’t overcrowded.
  4. Seal and Make Small Holes: This will allow steam to escape and prevent the bag from inflating too much.
  5. Bake: Place the oven bag on a baking tray and bake for about 25-30 minutes.
  6. Check for Readiness: Tamales should be steaming hot and moist when you take them out.

👩‍🍳Pro Tip: This method ensures that your tamales don’t dry out. The oven bag retains all the moisture, giving you juicy, perfectly heated tamales every time!

Using Different MethodsProsCons
Will not give a crisp, brown coating
Will dry out the tamales
Doesn’t need much attention
No chance of overheating
OvenGives the best crisp and flavor
Suitable for reheating large batches
StovetopCrispy resultNeeds oil
Needs constant attention
Only works for thawed tamales
Crock Pot or Slow CookerKeeps the tamales soft and retains
maximum flavor and texture
Doesn’t need constant attention
Takes the longest time
Instant PotEase of use
Retains original texture
Air FryerEasy
Doesn’t need attention
Need to be extra careful when removing tamales as they can be very hot
Deep FryerCrispiest and thickest exterior
Evenly cooked insides
Needs oil
Adds extra calories

Tips For Reheating Tamales

how to heat tamales
steaming frozen tamales
  1. Don’t try to microwave frozen tamales as the center will not get reheated and will be cold. 
  2. Don’t reheat three tamales at the same time in the microwave. 
  3. To reheat tamales faster in the steamer, cut the tamales in half.
  4. If tamales contain meat, ensure they reach a temperature of 165°F (74°C) before serving.
  5. When you place tamales in a steamer, they should not be submerged in water. 
  6. Store leftover tamales in an airtight container to avoid spoiling.


Can You Microwave Tamales With Their Corn Husks?

Yes, you can and should microwave tamales with their corn husks to ensure the flavor from the husks is transferred to the tamales. 

How Long Do You Steam Cooked Tamales?

You can steam cooked and thawed tamales for 20 minutes. 

How To Cook Tamales In The Microwave?

Simply remove the aluminum foil from the tamales and cover them with damp towels instead. Microwave on medium-high for 15 seconds before turning the tamales to the other side and microwaving again on the same medium-high heat for another 15 seconds. Serve after a standing time of 30 seconds.

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