How to Make Tamales in the CrockPot

You can make perfect tamales at home by steaming/cooking them in your crockpot slow cooker. This truly is the easiest way to make them and you can fit up to 20 at one time in your pot!

Day 353.

I don't think I've been this excited to share a post since the crockpot falafels.

I was pretty sure when I began this project that tamales would work in the crock, but wanted to wait until closer to the holidays so I could tie them together with one of my favorite children's books, Too Many Tamales, by Gary Soto

They did work, and I brought them to my daughter's class yesterday to share. So these have been kid-tested not only by my own two, but by 18 second-graders.

They liked them.

The Ingredients.
makes 15-20 tamales

Filling (quite mild, since I was feeding children):

1 (3.5-pound) store-bought rotisserie chicken
1 tsp cumin
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies, mild
1 (15-ounce) can corn, drained
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, optional

Tamale Dough:

4 cups masa harina
2 1/2 cups beef broth
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/3 cup lard or vegetable shortening (I used crisco)
1 (6-ounce) package dried corn husks (I needed to go to a Mexican grocer)

The Directions.

There are a few parts here. I "cheated" and used a fully-cooked chicken as the meat in my tamale filling. If you'd like, you can cook a hunk of beef or pork overnight with spices and chili pods in your crockpot. The meat should shred easily with forks before it is ready to go inside the tamales.

If you're going to use the rotisserie chicken, combine the meat with the onion, garlic, can of green chilies, cumin, salt, and drained corn in a 4 quart (or so) crockpot and cook on high for 3-4 hours, or on low for 6. 

The onions need to be translucent before going into the tamales. If you don't have time for this step, skip the garlic and onion, and combine the chicken with the chiles, cumin, salt, and drained corn in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Soften the corn husks by soaking them in very hot water until they are quite pliable.

To make the masa, combine all dough ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and beat on medium-to-high speed until everything is mixed well and the dough is spongy. 

Check the dough by dropping a little ball of it into a glass of water. It should float. If it doesn't float, this source says to continue to beat the dough.

Take a bit larger than a golf-ball size piece of masa dough, and spread it into a wet corn husk. The dough should be about 1/4 inch thick--you do not want to see the corn husk through the dough. Add a bit of filling, and some cheese. 

Fold the corn husk over to join the edges of the masa. If you need to add more dough, do so---no filling should peek through. Fold all corn husk edges into the center and place into the bottom of an empty crockpot, seam side down (I used a 6.5 quart, and fit 19 inside).

Repeat. Many, many, many times. It took me about 2 hours to make all of the tamales.

If you find that your corn husks are unraveling, you can add another the other way to secure it, and tear off a long piece to tie around. 

I had to do this a few times. I also needed to add more hot water to the soaking husks to keep them pliable. If you need to step away from the tamale-making-process for a bit, put the lid on your crockpot to keep moisture inside.

When the crockpot is full, put the lid on and cook on high for 4-6 hours, or until a tester tamale looks and tastes done. The tamales on the edges will cook a bit faster. Once your tester looks good (I used the same one, and kept re-wrapping it and adding it back when it wasn't ready), unplug the crockpot and keep the lid off. 

Don't unwrap any others until they've set for about 15 minutes. My tamales were cooked at 6 hours, but I began checking every 45 minutes at 4 hours.

The Verdict.

I was thrilled that these worked so well! They are definitely labor-intensive, but pack such an impressive presentation. Now that I know how to do them, I'll make them again----but not for a while.

You can make perfect tamales at home by steaming/cooking them in your crockpot slow cooker. This truly is the easiest way to make them and you can fit up to 20 at one time in your pot!

Do you love this recipe?

Please share it with your friends!

Posted by: Stephanie O'Dea | A Year of Slow Cooking at December 18, 2008

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What they say about this recipe

  1. I've always wanted to try tamales. This sounds like a good family project. thanks for sharing this recipe. It's not as scary as others I've seen.

  2. This is so impressive! Way to go! I am so going to miss reading this everyday when its over!

  3. I am not sure I understsand how to fold them. Could you explain please?

  4. Wynde, like a bean burrito. Fold the edges in together.


  5. I love tamales! I've been scared of the recipes that said they had to be steamed in a big pot because I just don't have that kind of equipment, but hooray for the crockpot! I have a bag of masa, too, since I bought it wrongly assuming it was cornmeal and have been looking for easy ways to use it up ever since.

  6. Oh yummy! I absolutely love tamales, and I think it's just awesome that you can make them in the crock pot. Crock pots are just amazing!

  7. I can find the corn husks at my local Wal-Mart, in the produce section. They have a little kiosk with all kinds of tradional Mexican ingredients. Then again we have a large Mexican population here in the Nashville area. Who whould have thunk?

    Blessings, Beth Ann

  8. I can't wait to try these! Thanks for posting the recipe.

  9. oh snap! i am going to make these tomorrow. This is my hubbys favorite food. He talks about them all the time, and rarely gets to eat them. Yaay! I think I am going to surprise him with them when he gets home for work. Thanks for sharing!

    BTW I made the ornaments you posted a few days ago, for my christmas presents this year and they looked really cute. I went to your source article and followed her directions. I didn't do them in the crockpot, but in the oven, so that I could make more than just 2-3 at a time. I'll email you a picture of the ones I have finished so far (10), which is mainly my hubbys family. Thanks for posting that also. I was drawing a blank this year on what to do for Christmas as we weren't able to buy anyone presents.

    Thanks again!

  10. YESSSSSSSSSSSSSS! Oh, thank you thank you thank you thank you.....!!

  11. I used my crockpot just the other day to slow cook my red chile pork to use in my tamales!

    Yes, tamales are labor intensive, but they KEEP! We love to freeze the leftovers and pull them out for individually frozen meals. The husk provides the perfect cover for steaming them back to life in the micro.

    Christmas is tamale time!

  12. whoo...lotsa work. But I bet they were so tasty. nicely done

    Did you know that authentic tamales are supposed to have an olive in the middle? Not sure why. I don't care for olives. But I grew up in mexican-ville and the ladies who toiled hours and hours on these (not in the crockpot) and sold them for $10/dozen swear by the olive. Kinda like the worm in tequilla, or something.

    Not that I'd know anything about that either cuz, you know, I'm a Mormon and all. =)

  13. Oh, and after shredding the pork I cooked in the crockpot, I added hot water to my crockpot on high and shoved in my bag of husks. You're supposed to soak the husks before you stuff them, and the crock pot does the job marvelously--keeping the husks saturated and warm at the same time.

  14. Wow, your ingeniousness at using the crock pot continually astounds me. I would have never thought of using the crock pot for tamales. Thank you! I will have to give it a try.

    By the way, I have an extensive tamale section at my website with detailed directions of different ways of wrapping tamales, plus lots of tamale recipes that can now be cooked in the crock pot! If anyone is interested, you can find it at

  15. Anonymous12/18/2008

    I am very excited to make these with the kiddo's. I just requested "Too Many Tamales" from the library. Thanks for the great idea! Trying to make Christmas memories you know...

  16. A very "Dear" friend had an awesome recipe for tamales! She has passed many years ago, but I think as a "Tribute" I can adapt for a crock! Thank you for the trip down memory lane! you will be missed once the 366th day comes! Can't wait for your book!

  17. Yummy! So much easier than using steamer that I don't have which results in them burning because I get distracted with my kiddos! Thank you for sharing!

    I am going to order that book from the library too! :)

  18. From what I gathered, making tamales at midnight on Christmas Eve, as a family, is a tradition in some Latin American countries, which is where we'll be next year. This is going to be so helpful when we try to do this! Thanks a ton.

  19. I've made "Tamale Pie" in the crockpot, cuz I'm lazy. I just put all of the inside ingredients on the bottom, and layered the cornmeal stuff on top, and there it was. Not bad, but of course the real deal looks much nicer!

  20. I love any recipe that starts with "One Rotisserie Chicken"

    .... brilliant!!!!

  21. Sarah-- you can use the dry masa in lots of things. I use it regularly instead of corn meal in cornbread and muffins, dredging fish, tamale pie, cornmeal pancakes, etc. It isn't good for polenta or cornmeal mush, though. Just start experimenting!

    To Fold: first, spread the masa on the widest part, leaving 1 1/2 in. of the pointy end and 1 in. or so at the bottom, straight end.
    Plop down the filling in a strip down the middle, leaving 1/2 in. of masa at bottom and top exposed and the majority of the sides.
    Roll left side over to middle. Roll right side over, making sure to overlap not just the husk but also a bit of the masa, it will act like glue. Fold ends over and toward the center.

    Alternatively, some people just roll the sides together, making sure they get "glued". Then they take strips of corn husk and tie the bottom and tops. Looks sort of like the "poppers" used at Christmas parties in Great Britain.

  22. Anonymous12/18/2008

    Question: In the crockpot that you are cooking the tamales in, do you put any water at the bottom of the crock or do they just steam their way to goodyness?? I may have missed something in the directions. Can't wait to give it a try.

    Fan from Big D

  23. I am very impressed with your tamale making skills! Great end of the year project!! I'm sure all the labor was worth it.

    Enjoy your tamales mamacita!!


  24. Hi Anon,
    nope, the crockpot is dry. The moisture comes from the wet corn husks.


  25. Wow, those look awesome. I don't know that I could spend 2 hours making them considering I start losing patience after about six cabbage rolls. Who knows those might end up tempting me enough to try.

  26. I can't wait to try these over our Christmas vacation! I like tamales with a red sauce, do you have a good recipe for an easy red chile sauce?

  27. I hadn't visited your blog for awhile so was scrolling back to older posts and found your one on using your crock-pot for a deoderizer! WOW! That is exactly the cure I've needed for pesky smells that just won't GO AWAY!

    Out of curiosity how long did you leave your water/bs on for??

  28. Hi there, it was plugged in for about 6 hrs, then I unplugged it and left the lid off during the night.

  29. Thank you!!!
    I'm making tamales for Christmas Eve (for the first time) and I was *hoping* there was a faster way than steaming them. Crockpots for the win!

  30. Anonymous12/18/2008

    Ooo, thank you! I love tamales and steaming them in a crockpot seems so much easier! And I just happen to have that Too Many Tamales book, which I checked out from the library this past week. :)

  31. Dang! These would make an awesome Christmas present! I just wish I had seen this last weekend because it would have taken care of two presents instead of one. This is great though!

    Thank you!!

  32. Anonymous12/19/2008

    So, how many tamales did this recipe make? Even 19 seems like a lot! But, I am super excited to make these! I have loved your blog so much!

  33. I am SO going to make these!! I adore tamales and find that the ones in Tennessee do not compare to those from my Southern California hometown. Thank you!! Thank you!!!

  34. I am so excited to try this. I used to work with a lady that was from Guatemala, and she would bring me some in after they would have them. I really miss her!;) I am definitely going to try this one!

  35. These look great; I'm going to have to try to adapt it to Guatemalan style tamales which usually wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn and with a sauce, I'll be going off of this recipe. Any tips?

    I've made it them in a steamer but not the crock. But we're running around all day Weds and would LOVE to have the traditional tamales that night.

  36. Wow! You are such a brave soul. I've always wanted to make tamales, but thought they'd be a pain. Thanks for sharing this.

  37. As Azúcar said -- try it with pork.
    I cook a Boston Butt (pork shoulder) in the crockpot and make tacos from it. It would be great for tamales too.

  38. Anonymous12/29/2008

    I have a friend who uses coffee filters instead of husks (ran out of husks one year and improvised with splendid results). Funky, huh? Between that bit of info and your post, I'm ready to try.

  39. Yum - I really enjoyed these. Thanks for posting. I used parchment paper and leftover Thanksgiving Turkey from the depths of the freezer - you can see the results at

  40. Anonymous3/26/2009

    I'm not sure what happened with this recipe. I followed it exactly. The masa was way too thick to mix with a mixer. I nearly burned mine out. I had to use more broth and still couldn't get the dough to float. Not to mention the tamales came out really dry. I cooked them for 6 hours and ended up with some that were nearly burned around the edge of the pot. A 1.8 lb chicken would have been enough meat and that is what I bought at Walmart. I actually bought 2 because it called for a 3.5 lb chicken. Ended up with WAY too much chicken. Next time I'll just follow the recipe on the masa bag.

  41. I just found your blog and I think I'm in love!!!!

    I was born and raised in South Texas where Tamales are everywhere, especially around the holidays. These sound really good! By looking at your pictures, I think I see why you had to double wrap or tie a few--it looks like some of them were too thick. From my experience, they should be no more than about the width of two fingers at the very most. I'm sure it didn't impact the flavor of the finished product, but as far as a labor standpoint, you'd have to do less double-wrapping and/or tieing if they were they thinner. Also, where I live, roast pork is the traditional meat, not beef or chicken. All are acceptable though.

  42. Stephanie-

    a good way to cut down on the labor is to use parchment paper instead of the husks- not as pretty, but much easier and just as yummy.


  43. Anonymous11/12/2010

    Gloria, the reason your masa doesnt float is because it didnt have enough fat. I prefer to mix mine with a fork to make sure the fat content is thoroughly incorporated, otherwise you'll get pieces that float and pieces that wont. That also may be why some of yours almost burned.

  44. Anonymous11/16/2010

    Make tamalis every Christmas! I cheat and get my masa from the local mexican store. Im going to try them in crockpot, instead of steaming them! Sounds fun! Thanks!

  45. Anonymous12/23/2010

    Made these last night. They turned out very well. I started with a 4lb whole chicken and slow cooked it for about 9 hrs on low and then shredded it and then followed the above directions. I made my tamales a bit smaller than yours and got I think it was 26 in my slow cooker. A about 5 1/2 hrs they were done so I made some mexican rice and a batch of homemade sauce for the tamales using heirloom tomatoes I canned this summer. Overall very tasty and very much planning to make another batch or two before the year is out.

  46. Yay! I was looking for a way to make my tamales without using a steamer basket! Thank you! Merry Christmas!

  47. SparkBunny4/01/2012

    I used leftover roast and leftover bbq chicken in my tamales today. I couldn't get the dough to ever float, either. My mixer just about died trying to do it, so i went to hand kneading for half an hour, and it still never floated. I also just sauteed the onion and garlic in a skillet, then added in the meat and spices to get the flavor mixed in. Didn't see the point in using a crock pot to cook the filling for 6 hours when i could make it in 20 minutes on the stove. Total prep time: about 2.5 hours from start to in the crock. I plan on checking them every hour or so, and adding some water later if the look like they're drying out. I'm a little nervous cooking them on high, but i guess i'll see what happens at dinner!

  48. Would it be OK to prepare these one day, put them in the fridge, all wrapped up, and THEN put them in the crockpot the next day?

  49. Hi Daisy,
    yes. I've done so successfully --- you can make them up to 2 days in advance and then slow cook. If you want to freeze, cook first though.