Pork or Beef Tamales

Pork or Beef Tamales

Photos by  Lauren V. Allen

Photos by Lauren V. Allen

This is family recipe is one for the history books. For as long as I can remember, tamales have always been a key part of our holiday gatherings. This is the original recipe that my grandma still uses to this day, that is credited to her sister, my late Tía Mary Dueñas Palacios. This is then credited to their mother along with many generations of strong mujeres before them. 

Tamale-making is not for the faint of heart. Prepare yourself for a marathon when you decide to make these. Also, it might be wise to make that decision sober or you'll wake up regretting you told the world you were making tamales when they come knocking down your door the next day. At least you can entice them to help Tamalada-style with dreams of freshly steamed masa stuffed with succulent, spicy shredded pork.

To get a glimpse of our family tamaladas, click here.


  • 3 pounds fresh masa*

  • ⅔ pound shortening

  • 2 tablespoons salt

  • 2 teaspoons black pepper

  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon red chili pepper

  • ½ to 1 cup broth

  • 2 packages of hojas (dried corn husks)

*from a tortilleria, a tortilla factory, or grocery store or buy maseca and follow the recipe on the packaging

Meat Filling:

  • 3 pounds pork or beef roast

  • 2 ½  teaspoons salt

  • 6 cloves garlic

  • 1 tablespoons cumin

  • 1 ½ teaspoons black pepper

  • 5 tablespoons red chili powder

  • ½ cup shortening

  • ½ to 1 cup broth


Before you start, gather all your ingredients and have them ready, except for the masa. Use disposable foil pans and plastic bags for easy cleanup.

Cut meat in chunks; place in a large pot. Cover meat with water. Add 2 cloves of cut garlic and boil for 20 minutes. Lower heat and simmer for 30 more minutes until meat is cooked. Remove cooked meat from pot and cool. Save the broth. (You may add more spices to suit your taste.)

While the meat is boiling, prepare your spices by measuring and combining them with 4 smashed garlic cloves; set aside.

Grind or tear the meat with your hands. Melt shortening in a large pot. Sizzle the spices, stirring in the hot grease for four minutes. Add the ground meat and blend well with spices and grease by stirring and mixing. Add broth, a little at a time and keep stirring occasionally until meat comes to a soft boil, about 20 minutes. Meat should not be watery. Cool and put in storage bags in icebox until next day. Save remaining broth in icebox.

Clean the husk by soaking them in very hot water. While shucks are soaking, go and get fresh masa from tortilla factory or make it from maseca. Prepare masa as soon as you bring it home so it doesn't spoil. [Editor’s Note: If masa is bought from a tortilla factory, it usually does not have enough shortening to spread easily onto the husks or enough flavoring, hence the following step.]

Put masa in a large container and mix and blend well with shortening and spices. Add broth, a little at a time, until masa is soft and moist, but not watery. Let masa sit for 10 minutes.

Drain the husks and place in pan. Place meat, masa and husks in front of you and start. Each husk should not be too wide (about the width of your hand); tear it in half if it is.  

Spread masa on smooth side of the shuck. Leave 2 inches from the bottom up without masa. Place 2 tablespoons of meat filling down the middle of the spread shuck. Roll each side in to seal the tamale. Fold bottom up and set aside. Continue until all are made. (Get family to help spread.)

Cover the bottom of a large pot with leftover shucks. Set a small heatproof bowl or molcajete in the middle. Place tamales, folded side down, all around the bowl, making sure they are all standing. Cover tamales with damp tea towel. Add one quart boiling water down the pot side. Cover with lid and cook gently in a soft boil for 50 minutes. Make sure water does not boil away. You may add a cup of water after 30 minutes to prevent scorching.

After 50 minutes, check a tamale for doneness. The masa should easily peel away from the husk when complete. Turn off fire and let them sit in covered pot for 15 more minutes. Remove and let cool for storing or eat right away.

To reheat, toast tamales on comal until sides of ojas are slightly charred. Eat with ketchup or salsa.

-Mary Dueñas Palacios

Thank you to my family for putting together recipes like this that tell our history and bring us together. And to my grandma, who always makes sure that no one breaks any tamale-making superstitions.

Kimchee Mandu with Brown Butter Pan Sauce

Kimchee Mandu with Brown Butter Pan Sauce

¡la tamalada!

¡la tamalada!