The Absolute Best Ways To Reheat Tamales

There is nothing better than unwrapping the husk of a steaming hot tamale. This Central and Southern American dish is a great template for all sorts of delicious additions and combinations. Tamales can be customized with all sorts of fillings, but whatever is chosen, it will be surrounded by a dough called masa. It is then wrapped in a corn husk to trap moisture while cooking. There are countless variations on the dish throughout Latin America, like this chicken and poblano version, or the pork-filled and banana leaf-wrapped variations from Cuba.

Like most foods, tamales are best eaten fresh, but they can also be frozen or kept in the refrigerator for two to three days according to Eat This, Not That. They say that the main issue with preservation and reheating is the masa itself. The dough is crafted with masa harina flour that comes from milled and nixtamalized corn (via Spruce Eats). These starches help make tamales a filling meal.

Chef Cindy Loren of Shuck House in Los Angeles and R10 Social House in Redondo Beach, California told Eat This, Not That, that undercooking or overcooking the masa can ruin the tamale. Doing either will result in a texture that's dried out or soggy. Finding that middle ground again when reheating can be even more difficult, but there are a few methods out there worth trying.

In the microwave

Our first method is the quickest. Like most other foods, microwaves are the fastest way to reheat tamales. They are also the least predictable though. Taste of Home says that tamales can be reheated in the microwave in a few short minutes. They recommend wrapping them in damp paper towels before placing them in the microwave. This allows the tamales to cook in a humid, steamy environment, and should keep them from drying out too much. The Manual adds that if the tamales are still in their husks, these can be moistened as well in place of a paper towel.

Both resources do warn that the microwave is one of the methods more likely to dry out tamales. The rapid heat makes it hard to control cooking conditions, and things can quickly go from good to bad.

Eat This, Not That also recommends a similar microwave method. They suggest adding a few drops of water onto the tamales wrapping and covering the plate with plastic film. This should keep the steam closer to the tamales as they reheat. It's also important to let frozen tamales thaw in the refrigerator before reheating them with this method.

With a Steamer

This method for reheating tamales is probably another of the quickest but does require specialized equipment. Though they can be grilled or fried, according to MexGrocer, tamales are regularly cooked in steam. Using a steamer basket to reheat them then makes perfect sense. Of course, not everyone is going to have a tamalera or tamale steamer at home, so it isn't the most accessible option for everyone.

If you do choose to go with the steamer, Eat This, Not That says that they should reheat in about 1 to 2 minutes once the pot is filled with steam. The Manual says that using a steamer will take closer to 30 minutes for frozen tamales, and about 10 minutes less for refrigerated ones. Of course, this will be dependent on the number of tamales in the pot, and the temperature you're steaming them at. Again, moisture is key here, and reheating is all about finding that balance between too wet and too dry.

To reheat tamales with a steamer simply fill the pot with enough water to cover the bottom completely without touching the steaming basket. About 2 to 3 inches of water should do. Then, place the basket inside the pot, and cover with a lid until the water comes to a boil. Safely place the tamales in the basket using a pair of tongs before replacing the lid and reducing the heat to medium. 

In the oven

One of the easiest ways to reheat tamales is to use a standard oven. According to Taste of Home, tamales can easily be reheated by preheating the oven to 425 F, wrapping the tamales with aluminum foil, and placing them inside the oven. They'll need to cook for about 20 minutes, and should be flipped halfway through to heat evenly. They also stress that as much air as possible should be removed when wrapping the tamales in foil.

Chef Cindy Loren also told Eat This, Not That to keep the husk wrapping and to use them in place of the foil for this method. She recommends placing the husked tamales on a baking sheet in a slightly cooler oven at 350 F. Opting for the husks will produce a slightly crispier tamale, which Loren says she prefers. She also mentions that the foil method works well, and will protect the tamales from the harsh heat of the oven. The foil-wrapped tamales will also be perfectly moist, and without a crispy edge.

In an air fryer

This method is similar to using an oven because you're working with dry heat again. While most of these methods focus on maintaining the moisture present in the tamales and working with more moist heat, these two methods use a dryer heat for similar results. According to The Manual, the advantage of using an air fryer is the same as most other foods. The small compartment heats quickly and circulates air to provide an even heat throughout.

They say to reheat tamales in an air fryer, simply moisten the husks or wrap slightly with cold water while heating the fryer to a mid-range temperature. Place them in the fryer basket for about five minutes, and then carefully remove them to check if they've finished cooking. Insanely Good Recipes also recommends spacing tamales out evenly so that the air fryer can do its thing and circulate the air evenly around the tamales.

On the stove

This is another method that will be accessible to most people, and work quite well to reheat tamales at home. The outcome might be slightly different than a freshly steamed tamale though. According to The Manual, Because the tamales are being browned in the pan without their protective husks, they're going to take on a crispy exterior, while hopefully keeping a soft interior and warming the fillings. There's nothing wrong with this method, it's just going to give you a different texture, and one more akin to placing them in the oven with their husks than steaming them.

To reheat tamales on the stove simply warm a non-stick pan on medium heat. Add roughly one teaspoon of olive oil. Then remove the tamales from their husks, and place them in the pan. Cover them with a lid, and allow them to cook. Flip them every 2 to 3 minutes to allow for even cooking. This method should only take about 10 minutes and hopefully creates a perfectly crusty exterior.