Homemade Pork Tamales (Tamales de Cerdo)

tamales on Christmas platter

Wallace and Wyant / Getty Images

Prep: 2 hrs
Cook: 10 hrs
Total: 12 hrs
Servings: 30 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
338 Calories
17g Fat
27g Carbs
19g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 30
Amount per serving
Calories 338
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 17g 22%
Saturated Fat 6g 29%
Cholesterol 60mg 20%
Sodium 170mg 7%
Total Carbohydrate 27g 10%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Protein 19g
Calcium 65mg 5%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Tamales (known as hallacas in Venezuela) are one of the most important South American foods. Tamales are made of meat and vegetables in cornmeal dough, wrapped tightly in banana leaves or corn husks and steamed. It's easy to imagine indigenous South America people carrying tamales as they worked—they are the perfect portable meal, elegant in their simplicity. Europeans settlers in South America appreciated tamales and added ingredients from Europe like nuts, raisins, pork, olives, and eggs, which you may also choose to add to your tamales. Tamales are often served at celebrations and are an important part of the Christmas meal in many countries.


  • For the Filling:
  • 3- to 4-pound pork butt roast
  • 2 slices bacon
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 large onion (chopped)
  • 1 tomato (chopped)
  • 1 red bell pepper (chopped)
  • 1 packet Goya seasoning with cilantro and achiote
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup beef stock (or red wine)
  • For the Dough/Masa:
  • 2 pounds masarepa (or masa harina)
  • 4 to 4 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 packet Goya seasoning (with cilantro and achiote)
  • 16 tablespoons lard (or vegetable shortening)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 pound package frozen banana leaves (or corn husks, or the equivalent amount of dried corn husks)

Steps to Make It

To Make the Filling

  1. Defrost banana leaves. Cook the bacon in a heavy skillet until crispy. Remove bacon slices, leaving rendered fat in the pan.

  2. Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper, then brown pork in the bacon fat until browned on all sides. Place pork into a crockpot.

  3. Add chopped onion, bell pepper, and tomato to the same skillet, along with the garlic salt, cumin, 1 packet Goya seasoning, and the chile powder, and sauté over medium heat until tender and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add vegetables to the crock pot with the pork.

  4. Add vinegar, brown sugar, and beef stock (or wine).

  5. Turn crockpot on to low, and cook for 8 hours, or until meat is very tender and easy to shred.

  6. Using 2 forks, roughly shred meat while still inside crockpot and let cook for 1 more hour.

  7. Strain meat, reserving juices. Place strained meat and vegetables in a bowl and set aside. Reserve 1 cup of the juices for the dough, and place the rest in a saucepan. Simmer until thick, then stir into shredded meat. The filling can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to two days.

To Make the Dough

  1. Add the masarepa or masa harina to a large bowl. Gradually stir in the 1 cup of reserved crockpot juices. Stir in 3 cups of chicken stock and a packet of Goya seasoning. Slowly add a little more chicken stock, stirring, stopping when cornmeal comes together into a soft dough. Work in the lard with your fingers. It should be soft and pliable.

  2. Rinse the banana leaves and gently dry them. Banana leaves are huge, so we cut them into rough rectangles for the tamales. Experiment with the size you prefer (large, appetizer-size, etc).

  3. For a medium tamale, cut the leaves into rectangles about 8 x 10 inches. Lay the rectangle down flat, and place about 1/2 cup of dough in the middle. Press the dough into a rectangle about 2 1/2 by 4 inches. Place a couple of tablespoons of filling on top, and sprinkle with raisins, nuts, and olives if desired. Top filling with another 1/2 cup of dough, and press into the rectangle.

To Wrap the Filling With Leaf

  1. Fold in the right side, then left, then turn up the bottom, then turn down the top. Secure tamale with string. Repeat with remaining filling and dough.

  2. Place several tamales (as many that will fit easily) into a steamer basket insert, and place basket over a pot of boiling water, keeping tamales above the water. Cover tamales with a kitchen towel, then with a pot lid, and steam for 30 to 45 minutes, being careful to replenish the water in the pot when necessary.

  3. Let tamales cool, then serve. Steamed tamales can be frozen. Reheat them by steaming them or simply microwaving them.