Homemade Beef Tamales

Slow-Roasted Shredded Beef Tamales

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Prep: 35 mins
Cook: 8 hrs 35 mins
Soak and Cool: 90 mins
Total: 10 hrs 40 mins
Servings: 20 to 40 servings
Yield: 40 tamales
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
278 Calories
18g Fat
16g Carbs
13g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
×
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 20 to 40
Amount per serving
Calories 278
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 18g 24%
Saturated Fat 7g 35%
Cholesterol 47mg 16%
Sodium 232mg 10%
Total Carbohydrate 16g 6%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 13g
Vitamin C 7mg 36%
Calcium 48mg 4%
Iron 3mg 18%
Potassium 239mg 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 are a dish made with masa dough that is wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf and steamed, often stuffed with a filling like meat, cheese, or veggies. Tamales (singular tamal) have been prepared and eaten for thousands of years in Mesoamerica and are still a popular dish in Latin and Central America. The husk or leaf is peeled away before eating and can be served as-is or with salsa, sour cream, and other toppings.

Succulent spiced shredded beef is the star of these tamales and it's easy to make if you have a slow cooker and the time. You can use a different filling if you like, just skip the beef steps and start by preparing the corn husks. Although making tamales is a bit time-consuming, it's not difficult and you will be rewarded with a rich, flavorful dish that will become a family favorite.

Look for masa harina, annatto paste, and corn husks in the international section of the grocery store or at any Mexican, Latin American, or Central American grocery store. Look for dry masa harina in a bag, not pre-made masa that's already been mixed with water.

This recipe makes plenty of tamales for sharing and they freeze well for later. Tamales are a favorite at Christmastime but are enjoyed year-round. Serve with fresh pico de gallo, salsa, sliced avocado, and/or sour cream or crema on the side.

Ingredients

For the Beef Filling:

  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

  • 4 pounds chuck roast

  • 1/2 teaspoon annatto paste, optional

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

  • 3 tablespoons chili powder

  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles

  • 1 onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces

  • 2 cups water or beef broth

For the Wrappers:

  • 40 corn husks

For the Dough:

  • 6 cups masa harina

  • 5 cups warm water or low-sodium chicken broth

  • 3 tablespoons chili powder

  • 3 tablespoons onion powder

  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 2 cups lard or vegetable shortening

Steps to Make It

Make the Beef Filling

  1. Gather the filling ingredients.

    Slow-Roasted Shredded Beef Tamales ingredients

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  2. Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the cooking oil, swirling it around to coat the bottom of the pan.

    oil in saucepan

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  3. Sprinkle the flour over the roast. Rub it evenly over the surface.

    beef covered in flour

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  4. Brown the roast by carefully placing the meat in the hot pan and cooking 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until it's browned nicely.

    beef cooking in a pan

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  5. Place the roast in a slow cooker.

    roast in a slow cooker

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  6. If including the annatto paste, use a spoon to smear it over the top.

    annatto paste on top of the roast in the slow cooker

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  7. Sprinkle over the ground cumin, chili powder, oregano, garlic powder, cocoa powder, and salt.

    ground cumin, chili powder, oregano, garlic, cocoa, and salt on top of the roast in the slow cooker

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  8. Add the chopped green chiles and onion to the pot.

    Add the chopped green chiles and onion to the slow cooker

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  9. Pour the water or beef broth into the bottom of the crockpot; it should come about an inch up the sides of the roast.

    add water to the beef and vegetables in a slow cooker

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  10. Cook on low for 7 to 8 hours. The beef should be fork tender and fall apart easily. There shouldn't be much liquid left in the bottom of the pot, and what is left should be of a gravy consistency.

    cooked beef in the slow cooker

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  11. With the help of two forks or a slotted spoon, remove any large chunks of fat from the roast. Shred the beef by pulling it apart into chunks or strands.

    beef in a slow cooker

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  12. Mix the liquids and beef together until it is well combined. Set aside.

    shredded beef in a slow cooker

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Prepare the Corn Husks

  1. Clean the corn husks and remove any debris or corn hairs.

    corn husks on wood board

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  2. Separate the larger usable pieces from the smaller bits and pieces. Use the larger and medium-sized husks to wrap the tamales and the smaller pieces for tying them.

    separate corn husks by sizes

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  3. Place the husks in a large bowl.

    corn husks in a bowl

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  4. Cover the husks with warm water and keep them submerged with the help of a heavy item for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

    corn husks in a bowl with water with a bowl on top

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  5. Remove the husks from the water and pat dry.

    corn husks on a towel

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  6. Place in a covered dish and cover with a wet, clean kitchen towel, or place in a large plastic bag to prevent them from drying out.

    corn husks wrapped in a towel

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  7. Cut strips off of the smaller, non-usable husks by cutting or tearing 1/4 inch lengths. Reserve for the ties.

    corn husk pieces on a wood board

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Make the Dough

  1. Gather the dough ingredients.

    tamale dough ingredients

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  2. In a mixing bowl, mix the masa and warm water or broth until combined.

    combine the masa and warm water in a bowl

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  3. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes or so to let the masa soften.

    masa mixture in a bowl

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  4. With an electric mixer (or vigorously mix with your hands), mix on low speed until a dough forms.

    masa mixture ball in a bowl

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  5. Gradually add the chili powder, onion powder, cumin, and salt by sprinkling them over the dough as you mix it.

    add the salt, cumin, and onion powder to the masa dough

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  6. In a separate bowl, whip the lard for about 3 minutes or until fluffy.

    whipped lad in a bowl

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  7. Add the lard to the dough a little at a time, mixing well until combined. The mixture should be about the consistency of peanut butter. If it seems too sticky or dry, add a little extra water or harina as needed until you achieve the desired consistency.

    lard mixed into the masa mixture

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Assemble the Tamales

  1. Lay a husk on a flat surface. It should make the shape of a fan; arrange it so the narrow end is at the bottom.

    corn husk on a wood surface

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  2. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of dough onto the husk (depending on the size of the husk), placing it toward the top.

    masa mixture on top of the corn husk

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  3. Use the back of a metal spoon to spread the dough, leaving a space of about 4 inches from the narrow end and about 2 inches from the broad end (the top).

    spread masa mixture on the corn husk

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  4. Spread the dough approximately 1/4 inch thick, making sure to leave space on either side.

    masa mixture on top of corn husk

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  5. Spread a couple of spoonfuls of filling down the center of the dough, leaving at least 1 inch of dough around the sides.

    beef filling on top of masa mixture

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  6. Lift up the tamale, bringing the sides of the husks toward each other so the edges of the dough meet.

    corn hus wrapped around the masa and filling

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  7. Fold the husk to one side, around the back, so it's neatly enclosed.

    rolling up a tamale

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  8. Flip over the tamale.

    wrapping a tamale

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  9. Fold the broad end down, to enclose the top.

    wrapping a tamale

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  10. Fold the longer narrow end up, covering the top fold.

    wrapping a tamale

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  11. With the strips of husk you previously cut, tie the tamales crosswise. (If the tamales are small enough, you can tie them lengthwise as well.)

    tamale wrapped in a corn husk

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Steam the Tamales

  1. Set tamales upright in a steamer (or use a pot with boiling water and a colander on top to hold the tamales). The water should not touch the tamales and the pot should have a tight-fitting lid.

    tamales in a steamer

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  2. Cover the pot and steam for about 90 minutes.

    tamales in a covered steamer

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  3. Let the tamales cool for 1 hour without taking them out of the steamer. This allows the dough to firm up.

    tamales in a steamer

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  4. Enjoy the tamales with your favorite toppings.

    Slow-Roasted Shredded Beef Tamales

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

How to Store and Freeze

  • Tamales will keep in a covered container in the fridge for up to three days.
  • Tamales can also be frozen for up to two months. Seal them in a zip-top freezer bag and reheat from frozen.
  • To reheat tamales, add them back to a steamer basket over simmering water and steam for about 15 minutes or 25 to 30 minutes for frozen tamales. You can also wrap each tamale in aluminum foil, place them on a baking sheet, and heat in a 350 F oven for about 30 minutes, flipping once.

Tips

  • You can use kitchen twine instead of the husk strips to tie up the tamales.
  • You can also steam tamales in the Instant Pot. Stack them upright in a steamer basket over water and cook at high pressure for 25 minutes. Use a natural release.

Recipe Variations

  • You can swap out the beef filling for your favorite filling. Try tasty options like corn and green chile, tender pork, leftover turkey, and more.
  • Traditionally, the dough for tamales is made using lard, but an easy (vegetarian) alternative is vegetable shortening. Butter can be used, but the dough won't be quite as fluffy.

Why Is My Tamale Masa Sticky?

If your dough is still sticky after mixing it well, you may have added too much liquid. Add a little more masa harina until the desired consistency is reached.

Can I Make Tamales Without Corn Husks?

If you don't have corn husks, banana leaves are also commonly used to make tamales. In a pinch you can use rectangles of parchment paper and tie them up before steaming.

Why Are My Tamales Still Mushy?

Tamales need to be steamed a long time in order to firm up. It's also important to let them rest a bit in the steamer after cooking to achieve the right texture.