Turkey Tamales

Turkey tamales made from leftovers recipe

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 45 mins
Cook: 4 hrs
Refrigerate: 14 hrs
Total: 18 hrs 45 mins
Servings: 12 to 15 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
294 Calories
5g Fat
56g Carbs
14g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12 to 15
Amount per serving
Calories 294
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 5g 6%
Saturated Fat 1g 4%
Cholesterol 18mg 6%
Sodium 146mg 6%
Total Carbohydrate 56g 21%
Dietary Fiber 6g 23%
Total Sugars 10g
Protein 14g
Vitamin C 12mg 59%
Calcium 53mg 4%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 577mg 12%
*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.)

This recipe makes good use not only of the little miscellaneous pieces of leftover turkey meat, but also of the turkey bones—and all this goodness is wrapped up in a batch of fragrant tamales.

Boiling the carcass of your holiday turkey gives you not only one of the richest broths known to man, but also yields turkey “lard” or fat, which will go into your tamales instead of pork lard. What a wonderful way to take advantage of a part of the bird that so often just gets discarded.

Of course, after having helped prepare a holiday feast, you may not feel like cooking again for a while. That’s OK—turkey meat, broth, and fat can be very successfully frozen, provide you package them separately and use within three months. Take them out again in late January, say, to make tamales for the Feast of the Candelaria, an occasion on which tamales are traditionally eaten by one and all in Mexico.


  • 1 roasted turkey carcass, meat removed

  • 25 to 30 dried corn husks

  • 2 cups masa harina

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 cups shredded turkey meat

  • 1/2 cup prepared mole sauce

Steps to Make It

Make the Turkey Broth and Lard

  1. Gather the ingredients. Place the turkey carcass—bones, skin, cartilage—into a large pot and cover it with water. Cover the pot and boil over medium heat for 2 to 3 hours, adding hot water as necessary to keep the bones covered. Take the broth off the heat and allow it to cool down somewhat.

    Ingredients for turkey tamales
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. Strain your broth, discarding all the solids. Refrigerate it overnight.

    Strain broth
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. The next day, scrape off the white fat that has accumulated at the top of the broth. Measure 2/3 cup of the fat and set it aside; this is what we will use for the tamales. (If for some reason there is not enough turkey fat to equal 2/3 cup, add pork lard to make up the difference.)

    Scrape off fat
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Measure out 2 cups (1/2 liter) of the turkey broth for our tamale-making; use the rest for another purpose (such as making turkey noodle soup) or freeze it for another occasion.

    Turkey broth
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prepare the Corn Leaves and Masa

  1. Place the corn leaves into a large container and cover them with hot water. Allow them to soak for an hour or so, until they are quite soft and pliable. Once they are ready, drain off the water.

    Tamale skins
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. Combine the masa harina with the baking powder, salt, turkey fat, and turkey broth. Stir very well, first with a wooden spoon and then with your hands, until very well mixed.

    Combine masa harina with baking powder
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Continue to stir with a wooden spoon for at least 15 minutes more, without stopping. The more you beat the masa, the lighter and fluffier your tamales will turn out.

    Mixed masa
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Assemble the Tamales

  1. For each tamale, spread some of the masa in the center of a corn leaf. Place a few pieces of shredded turkey and a tablespoon of mole or other sauce on top of the masa.

    Spread masa in center of corn
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. Fold the corn leaf in such a way that the masa completely encloses the filling. Fold in the two ends of the leaf. If you like, wrap this little package of goodness inside another corn leaf, then tie it up with a long strip torn off of another corn leaf. Repeat this until you run out of masa. (If you need further directions, see these detailed instructions for wrapping tamales.)

    Fold corn leaf
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Place your tamales into a tamale pot or other steam cooker. Cover and seal the pot well. Steam your tamales for about an hour, until cooked through.

    Tamales in bowl
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. To know if the tamales are done, grab one with tongs and open it. If the filling falls easily away from the corn leaf, the tamales are done. (If not, wrap it back up, put it back in the pot, and steam for a while longer.)

    Open tamale
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  5. Once the tamales are done, take them off the heat and take the lid off the pot. Let them sit for at least a couple of hours so that they can firm up.

    Tamales in bowl
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  6. Serve and enjoy.

    Turkey tamales
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Recipe Variation

  • Use any spicy Mexican cooking sauce instead of mole sauce.

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