If you’ve been itching to learn how to make everyone’s favorite traditional Mexican holiday dish, you’ve come to the right place. This Muy Bueno recipe for authentic Mexican Pork Tamales Rojos are mouthwateringly delicious; tender shreds of spicy red chile pork are wrapped in a soft masa dough and steamed to perfection for a rustic, comforting meal you won’t soon forget.

a large steamer filled tightly with cooked red Chile and pork tamales.

About This Recipe

There’s nothing like the flavor and consistency of homemade tamales. If you’ve only ever eaten the kind they sell at the grocery store, you NEED to try this recipe for red pork tamales immediately!

This tasty and authentic tamale recipe is extra special because it is made entirely from scratch. While there’s definitely no shame in using instant masa (also known as Maseca) – I often do it myself! – the flavor of fresh ground masa is extra delicious.

While making these pork tamales rojos recipe takes some time, it’s easier than you might think! Feel free to break this up into smaller tasks over the course of a few days to make it feel more manageable.

dried corn husks and dried red chiles on a table.

The red sauce can be made and frozen up to six months in advance; the pork can be made and frozen up to three months in advance; and the masa dough can be made and refrigerated up to three days in advance.

Heck, you can even turn making tamales into a special party, known as a tamalada! From personal experience, I can tell you that making tamales as a group activity is not only super fun, it’s also much faster than working alone.

This big batch tamal recipe is great for gifting or stocking the freezer, making it an excellent (and productive) endeavor for your winter break. So let’s get to the kitchen already!

How To Make

If you’re trying to make these tamales on your own, I recommend doing yourself a favor and working in stages.

spoon in a mason jar of homemade red chile sauce.

First, make the red chile sauce.

PRO TIP: make an extra large batch of the chile sauce to keep in your freezer at all times. Making a double recipe takes roughly the same amount of time as making a single batch, and it can be used for making everything from homemade enchiladas to tasty slow cooker stews and chilaquiles on the fly. Red sauce will last in the fridge for a week, or in the freezer for up to six months.

Next, make your pulled pork.

Place pork, water, and salt in a slow cooker and cook for 6 to 8 hours. After meat is cooked, remove from the slow cooker and let cool to room temperature. Shred pork and remove fat while shredding, reserving fat. (Usually, after pork is cooked and shredded, you will be left with about three pounds of meat.)

pork butt in a slow cooker with water and spices to make shredded pork for tamales.

In a blender combine the cooled broth from the cooked pork and the leftover fat pieces. Blend and reserve for using when making tamale masa and filling. Broth can be kept, tightly covered, for one week in the refrigerator. The broth also freezes well and will keep for 4 to 6 months.

Finish making the filling.

Combine shredded pork with red chile so all the pork is well coated with the red chile sauce. Simmer for at least 10 minutes. Let the mixture cool before filling tamales.

large pan of shredded pork with red chile sauce for stuffing authentic mexican tamales.

Now, make the masa (tamale dough).

Cover and keep it aside. Masa can be made and refrigerated up to three days in advance.

When you’re ready to assemble, prepare your ojas (corn husks).

Soak corn husks in water for an hour before using, rinse well with running water to take off any dust or corn husk fibers. To keep corn husks pliable and easy to work with, keep in water while filling tamales. Place a handful of wet corn husks in a colander to drain before using.

soaked dried corn husks are ready for making tamales.

Time to assemble!

Place the wide end of the husk on the palm of your hand, with the narrow end at the top. Starting at the middle of the husk, spread 2 tablespoons of the masa with the back of a spoon in a rectangle or oval shape, using a downward motion towards the wide-bottom edge. Do not spread the masa to the ends; leave about a 2-inch border on the left and right sides of the husk.

placing a spoonful of red chile pork filling into the center of the masa for rolling into a tamale.

Spoon 1 1/2 tablespoons of your chosen filling down the center of the masa. Fold both sides to the center; finish off by bringing the pointed end of the husk toward the filled end. Make sure it’s a snug closure so the tamal will not open during steaming. Secure by tying a thin strip of corn husk around the tamal. This will keep the tamal from unwrapping during the steaming process, especially if the husk is too thick and will not stay folded.

Steam the tamales.

Use a deep pot or tamalera (tamale steamer) to steam the tamales. If using a tamale steamer, fill with water up to the fill line. Set the tamale rack over the water. Place tamales upright, with their folds against the sides of the other tamales to keep them from unfolding. Cover pot with a tightly fitting lid.

Set heat on high and bring to a boil, about 15 minutes. Lower heat and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Keep lid on tightly. To test if done, put one tamal on a plate and take off the corn husk. If it comes off without sticking to the tamal they are done.

How To Freeze & Reheat Tamales

While you can certainly eat these authentic pork tamales rojos straight from the pot, one of the very best things about tamales is that you can freeze them!

Allow the tamales to cool to room temperature on a sheet pan – it should take about 45 minutes. Once cool, you can pop the tamales in a zip top bag or airtight container. Label and date them, then pop in the freezer for 3-4 months. For the freshest tasting tamales, I recommend packing them in quite tightly, or wrapping them individually with plastic wrap.

When you’re ready to eat, simply steam (or microwave) the thawed tamales wrapped in a damp paper towel until warmed through, remove from the husks, and enjoy! 

pile of wrapped tamales in corn husks on a white dinner plate.

Serving Suggestions

These delicious pork tamales rojos are so deeply flavorful on their own that I can eat them just as they are. However, if you’re hosting a holiday fiesta, you should feel free to go nuts! Set up a bar of toppings for your guests to help themselves to whatever they like, including:

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to make my own masa dough from scratch?

Nope! If you want a quick shortcut, reach for a bag of Instant Masa next time you’re at the store. You can use this recipe to learn how to make a fast, masa harina version of the dough for these authentic homemade tamales.

Do you eat the corn husk on tamales?

Nope! They are only used for steaming, and sometimes as a makeshift plate if you’re eating on the run. Don’t fret though; corn husks are entirely biodegradable and can be popped in your compost bin when you’re done.

How many tamales does this recipe make?

One batch of pork tamales rojos recipe will yield about 60 (5 to 8 dozen) tamales, depending on size.

Is this recipe scalable?

Absolutely! However, if you’re going to make more than 60 tamales, you may as well try some other flavors – variety is the spice of life, after all! Tamales can be savory or sweet, spicy or mild, and even vegetarian! For more inspiration, check out the recipes listed below or the tamales category on the blog.

What is the best tamale steamer to get?

Check out my informative post on tamale steamers here for more information. In the meantime, this is my favorite model.

How spicy is the red sauce?

It honestly depends on what type of chile you purchase. Sometimes the packages for the dried chiles will indicate whether they are mild or spicy, but for more information check out this post on types of Mexican chiles.

Remember that the majority of the capsaicin in chiles is in their seeds and membranes, so remove them for a less spicy sauce. Also, the pork and masa will help to tame the heat even if the sauce is spicy.

More Delicious Tamales Recipes

If you’re planning on making tamales this year, try branching out with a few different flavors. Here are some of my favorite savory and sweet tamal recipes:

Please sit back and enjoy watching this video of a tamalada I hosted.

authentic mexican pork tamales rojos steaming in a tamalada.

Authentic Mexican Pork Tamales Rojos

4.45 (34 ratings)
If you've been itching to learn how to make everyone's favorite traditional Mexican holiday dish, you've come to the right place. These Muy Bueno Tamales Rojos are mouthwateringly delicious; tender shreds of spicy red chile pork are wrapped in a soft masa dough and steamed to perfection for a rustic, comforting meal you won't soon forget.

Ingredients

Instructions 

Shredded pork:

  • Place pork, water, and salt in a slow cooker and cook for 6 to 8 hours. After meat is cooked, remove from the slow cooker and let cool to room temperature. Shred pork and remove fat while shredding, reserving fat. (Usually, after pork is cooked and shredded, you will be left with about 3 pounds of meat.)
  • In a blender combine the cooled broth from the cooked pork and the leftover fat pieces. Blend and reserve for using when making tamale masa and filling. Broth can be kept, tightly covered, for 1 week in the refrigerator. The broth also freezes well and will keep for 4 to 6 months.

Filling:

  • Heat the 6 tablespoons broth in a large skillet. Add flour and whisk for at least 4 to 5 minutes.
  • Add red chile sauce and salt, stir, and cook for 10 minutes. The chile sauce will be very thick at this time.
  • Add the 3 pounds shredded pork and stir so all the pork is well coated with the red chile sauce. Simmer for at least 10 minutes. Let mixture cool before filling tamales.

Prepare Ojas (Corn Husks):

  • Soak corn husks in water for an hour before using, rinse well with running water to take off any dust or corn husk fibers. To keep corn husks pliable and easy to work with, keep in water while filling tamales. Place a handful of wet corn husks in a colander to drain before using.

Spread Masa:

  • Place the wide end of the husk on the palm of your hand, narrow end is at the top. Starting at the middle of the husk spread 2 tablespoons of the masa with the back of a spoon in a rectangle or oval shape, using a downward motion towards the wide-bottom edge. Do not spread the masa to the ends; leave about a 2-inch border on the left and right sides of the husk.

Fill Corn Husks:

  • Spoon 1 1/2 tablespoons of your chosen filling down the center of the masa. Fold both sides to the center; finish off by bringing the pointed end of the husk toward the filled end. Make sure it’s a snug closure so the tamal will not open during steaming. Secure by tying a thin strip of corn husk around the tamal. This will keep the tamal from unwrapping during the steaming process, especially if the husk is too thick and will not stay folded.

Steam Tamales:

  • Use a deep pot or tamale steamer to steam tamales. If using a tamale steamer fill with water up to the fill line. Set the tamale rack over the water. Place tamales upright, with fold against the sides of the other tamales to keep them from unfolding. Cover pot with a tightly fitting lid. Set heat on high and bring to a boil, about 15 minutes. Lower heat and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Keep lid on tightly. To test if done, put one tamal on a plate and take off the corn husk. If it comes off without sticking to the tamal they are done.

Video

Notes

  • The red chile sauce can be made in advance and kept in airtight containers in the refrigerator or freezer. Red chile sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week or frozen for up to six months.
  • Pulled pork and broth can be made in advance and kept in airtight containers in the refrigerator or freezer; it will last in the fridge for a week, or in the freezer for 4-6 months.
  • Tamale masa can be made and refrigerated up to three days in advance.
Calories: 229kcal, Carbohydrates: 37g, Protein: 10g, Fat: 4g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 22mg, Sodium: 2006mg, Potassium: 269mg, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 5g, Vitamin A: 898IU, Vitamin C: 11mg, Calcium: 99mg, Iron: 3mg

Originally published: January 2014. This recipe is also published in the Muy Bueno cookbook.