Tamales are not only delicious, but they’re fun to eat and a great dish to serve for a large family occasion, because the corn husk or banana leaf wrapping can be used in place of a plate, meaning no cleanup!
If you’ve made a big batch of tamales for freezing or simply purchased them frozen, you’ll need to know how to reheat them in a way that’s easy and leaves them fresh.
So how do you reheat frozen tamales? The best way to reheat frozen tamales is to steam them for 20–30 minutes. You can also reheat them in the oven or on the stove. Other methods like boiling and using the microwave are possible, but not recommended.
There are many other ways to reheat frozen tamales and we cover them all, from the best to the least recommended methods, in the following article.
How to Cook Frozen Tamales
Tamales can be filled with anything from a meat mixture to rice and beans or even scrambled eggs.
They’re wrapped in sweet and savory corn dough and then packaged up in a beautiful corn husk or banana leaf, depending on where you’re buying them from.
Depending on what the filling is inside, you may want to adjust the way you reheat them, though any of the following options will work respectably well, regardless of the filling.
How to Steam Tamales
See my full guide on how to steam tamales.
How to steam tamales will vary slightly depending on your steamer, how many tamales you’re steaming at one time, and what your tamale is filled with.
A steamer stock-pot with an insert like this one from Amazon is perfect for steaming tamales.
We recommend steaming only a single layer of tamales at a time unless you have a tiered steamer. Don’t stack your tamales directly on top of each other though because they’ll be more likely to go mushy where they’re touching.
Here’s how to steam tamales:
- Set your steamer for 20 minutes and then check your tamales for temperature and texture.
- You want to avoid over-steaming your tamales because the dough will go a bit soft and soggy if you steam them too long. Also, if your filling is very moist, such as a lot of tomatoes or other vegetables with high water content, be extra cautious of over-steaming.
- When you’re reheating tamales from frozen in a steamer it will likely take closer to 40 or 45 minutes, but check them at least every 5–10 minutes after the 20-minute point.
How to Steam Tamales: Stovetop
There are plenty of very inexpensive steamer inserts for stock pots that are perfect for steaming tamales. We love this folding steamer insert because it will adjust to fit many different sizes of pots and expand to various shapes depending on your cooking needs.
To steam tamales on the stove:
- Fill your pot with about 2 inches of water and then place the steamer insert inside, making sure the water does not come up into the steamer. You do not want your tamales sitting in any water as they will get mushy.
- Place your tamales into the steamer insert standing up, with the open ends facing upwards. Try not to overfill the pot but also don’t let your tamales fall over so that they’re laying flat or diagonally.
As with a countertop steamer, it will take approximately 40 minutes to steam your tamales from frozen, but start checking on them after 20 minutes to be sure they aren’t overcooking.
How to Steam Tamales Without a Steamer
If you don’t have a steamer but you want to be traditional and steam your tamales, you can still get the results by using an alternative appliance like a rice cooker or an Instant Pot.
How to Steam Tamales in a Rice Cooker
You can steam tamales in a rice cooker, but you’ll want to add something to the bottom of your cooker, like some rolled up aluminum foil or a round metal rack so that you can keep the tamales away from the water.
This is really only effective if you’re reheating a maximum of 4–6 tamales because otherwise they’ll be too compacted in the rice cooker to heat evenly.
To steam tamales in a rice cooker:
- Add an inch or two of water to your rice cooker and make sure your tamales are elevated out of the water. Stand them tall with the open ends facing the ceiling.
- Cook on high for about 20 minutes from frozen. Check the internal temperature and let them steam for up to an additional 10 minutes as needed.
How to Steam Tamales in an Instant Pot
Steaming your frozen tamales in an instant pot is a breeze, though it’s only recommended if you have a steamer basket specially designed for your Instant Pot.
Official mesh steamer baskets come in 2 sizes that will keep your tamales, and any other food you’d like to steam, safe from pooling water at the bottom of your pot. They also have a handle that lets you pull the basket right out effortlessly and safely, straining any extra water as you go.
When steaming tamales in an instant pot:
- You’ll need about 2 cups of water in your Instant Pot to generate enough steam but you also want to be sure your tamales aren’t sitting in any water.
- Make sure the openings are facing upwards and all your tamales are standing on end in a nice, neat circular pattern.
- Close and seal your Instant Pot, setting it for 15 minutes.
- When the timer goes off allow the natural release setting to release the steam rather than using the quick-release button. When it’s ready, carefully open your Pot and use oven mitts or tongs to remove the very hot steamer basket.
How to Reheat Tamales in Oven
Reheating tamales in the oven is very simple, but can dry out your tamales much quicker than some of the other options.
To protect against this travesty, either cover your baking pan in tin foil or wrap each tamale individually in aluminum foil.
To reheat tamales in the oven:
- Preheat your oven to 350 F.
- If your tamales are frozen, they’ll take at least 25 minutes.
- If you’ve allowed them to defrost before placing them in the oven, they’ll be ready after only 15–20 minutes.
How to Reheat Tamales on a Griddle or Stovetop
If you’re going to fry your tamales, it’s best to thaw them until they’re just defrosted before cooking them. Make sure they’re still wrapped tight in their corn husks and place them on a hot griddle or frying pan over high heat.
You want to let the husk blacken before flipping it. Your tamale should be hot inside when your husk is mostly black on all sides. This is a very traditional way of quickly reheating a tamale and should only take 5–7 minutes over very high heat.
You can also fry your tamales without the husks, using a little bit of cooking oil or olive oil on your griddle. It will give a crispier outer crust, but only takes about 3 minutes per side and does taste pretty great.
Can You Boil Tamales?
You can boil tamales, but it isn’t recommended because there is far too much room for error.
You must be absolutely certain no water will directly touch your tamales, so you need to seal them perfectly either in a Ziploc bag, which is not meant to be boiled, or in a silicone reusable food storage bag that is certified for sous vide cooking.
- If you have sous vide bags, place your tamale(s) inside and make sure it is sealed perfectly.
- Ideally, you will thaw your tamale first and then leave in the boiling water for only 8–10 minutes.
- A good silicone bag will be safe to place a frozen tamale inside, seal and boil for 10–15 minutes.
If you’re going to boil your tamales, keep a close eye on the bag at all times to monitor for leaks. If any water gets inside your meal will be ruined.
Can You Reheat Tamales in the Microwave?
You can reheat tamales in the microwave, but these appliances do not distribute heat evenly, which makes it less reliable, especially for a densely wrapped item like a tamale.
When you’re in a rush or trying to bring a healthy, delicious lunch to work with you, sometimes a microwave is your only solution.
The results won’t be perfect, but it will still taste delicious. You may get a slightly rubbery or soft dough, but if you watch your tamale carefully and don’t overcook it, you should be pretty satisfied with the results.
If you’re microwaving tamales, you will want to adjust the time and heat level based on whether or not it’s frozen:
- If your tamale is frozen, place it on a microwave-safe plate in the husk, cover it with a bowl or splatter guard, and heat on medium or 50% for 3 minutes. This will defrost your tamale. Flip it over and continue cooking at a medium level for another 2 minutes, which will thoroughly heat your tamale.
- If your tamale has thawed, you can heat on high for 1 ½ minutes on one side, flip and continue heating for another 1 minute on the other side.
It’s always a good idea to test the inside temperature of your food before eating, especially if there is meat in your tamale. The FDA recommends that all reheated foods be at least 165F throughout.
Summary: Ways to Reheat Frozen Tamales
|Appliance||Temperature Setting||How Long (from frozen)||How Long (Thawed)|
|Steamer||High||30–45 minutes||20 minutes|
|Pot (Steamer Insert)||High, boiling water||30–45 minutes||20 minutes|
|Rice Cooker||High||20–30 minutes||15–20 minutes|
|Instant Pot||High||15 minutes||10 minutes|
|Microwave||Med (Frozen) High (Thawed)||3 minutes, flip 2 minutes||1 ½ minutes, flip 1 minute|
|Oven||350 F||25-35 minutes||15–20 minutes|
|Pot (Boiling Water)||High, boiling water||10–15 minutes||8–10 minutes|
|Griddle/Stovetop||High||n/a||Until husks are charred on all sides|
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