Red Chile Pork Tamales

These red chile pork tamales are the real authentic Mexican deal. And they taste as though they were lovingly crafted by the loveliest abuela imaginable, crafted to be slightly spicy with pulled pork. Here’s how to make them at home, step by step.

Two wrapped tamales on top of an open corn husk

Red chile pork tamales that are authentic Mexican through and through—sweet corn masa dough enveloping a richly spiced, knee-wobblingly tender pork filling. Consider yourself warned, though, you’re going to end up with a holy abundance of red chile pork filling, which is actually a godsend seeing as you can put it to lovely use tucked into tacos, plopped atop rice, or simply inhaled by the forkful.–Renee Schettler

Red Chile Pork Tamales

  • Quick Glance
  • (7)
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • 8 H, 30 M
  • Makes 24 tamales
4.9/5 - 7 reviews
Print RecipeBuy the The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen cookbook

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Special Equipment: Bamboo steamer or steamer tray for your stockpot


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  • For the red chile pork tamales filling
  • For the tamale dough


Make the red chile pork tamales filling

Pat the pork shoulder completely dry with paper towels. Rub the pork shoulder all over with just enough oil to coat it.

In a small bowl, combine 4 tablespoons (60 grams) salt with the chipotle powder. Rub the mixture on the pork, completely covering all surfaces. Let the pork rest at room temperature for 1 hour. (But for no longer than 1 hour or the salt will draw moisture from the pork and make it tough.)

Preheat the oven to 275°F (135°C).

Place the pork in a roasting pan, fatty side down. Cover the pan with a double layer of aluminum foil and roast for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, until the pork falls apart when pressed with the back of a fork and reaches an internal temperature of 195°F (91°C). Remove the pork from the oven and let it rest, without uncovering, for 30 minutes.

After the pork has cooled for 30 minutes, use 2 forks to pull the pork into long strands. Resist the temptation to chop the pork into chunks! Discard any gristle or chunks of fat. Strain the cooking liquid. You should have anywhere from 2 to 4 cups (473 to 946 ml) of liquid.

Meanwhile, heat a cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skillet is hot, toss in the chiles and cook for approximately 30 seconds per side, until they’re slightly toasty. Be careful not to over toast the chiles or let them blacken or the resulting sauce will be bitter.

Remove the toasted chiles from the pan and place in a bowl. Add enough hot water to submerge the chiles. Let the chiles soak for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer the soaked chiles to a blender and discard the soaking liquid. Add the garlic, cumin, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and cold water to the blender. Puree until the mixture forms a smooth paste.

Heat the 1 tablespoon (15 ml) oil in a heavy, large stockpot over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot and begins to shimmer, pour the red chile sauce into the pot and immediately stir. Be careful as the sauce will splatter. Cook the sauce, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the sauce thickens and begins to darken. 

Add the reserved pork drippings and the pulled pork. Bring the mixture to a simmer and gently cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Let the red chile pork filling cool slightly before preparing the tamales. (You can cover and refrigerate the pork overnight.) 

Tester tip: You’ll have a lot of red chile pulled pork, so you’ll need to either make a double batch of tamale batter or be prepared to serve the leftover pork in soft tortillas or over rice or in any of countless other incarnations.
Make the tamale dough

In a large bowl or the bowl of stand mixer, blend the masa harina with the warm water. Stir the mixture thoroughly to create a solid ball of rehydrated masa. Add the lard, baking powder, stock, and salt, whisking thoroughly or, if you are using a mixer, blend on medium speed for approximately 5 minutes. Set the mixture aside until ready to assemble the tamales.

Assemble the tamales

Separate the corn husks and place them in a large bowl or your kitchen sink and add enough warm water to completely submerge them. Let the husks soak until they become relatively soft and pliable, at least 30 minutes. 

Remove the husks from the water, separate completely, and pat them dry with a clean towel.

Prepare the ties for your tamales by tearing several of the husks into strips 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) wide until you have 24 strips. Gently tie a knot at a narrow end of each strip and tear the opposite end to double the strip length to about 12 inches (30.5 cm) long. Repeat with the remaining strips.

Place a large corn husk on a clean flat surface with the shortest side facing you and the smooth side facing up. Spoon approximately 1/4 cup (60 grams) masa dough on the upper center of the husk and, using a butter knife or the back of the spoon, spread it into a square shape across the width of the husk to approximately 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick. Be sure to leave approximately 1/2 inch (13 mm) on the top and sides of the husks plain to allow for easier rolling.

Spoon approximately 2 tablespoons (30 grams) pork mixture in an even line along the center of the masa and gently fold the husk over widthwise to completely encase the filling and form a tight tube. Fold the bottom of the husk up toward the center of the tamale and tie with the prepared strip of corn husks. Be sure to leave the top of the husks open. Repeat with the remaining corn husks and masa dough.

Fill a large stockpot 1/4 full with warm water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Line a steamer basket with several unfilled corn husks. Place the prepared tamales upright with the open tops facing towards the top of the steamer basket and top with additional corn husks. It’s perfectly fine (and actually necessary) to stack the tamales one atop another. Cover the steamer basket with a tight-fitting lid and place on top of the stockpot with the boiling water and steam until the batter pulls away easily from the husks, checking occasionally to see if the pot needs to be replenished with water, about 1 hour total. 

Tester tip: When heating the water to cook the tamales, drop a clean coin in the pot. As the water boils, the coin will rattle, letting you know that the water has not boiled dry. If the coin stops rattling, you know that it’s time to add more water. Or just set your iPhone timer for every 10 or 15 minutes and check the water level.

Turn off the heat and let the tamales rest in the basket for at least 30 minutes, until they begin to firm. And then dig in! (It’s astounding how quickly tamales disappear in contrast to how long it takes to make them!) If you have any leftover tamales, they can be eaten cold straight out of the refrigerator or gently warmed in a steamer. Originally published December 6, 2016.

Print RecipeBuy the The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen cookbook

Want it? Click it.

Recipe Testers Reviews

These red chile pork tamales are terrific. They’re a bit of work but the result is a plateful of tasty comfort food. Even if you didn’t grow up eating tamales, which I didn’t, these are easy to master.

For the newbie, this is probably best tackled as a 2-day event because it takes a while to roast the pork and there are many steps to this recipe. Besides, the pork benefits from being cooked a day ahead and having a chance to soak in the chile mixture.

It can take a few tries to get the hang of how to assemble the tamales in the corn husks—although it’s not hard. But a quick video on YouTube can be very helpful if you’ve never seen it done.

This recipe easily makes 24 tamales and you will have leftover pork for a second batch or another use.

OH MY GOODNESS!! These red chile pork tamales were delicious! Despite my feeble attempt of wrapping, folding, and tying, these red chile pork tamales looked wonderful!! They looked nowhere near restaurant quality, but they really looked great!! And they tasted absolutely wonderful.

The taste of corn was a perfect balance with the seasoned red chile pork. The mixture of chile powder and salt was the perfect amount. Once the pork was covered with chile salt and had come to room temperature, I popped everything in the oven and roasted it for about 4 1/2 hours. I removed it from the oven and let it rest until cool enough to handle, a little over an hour.

Shredding the pork took me about 30 minutes. (It was a large piece of meat and still quite warm.) While the pork was cooling, I seeded the peppers and toasted them in a skillet. Although 14 seemed like a huge amount, I followed the recipe exactly. After covering the peppers with hot water and letting them sit for 30 minutes, I threw them in my food processor along with the garlic, cumin, and salt. The addition of the water really helped to loosen the mixture up and turned it into a sauce-like consistency. I poured it into the pot and stirred constantly. It didn't change color or thicken up much at all.

While the meat was cooling, I soaked the husks in the sink. I weighed them down and soaked them for a little over an hour. I also made the dough during the meat cooling period. I used shortening instead of lard. The dough came together very nicely although it was a very large amount.

I cleared my counter and lined up the meat, husks, and dough in a nice row with my steamer pot to the right. Here comes the "fun" part. Being that I have never made tamales, I totally went by the directions on how to spread and fill the husks. My husks were nice and soft but when I would spread the dough, the husks tore. The addition of the meat was fairly easy, but the wrapping part was a fiasco! I did my best to just take my time and carefully fill and wrap. I tried wrapping them up with the strips of husk, but after a few, I just stopped trying to tie. Some of my tamales were fuller than others and they were in no way uniform but I kept on filling.

My pot was full after 3 dozen and I had plenty of dough and meat left over. I steamed them for 55 minutes, until the dough pulled away easily from the husks. I removed the steamer basket from the heat and let them rest while I finished cleaning up my unbelievable mess.

This is a very time-consuming and fairly labor-intensive dish. I had more dirty pots, pans, and bowls than I could ever remember ever having for one dish!

Next time I probably would really have to consider cutting the recipe in half...and invite friends and family over to help devour the tamales!


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  1. One more question! Our local Mexican market sells masa pre-made for tamales. How much would we need to buy for this recipe?

    1. Tina, the full recipe uses about 3 pounds (1.4 kg) of prepared masa to make 24 tamales.

  2. My husband and I would like to make these for Christmas. Since it’s just the two of us, and our freezer isn’t large, we don’t want to make too many. If we make half the recipe, would that be enough for a couple dozen tamales?

    1. Tina, the full recipe will make about 24 tamales, so if you’re looking to get a couple dozen, I’d make the full recipe. This will give you plenty of leftovers though, and the recipe does make more pork than needed for the tamales so you could try cooking a smaller pork shoulder.

  3. This is THE BEST tamale recipe. Ive been using it for a couple years now and always get compliments that they are “the best tamales they’ve ever had!” Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!

    1. Thank you, Shelly, for taking the time to let us know! We’re so glad you love it as much as we do.

  4. I really want to try this. I made some tamales off of a mommy blog in an instant pot and they did not come out very well at all.I think I am going to try it in my Instant Pot but use the same ingredients. It would probably cut down the time astronomically.

    1. We haven’t tried it this way, Heather, so we can’t say if it will work in an Instant Pot or not. If you do try it, do let us know how it turns out. We’re always looking for successful time-saving tips!

  5. Ms. Renee, going to try this recipe, prepping today and cooking tomorrow. this will be my first attempt at making tamales. living in South Texas, tamales are made en masse and very quickly. the one thing I would like to avoid is when the tamale is removed from the husk half of the massa stays with the husk. is there a tweak I can do to the massa or the wrapping technique to keep this from happening? thank you.

    1. Hello, James, and looking forward to hearing what you think of our tamale recipe! As for your very insightful question, we do instruct you to spread the massa on the smooth side of the husk to help prevent sticking. There’s also an ample amount of lard in the dough to help prevent sticking. And if you let the tamales cool for at least 30 minutes after steaming and before devouring (hard to exert patience, I know!), they’ll release better from the husk. Hope this helps! And do let us know how it goes!

  6. Hi! I’m making tamales with friends tonight for NYE and I made the pork! I’ve roasted and shredded the meat and tried very hard not to put huge chunks directly into my mouth because it is delicious and spicy!
    one question: do I separate out the fat from the drippings before making the chile sauce? My inclination is not to, but I want to just make sure…

  7. I was skeptical about making the tamales at first, but I love tamales with the red Chile so it took me 3 days to complete this project and it was absolutely wonderful dish so I’m going to make more for New year’s day instead of oven roasted pork I’m going to smoke my pork shoulder on my grill I just believe that this is a awesome recipe and trying different things is great and thanks for sharing your recipe with me my eight children love your tamales and they are bugging me to do more

    1. Thank you Louvina! We’re so happy that you and your family enjoyed them so much. We can’t wait to hear how they turn out with the smoked pork shoulder. Happy New Year!

  8. Please help! I bought a pork shoulder roast and pulled it out of the oven 4 hours later and it is tough. I usually use my slow cooker. So I transferred the roast to my slow cooker and it has been cooking another 3 hours and it is still tough. What can I do or what am i doing wrong?

    1. Johnna, you did the right thing by cooking it low and slow. Tell me, what temperature was the oven and slow cooker? Too high a temp can keep the meat tough. Also, was it covered and did you include any liquid when you cooked the pork? Feel free to call me at 602.316.6738. Let’s talk this out. My inclination is to do more low cooking with more liquid.

  9. So day 1 for this newbie my pork has been in the oven going on 5 hours i bought a 9 pounder lol. Im thinking this is going to be a 2 day event😂 keep y’all posted.

  10. I’m going to print this and give it a go. Other recipes say to be sure to fill the corn husk on the smooth side not the rough so when ready to eat they release easily. Anyone heard of this? Love the idea of using stand mixer for the dough.

    1. low and slow, we SO appreciate the reminder! And we’ve tweaked our instructions to include that handy trick. And yes, although we know the masa is traditionally mixed by hand, we find it saves time (and shoulder strain!) to mix it in a stand mixer. And it creates a lovely consistency for the resulting tamales. Again, thank you! Love to hear what you think of them…!

      1. I am having trouble cooking the pork. I have had it in the oven for about 5-6 hours, and it is still not cooked.

        1. Hang in there, Alyssia. Pork shoulder can be a little unpredictable in cooking time but it will get there. What size pork shoulder did you buy? Do you have an oven thermometer to determine if your oven is operating at an accurate temperature? You could also try cutting the meat in half to help the cooking process along.

    2. Did you try this? Im going to make this tonight. I like a bite to my food but not too spicy. What do you think about the spice?

      1. Rachel C, I’ll let low and slow respond for herself, although I do want to assure you that guajillo is a very mild, wonderfully complex chile. These aren’t overly spicy at all although if you’re concerned you could cut the chipotle back a little (or a lot). I wouldn’t go below 1 tablespoon…perhaps 1 1/2 tablespoons? Wishing you and yours all the magic of the season…

  11. I am on day 3 of making these. Day one I roasted the pork, day two I worked:( Day 3 I have pulled the roast out again and reheated it and my son and I pulled for about an hour. I now have the meat simmering, Tomorrow will be day 4, however I have the masa spread in my big mixer just waiting to add the wet. My corn husks are in a huge bowl ready to get the hot water. I just pulled my shredded pork off the stove that was mixed with the chilies, I added some mexican hot sauce to them as we like spicy. Cannot wait until I get off work tomorrow to do my final assembly.

  12. These red chile pork tamales are terrific. They’re a bit of work but the result is a plateful of tasty comfort food. Even if you didn’t grow up eating tamales, which I didn’t, these are easy to master. For the newbie, this is probably best tackled as a 2-day event because it takes a while to roast the pork and there are many steps to this recipe. Besides, the pork benefits from being cooked a day ahead and having a chance to soak in the chile mixture. It can take a few tries to get the hang of how to assemble the tamales in the corn husks—although it’s not hard. But a quick video on YouTube can be very helpful if you’ve never seen it done. This recipe easily makes 24 tamales and you will have leftover pork for a second batch or another use. I used the scant 2 cups of cooking liquid I got to make the chile sauce and it seemed like enough liquid.

  13. Had pork shoulder left over from Tourtiere making. Saved for tamales. Chinese husband from SoCal grew up with Mexican Christmas tamales. I’ve only made once before, and what a production! Good fun with friends. Tonight I’m doing a version of this, pork was already braised, now shredding/simmering in a salsa rosa including onions cooked in my achiote oil, hatch chiles, some tomatoes, guajillos….Just about to start assembly then cooking in Instant Pot! Assembling is likely to take longer than cooking! Stay tuned…

    1. Jacqueline, yes, the assembling does so often take the longest with tamales! And yet if you enlist some help it makes things go more quickly as well as more pleasurably. Well, we can’t guarantee the latter, I guess it depends on whose company you take, but yes, please let us know how it goes!

  14. The second sentence in instruction #15 is unclear: And then you can tuck into the tamales. Does this refer to tucking in the open ends of tamales?

    1. Donna, actually, no, the phrase “tuck into” was something my dad would always say before he was about to devour something he was really excited about, as in, “let’s tuck into this apple pie!” Sorry for the confusion! I can completely understand how it would be baffling. I’ve reworded it to hopefully be clearer. Thanks so much for inquiring and looking forward to hearing what you think of the tamales!

        1. That’s an excellent question, Dusty. Instant masa is sorta like the equivalent of corn ground so finely as to be almost flour. You use it and water to make masa dough. So masa is the actual dough you make from the instant masa. We specify “instant masa” because that’s often how you see packages labeled at stores. It’s essentially “masa harina.” Our understanding is that it’s “instant” compared to the most traditional form of masa dough, which was made from corn that had to be soaked and ground and so on.

  15. Christmas in many Mexican households means tamales. With many mouths to feed, it’s traditional to have the grandmothers, mothers, sisters, cousins, etc. in the kitchen tamales. They call it a Tamalada.

    One alternative is, if your lucky enough to have a small Mexican grocery nearby, is to ask the owner if they make tamales. At our local market, the wife of the owner makes them by request. This particular market also makes their own masa and fresh tortillas.

    1. I can’t wait to make these. This is the recipe I’ve been looking for, it’s the way I remember making tamales with my mom and grandma whom are no longer around. Thanks for a traditional recipe!

    2. Quick question before I attempt these bad boys! About how full does the pot need to be filled with water? Do the tamales need to be completely covered with water without the tips poking out? Also can you double stack the tamales in the tamal pot? I think I recall that pot always being filled to the top with tamales….

      1. Kymberly, excellent questions. The water just needs to be enough to create steam. In my (admittedly limited) experience, you don’t want the tamales to be in the water, even the bottom portion of the tamales. And definitely not submerged. The water simply serves as a means to create moist heat. And yes, you can absolutely stack the tamales. We so appreciate you asking these clarifying questions!

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