Can You Freeze Tamales?

Do you love Mexican cuisine? If you do, then you are probably familiar with tamales, a savory, starchy, doughy, corn-based dish that’s been steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. This quintessential Mesoamerican dish is usually filled with cheese, meats, fruits, veggies, even chilies.

Tamales are so popular in Mexican culture that preparing it is a ritual itself. Tamale making has been a huge part of Mexican life and this goes all the way to the pre-Hispanic era.

And speaking of tamale making, making this dish takes hours that it’ll be impractical to make a small batch. In fact, it’s quite common for a household to make a huge batch, storing the rest for future gatherings. But can you freeze tamales? Yes, tamales keep so well in the freezer!

As long as the dish is prepped and packed properly, tamales will stay fresh for up to 6 months in the freezer with little to no changes in flavor or texture. When kept in the fridge, tamales will only keep for a week or so.

One thing to remember when freezing tamales is to cook the dish first prior to freezing. Do not freeze raw or uncooked tamales because this increases the risk of flavor or texture changes. Since the dish is made from uncooked ingredients, they will start degrading even when frozen. This goes especially for uncooked tamales that’s been left sitting at room temperature for too long. Below is a step by step guide on how can you freeze tamales:

Tamales served
Image used under Creative Commons from anasararojas

How to Freeze Tamales?

Regardless if you’re freezing homemade or leftover tamales, it’s essential to leave the dish to cool down completely prior to prepping. For homemade tamales, leave the cooked dish on a cooling rack for an hour or so. Check frequently to make sure the tamales have cooled completely. Again, if you leave the tamales sitting at room temperature for too long, they will spoil.

Once the tamales are cooled completely, get a large, airtight plastic container or several heavy-duty resealable plastic bags. Place the tamales inside the container, setting them flat so they retain their shape once they’ve been thawed. Do not pack too many tamales in one container. Seal the container, write the storage date with a marker then stick in the freezer.

Batch of tamales
Image used under Creative Commons from Aaron

How to Defrost and Reheat Frozen Tamales?

To thaw frozen tamales, simply transfer the container from the freezer to the fridge. Leave the dish to thaw for several hours to overnight. When it comes to reheating tamales, there are different ways to do it. You can use a tamales steamer to reheat the tamales. Leave the husks on the tamales if you’re steaming them so the dough won’t stick onto the steamer.

You can also reheat thawed tamales in the microwave. But if you’re reheating the dish this way, you need to remove the husks. Start by removing the husks and then laying each tamale on a microwave-safe platter. Then, place a cup of water on the same platter. This will ensure that the tamales will stay nice and soft as they are heated. Stick in the microwave and reheat for 2 to 5 minutes.

Frying the tamales is also a great way to reheat the dish. Again, remove the husks of the tamales and then fry them in a skillet (add a little cooking oil) for 5 to 10 minutes. Turn frequently until each side is a nice golden brown.

Finally, you can bake the thawed tamales in the oven. Get a baking pan, spray or brush a little cooking oil or butter on the pan and then place the tamales (husks removed). Stick in the oven and bake at 425 degrees F for about 30 minutes.

Freezing Tamales FAQs

Can you freeze cooked tamales?

As a make-ahead meal, cooked tamales can be frozen. However, the tamales have to be packed properly because their original cornhusk wrapping is too flimsy for the intense cold. Just prepare the tamales as you normally would then cook them.

After steaming the tamales, you want to leave them to cool completely on a wire cooling rack. Keep a close eye on the tamales as they cool because if they are left on the cooling rack for too long, they will spoil!

Once the tamales have cooled completely, they are ready for packing. Just pile the tamales neatly in a large airtight container. You can use resealable plastic bags as well but use them only if you have a large freezer. Once the tamales are piled neatly in the container, secure the lid. Write the storage date then stick in the freezer. They should stay fresh up to 6 months in the freezer.

Can you freeze uncooked tamales?

Tamales is made of a soft dough – called masa – that’s highly perishable. But with the right technique, you can make tamales ahead of time and store the uncooked batch in the freezer for later cooking. Just make the filling as you normally would. Then, you can either pack the tamales filling in their corn husk wrapping then freeze or just freeze the whole batch unwrapped. There is no right or wrong way of doing this; it’s all a matter of preference.

But however you chose to prepare the tamales dough, make sure to pack it in a freezer-safe container. This goes regardless if the dough was packed in cornhusk wrappings or not. If you didn’t use a freezer-safe container, the frost could seep into the dough, altering its texture and consistency for good. This will change the mouthfeel of the tamales.

Making tamales
Image used under Creative Commons from Eugene Kim

How to cook frozen uncooked tamales?

Assuming that you froze uncooked tamales, you can either leave the tamales to thaw in the fridge overnight or chuck them directly in the steamer. Wrapped tamales are perfect for direct cooking with no thawing needed. For unwrapped tamales, you have to wrap them in cornhusk wrapping first prior to cooking. This means you have to wait until the dough has thawed completely.

Steam the defrosted tamales for 25 minutes over medium heat. For larger tamales, you can extend the cooking time to several minutes. For tamales that are ready for direct steaming, steam them for 90 minutes or so.


Who can say no to a platter of steaming tamales? Making these savory morsels is a labor of love but all the effort sure is worth it! Now that you know how can you freeze tamales, you can whip up a huge batch and keep the rest to impress guests at your next event!