Pork Tamales Rojos

5 from 6 votes

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This recipe for pork tamales delivers a truly authentic Mexican dish. With seasoned, fluffy masa, slow-simmered pork, and a robust red chile sauce, all wrapped up in a tender corn husk, these tamales are nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s a great option for parties and large get-togethers.

closeup: pork tamales with sour cream, salsa, and fresh herbs on an orange ceramic plate

Get ready for the best tamale you have ever tasted! These pork tamales are inspired by one of the most beloved dishes in Mexican and Central American cuisine. In tamales rojo, the masa is infused with the spicy red pork rojo sauce and topped with tender shreds of the meat, giving it a rich, savory flavor. 

Keep in mind that this is not a quick weeknight dinner. The art of making tamales has been around for thousands of years, and it has always been a labor of love. It will take some time and patience, but I promise it will be worth it. I make large batches and freeze them in packages to have several times when the need hits!

These are fantastic served with my 5 Alarm Chili spooned on top. Great for game days, cold evenings and as gifts for family and friends around the holidays.

extreme closeup: tamales rojo with red filling showing

For more authentic Mexican recipes, check out my Birria de Res, Pork Mole Negro, and Mexican Molletes.

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Corn Husks – Check the international aisle at the grocery store or look for husks at your local Mexican market. 
  • Pork Rojo – Chunks of pork shoulder are simmered to tender perfection in a vibrant red chile sauce made with garlic, onion, spices, and 4 types of chile peppers. 
  • Masa – This fluffy tamale filling is a simple combination of masa harina, lard, baking powder, salt, and pork rojo sauce. In addition to the sauce, you could use water, broth, another sauce like Chile Verde, or a combination to bring the dough together. Read all about how to make it in my recipe for Masa for Tamales.

Tip From Kevin

Tips for the BEST Tamales

Plan Ahead – Tamales are a labor of love recipe! Divide the project into 2 days. Day 1, make the filling (or two). On Day 2, make your masa, then assemble and cook your tamales.

Whip It – Be sure to whip your lard until it’s light and airy, almost like cake frosting, before sprinkling on the baking powder and adding your masa.

Smooth Like Hummus – The texture of your masa for tamales should be super smooth and spreadable — think hummus!

The Penny Trick – To check your water level and avoid a scorched pot, place a penny below the steamer basket and fill with water. It should rattle while the tamales are cooking. If the sound stops, you’ll know to add more water!

overhead: pork tamales in a steamer

How to Make Pork Tamales

Pork Rojo

  1. Prepare the Pork. Cut the pork into half-inch cubes, season with salt, and set aside. 
  2. Steam the Chiles. Remove the stems and seeds from the chile peppers, place them in a bowl, and cover them with freshly boiled water. Let sit for about 30 minutes. 
  3. Blend the Sauce. In a blender, combine the soaked chiles, jalapenos, garlic, onion, chimayo powder, cumin, and oregano with 1 cup each of the chile-soaking water and chicken stock. Puree together until smooth and set aside. 
  4. Cook the Meat. Place a Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. Heat the oil, then brown the pork pieces in batches. Add the chile puree and 4-5 cups of chicken stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 1 hour or until the pork is tender and the sauce is a deep red color. Season with salt and apple cider vinegar as desired. 
  5. Cool & Shred. Once the pork rojo has cooled, reserve at least 1 cup of the cooking liquid, remove the meat, and shred using forks. Transfer the meat back to the pan with the rest of the sauce, cover, and refrigerate overnight. 


  1. Make the Dough. Whip the lard until it’s light and airy, almost like cake frosting before adding the baking powder and salt in a large bowl or mixer. Blend in 1 cup each of masa and rojo sauce. Alternate adding one cup of masa with one cup of broth until all 8 cups have been added. Then, beat the mixture for 5 minutes until light and fluffy. 
  2. Adjust as Needed. Add more liquid if the mix is too dry and more masa if it is too wet until you have a smooth, spreadable consistency. 


  1. Soften the Husks. Place corn husks in a roasting pan or large bowl and cover with hot water. Cover with a towel and soak for 1 hour, then drain and pat dry with a towel.
  2. Prepare the Steamer. Fill the bottom of your steamer pot with water, cover with several husks, and set aside. 
  3. Add the Masa. Position one corn husk with the smooth side up and the widest end closest to you. Smear a thin layer of masa In the middle of the corn husk, forming a rectangle shape. Leave the narrow end of the husk uncovered. 
  4. Add the Meat. Now, spoon some of the cold pork rojo into the husk. Fold one side of the husk up over the filling, then the next side. The narrow pointed end of the tamale should be folded upwards. 
  5. Transfer to Steamer. Place each folded tamale in the steamer pot, supported by the sides of the pot and with the open end facing up. Continue folding and adding tamales until they are all in the pot. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cover with a lid. Let them steam for about an hour. 
  6. Test for Doneness. Carefully remove one tamale with tongs. When unfolded, the husk should easily peel away and the masa should be firm to the touch. 
  7. Serve. Dish up pork tamales rojo right away with the salsa of your choice.
overhead closeup: tamales rojo in a steamer
  • Blender
  • Large Mixing Bowl
  • Dutch Oven or Large Stock Pot
  • Steamer Pot
  • Rubber Spatula

Storing and Reheating

Store leftover tamales in an airtight container for up to one week in the fridge or 3 months in the freezer. To reheat, simply pop them back into the steamer until warmed through.

pork tamales on an orange ceramic plate with sour cream, salsa, and fresh herbs on top

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Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Know My Tamales Are Done?

After steaming for an hour, take one out of the steamer basket and let it cool slightly and unwrap it carefully. Does the masa separate from the husk? If so, that’s a good sign! The masa should also be slightly firm to the touch and not mushy. If the masa is still soft, you may want to cook them longer. The tamales will firm up once cooled.

What is traditionally served with tamales?

Tamales are traditionally served with a selection of toppings like Salsa, Pico de Gallo, Guacamole, and Mexican Crema

To make them part of a larger meal, you can add classic Mexican side dishes like Mexican Red Rice and Refried Beans.

Are tamales rojo spicy?

Tamales rojo are spicy but not overly hot. Think flavor over heat. These pork tamales are made with the zesty sauce from pork rojo, which uses a variety of different chile peppers. The peppery sauce infuses the tamales with layers of smoky, spicy flavor, but you’ll find it is balanced with the sweet earthiness of the masa dough.

Does my tamale dough need to rest?

A 30-minute rest will leave you with a smoother, more spreadable dough. While this step isn’t crucial, it gives the masa time to fully hydrate and will result in much better pork tamales in the end. Read all about it in my recipe for Masa for Tamales.

closeup: a plate of tamales with sour cream, salsa, and fresh herbs on top
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Pork Tamales Rojos

5 from 6 votes
This recipe takes you step by step thorough making pork tamales with fluffy masa to succulent pork rojo loaded with authentic Mexican flavor.
Servings: 50
Prep: 40 minutes
Cook: 2 hours 40 minutes
Total: 3 hours 20 minutes


  • 50 corn husks

Pork Rojo

  • 5 lbs pork shoulder cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 12 dried guajillo chiles
  • 4 dried ancho chiles
  • 4 dried pasilla negro chiles
  • 6 cups water or chicken stock
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 yellow onion peeled and quartered
  • 2 jalapeños stems removed
  • 1 tbsp chimayo chili powder optional (See Note 1)
  • 4 tsp ground cumin
  • 4 tsp Mexican oregano or regular oregano (See Note 2)
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar


  • 2 cups lard room temperature
  • 4 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 8 cups Maseca – Instant corn masa mix 2 pounds
  • 1 cup pork rojo sauce reserved from above
  • 7 cups water or reserved cooking liquid from meat filling of choice broth, water or combination (See Note 2)


Pork Rojo

  • Cut the pork shoulder into 1-inch cubes, season with the kosher salt. Set aside.
  • Remove the stems (and seeds if you want it milder in heat), from the guajillos, anchos and pasillas chiles and place in a bowl. Cover chiles with boiling water and let them steam for about 30 minutes until they are tender.
  • Put the chiles, 1 cup soaking liquid and 1 cup chicken stock, garlic, onion, jalapeño, Chimayo chili powder, cumin and Mexican oregano into a blender and purée until smooth. Pour through a fine mesh sieve if you prefer for a smoother sauce. Set aside.
  • Working in batches, brown the pork in a large Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat with oil.
  • Add 4-5 cups chicken stock, chile purée and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for one hour, or until the meat is tender and the sauce is a thick, deep red color. Season with apple cider vinegar and additional salt if needed.
  • Let the pork rojo cool. Reserve 1 cup of the chili rojo sauce for masa. Remove meat and shred with forks. Return to pot with remaining chili rojo sauce, cover with wrap and refrigerate overnight for tamales.


  • Rule of thumb: 1 cup maseca to 1 cup liquid (reserved cooking liquid from meat filling of choice, broth, water or combination).
  • In a large bowl or mixer, whip the lard until it's light and airy, almost like cake frosting before adding the baking powder and salt.
  • Add 1 cup of the maseca and 1 cup of chili rojo sauce (or cooking liquid from filling of choice). Alternate 1 cup maseca to 1 cup liquid until all 8 cups are mixed together. Beat 5 minutes until light and fluffy.
  • You are looking for spreadable smooth consistency — think spreadable hummus. If the dough is too dry, add more liquid. If it's too wet, add more maseca.
  • Float Test: Grab a teaspoon of the mixed masa and drop it into a glass of cold water. If it floats it's mixed well and light. If it sinks, it needs more mixing.


  • Add the corn husks to a roasting pan or large bowl or pot. Cover the corn husks completely with hot water. Cover the bowl with a towel and let them soak for 1 hour to soften them up. When ready to make tamales, drain the water from the corn husks and pat them dry.
  • Fill the bottom of the steamer pot with water and add a copper penny (See Note 4). Add the basket and cover with several husks. Set aside.
  • Take one corn husk with smooth side facing up and wide end closest to you into your palm or on a clean work surface. Using a rubber spatula or large spoon, smear 3-4 tablespoons of masa in the middle of the corn husk and spread the masa in a thin layer to create rectangle shape, leaving the narrow end of the corn husk uncovered. Practice makes perfect!
  • Spoon 3-4 tablespoons (more if you prefer) of the cold pork rojo filling in the center of the corn husk. Fold one side of the husk up and over the filling then the other, fold the narrow pointed end up.
  • Place the folded tamales in the steamer with the open end facing up, making sure to lean them against the side of the pot so they don’t fall down. Repeat until all tamales are in the pot.
  • Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat to low, cover and steam for 1 hour, 1 hour 15 minutes.
  • Test to see if it’s cooked. Using tongs, carefully remove a tamale and open it up. The masa should easily separate from the corn husks and the masa should be fairly firm. Serve immediately with salsa of choice.
  • To Freeze: Let cool completely and place in labeled/dated freezer bags, squeezing out excess air. Freeze for 3 months.



  1. This is a bright red, sweet and earthy flavored New Mexico chile, and worth trying to find or order online.
  2. Mexican oregano has notes of mild licorice and citrus. Mediterranean oregano is a member of the mint family and most often is used in Greek and Italian recipes. Mediterranean oregano is the one most found in spice racks and supermarkets.
  3. For the liquid in this Masa recipe you will need equal parts to the Maseca – Instant corn masa mix. That liquid can be either 8 cups water, 8 cups broth, 8 cups liquid from your filling (like my Pork Rojo sauce, or chile verde sauce, or braising liquid from Birria de Res etc.) or any combination. As with working with any form of dough: if the dough is too dry, add more liquid. If it’s too wet, add more maseca.
  4. The Penny Trick – To check your water level and avoid a scorched pot, place a penny below the steamer basket and fill with water. It should rattle while the tamales are cooking. If the sound stops, add more water.


Calories: 198kcal | Carbohydrates: 18g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 19mg | Sodium: 265mg | Potassium: 277mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 1263IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 55mg | Iron: 2mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: Dinners
Cuisine: Mexican
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
titled image (and shown): pork tamales rojo recipe


Whether in the kitchen or on the grill, you’ll find me cooking American favorites with a love for BBQ, Mexican and Tex Mex. I’m passionate about making tasty food because life’s too short to be bland!

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  1. 5 stars
    Terrific taste! Thank you. My assembly technique is sloppy and definitely needs work, but the flavor is the best, both for the pork and for the masa dough. I guess I should have filled mine more because I did have quite a lot of meat leftover, however, they were still making a mess as I tried to wrap them and I have a lot of busting out rejects ( only for presentation) after cooking. I wish I could see a step by step video on applying masa on the husk and filling them. This recipe is another keeper for me, Kevin. I haven’t tried one of your recipes yet that I wouldn’t make again. I’m so glad I found you.

    1. Practice makes perfect Jody. Mine were horrible when I finally started making these 3 years ago! I also found if you use the side with ridges it grips the masa better, but you stand the chance of it really sticking once steamed and get a torn tamale. You got this!

  2. 5 stars
    Yum! Came out pretty good for the first time! Gonna try my hand at Chicken green Chili tamales soon as my back feels better 😱 lol. Thank you so much.

  3. Hi Kevin! I am super excited to try this recipe. I appreciate all of the details and the pictures help too! Can the tamales be assembled, frozen, and cooked later? Also, looking forward to similar and new recipes you plan to post in the new year.

  4. Hi Kevin! I just came across this recipe (I’m obsessed with your lasagna recipe and am making it tonight!) and I’m wondering if you think I could substitute chicken breast or beef for the pork for these tamales? Thanks!

    1. You definitely could substitute those Jaren. I actually have a few similar recipes coming out n the New Year so stay tuned.

  5. 5 stars
    My 19-year-old grandson kept talking about his memories of making Tamales with me. He couldn’t join in this time, but his girlfriend came over and my 14- and 12-year-old grandsons came over and helped. Making new memories was unforgettable. I lost my mother-in-law’s recipe and picked yours to try. I didn’t add all the chiles, I was afraid it might be too hot for some. They had a wonderfully spicy flavor without being too hot. My daughter-in-law said she had a Tamale at a restaurant once and never ate another one because it was so bad. She tried one from your recipe and ate three more, even wanted to take some to her mom to try. Many compliments from others also about how much better they were than what they had previously experienced in restaurants. Thank you for such a precise recipe and all the tips. It was truly a great time enjoyed by those making them and even better experience for those eating them, and they are gone. God bless and Merry Christmas. PS: I’m going to my daughter-in-law’s house on Dec. 30th to make more. Happy New Year.

    1. LOVE reading comments like these. If people aren’t helping in the kitchen at least they can enjoy the results – together! Thanks so much for coming back to let me know Diana – you made my day! 🙂

    2. 5 stars
      Just a quick update on this. My daughter-in-law’s mother didn’t get any from this first batch. There weren’t any left. My daughter-in-law set some aside from the ones we made yesterday so she will get to try them. Her mom is one of the people that tried a tamale in the past and wouldn’t eat them again. I’m betting that will change after she has a chance to try some from your recipe.

  6. 5 stars
    The tamale dough was fantastic, light and not stodgy and the filling, wow. It took 3 of us to make a double batch and did we have fun. These were delicious and now I have a bunch in the freezer for whenever I want. Thanks for this one.

  7. 5 stars
    These were not as hard as I had always though – and fun. Great flavor and will keep this one to make again. Thanks Kevin.