A pressure cooker is a fantastic steam-producing machine – the perfect tool to use to cook traditionally steamed foods, like tamales,  in minutes not hours.Some hip recipes are spontaneous are written and photographed just minutes after the ingredients are spotted at the market and smuggled home while others, like these tamales, require a lot of planning, research and actual smuggling.

I don’t have easy access to corn husks or masa in Italy, so when I visited the U.S. last summer I came back with a 4.4 pound pack of Masa Harina stuffed in my suitcase (along with corn husks, chiles, quinoa and other hard-to-find ingredients from the Americas). Italian airport agricultural inspection, unlike in the US, is just a pistol-packing carabiniere with a cigarette stub precariously hanging off his lips waving a gloved hand to teams of passengers either to the right or left velvet ropes.  If kids are within reach, the gloved hand reaches out and pats their heads goodbye – briefly stopping the heart of the American supermarket packing parent.

Pressure Cooking Time for Tamales

pressure cooker tamales

When looking for the right pressure cooking time for tamales, instead of just dividing the regular cooking time  by three I looked back at the polenta recipe. Ground corn under pressure cooks for an absurdly short amount of time (8 instead of 45 minutes for polenta). After all, tamales are all about steaming the masa, activating the fat that’s been folded into it and re-heating the pre-cooked filling.

I recommend pressure cooking tamales 15-20 minutes at high pressure with a natural open- a big leap from the 1 1/2 to 2 hours they would ordinarily need without pressure. Don’t believe it? Try it! If the tamales are not cooked to your satisfaction, all you have to loose is a few more minutes of cooking time under pressure – but you won’t !

Make a Meal of It

Pressure Cooker Mexican Meal
Want to make this whole delicious Mexican meal? You need to get started two days ahead of the actual meal. The tamales don’t need to be cooked fresh, they can also be fabricated and cooked a day, or more, before and kept tightly sealed in the refrigerator. Then, re-heated by pressure cooking for 5 minutes at high pressure with natural open. Here’s how….

Two days ahead:
-Put the dry spice rub on the Carnitas (Pulled Pork).

One day ahead:
-Cook the Carnitas (or your favorite filling), shred, reduce and cool cooking liquid to de-fat.
– Rinse and put beans to soak, for Frijoles (Re-fired Beans).
– Make Chocoflan Dessert.

The day:
-De-fat Carnitas cooking liquid and use to spice-up Masa.
-Make the tamales.
-Pressure cook Frijoles and keep in a covered dish (they will stay warm for hours)!
-Pressure Cook tamales and keep warm in the oven on low heat covered with a damp cloth.
-Just before serving, make Arroz (Spanish Rice).


Pressure Cooker Tamales, Mexican Rice and Refried Beans

Pressure Cooker Accessories Pr. Cook Time Pr. Level Open
5 L or larger  steamer    15-20 min.    High(2)  Natural

4.5 from 8 reviews
Quick Pressure Cooker Tamales
Recipe type: pressure cooker
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
The instructions for making the masa use stand mixer (and I did), but you can certainly knead the dough vigorously by hand for about 15-20 minutes. If you're lucky enough to live near a Mexican market, you may be able to purchase already mixed masa dough that is ready to go in your tamales!
For the Masa: (or follow ingredients/instructions on package
  • 3 cups masa harina
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening (or other fat such as olive oil, corn oil, butter, lard)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • About 2 cups liquid (water, stock or a portion of the carnitas cooking liquid)
  1. Rinse the corn husks and put them in a large shallow dish, like a casserole, and pour enough boiling water to cover. Use a heavy object, like the top from a pan, to keep the husks immersed.
  2. In the bowl of your mixer add masa harina, shortening, baking powder and salt. Using the paddle attachment, slowly incorporate the ingredients and pour in about half the water into the bowl of a stand up mixer. With paddle going slowly, drizzle about 1½ cups of the liquid. Masa should have a very soft “play-doh” type consistency - combined and sticky to the touch, not runny or crumbly. More or less liquid can be added to achieve the desired masa consistency.
  3. Lay out your work area with corn husks, filling, masa and either the cooking liquid from Carnitas or chile sauce.
  4. Just before starting to construct the tamales, flip the corn husks around so the ones that were soaking on the bottom are now on the top.
  5. Lay out one or three corn husks and wipe them down with a kitchen towel to dry and spread an even layer of masa in the middle top ⅔ of the husk.
  6. Place a small amount of meat (or filling of your choice) in the middle. Wet with carnitas cooking liquid or chile sauce.
  7. Carefully fold closed, and then fold the bottom part, without squeezing. Leave the tops open.
  8. Add 2 cups of water to the pressure cooker, add the steamer basket, and place the tamales open-side up. It may take a bit of arranging and some may be diagonal but no horizontal tamales!
  9. If not all can fit, cook in two batches. If you have just a few, tie them together in groups of threes with kitchen string (Alton Brown -style) so that they form a bit of a tripod can stand up on their own.
  10. Close the lid and set the valve to pressure cooking position.
  11. Electric pressure cookers: Cook for 20 minutes at high pressure.
    Stovetop pressure cookers: Lock the lid and cook for 15 minutes at high pressure.
  12. When time is up, open the pressure cooker with the Natural pressure release.
    Electric pressure cookers: Disengage the “keep warm” mode, or unplug the cooker, and open the lid when the pressure indicator/lid-lock has gone down (about 20 to 30 minutes).
    Stovetop pressure cookers: Move the cooker off the burner and wait for the pressure to come down on its own (about 10 minutes).Serve hot tamales in their wrappers.
    Makes 36-40 tamales - depending on the size.

Getting things ready for Pressure Cooker TamalesFilling Tamales for Pressure CookingFilling the pressure cooker with tamales

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  1. Thank you so much Laura P. For your help take care

  2. What if you don’t have a steamer basket? Can I put a vegetable steamer inside my electric pressure cooker?
    Thanks, just realized this post was from a year ago.


    1. Don’t worry. You are not the only one who does this

      As for the steamer… Yes you can if it fits. The only “Gotcha” is a metal steamer basket may scratch the coating if it is a non stick inner pot. Yuo can get silicone steamer baskets if that is an issue

    2. Yes, you can. This reply is 1 1/2 years later than your messages. I hope it still helps!

  3. Tamales in Texas are made with Red Chile, not the orange New Mexico red chile. The meat is simmered in the sauce so that it absorbs the flavor and then a liberal amount is placed on the masa so that there is more meat and less masa. The masa is spread thinly. New Mexico chile became a thing making the good stuff harder to find in powder form in local grocers. It is more easily found in Mexican markets. The reason I am mentioning this is that:

    Jane Butel has a recipe for the sauce here: http://www.janebutelcooking.com/utility/showArticle/?objectID=2566 The exception being she is now selling New Mexico red chile on her site instead of using red chile made from RED chiles and not orange as she once recommended a few decades ago. I have made tamales with the orange NM stuff and it is less flavorful than Red Chile imo. Folks hailing from NM tend to love them. It’s all a matter of taste. Try them and if you like them, it’s all good, but don’t be surprised when your lovely red chile sauce is orange if you planned to use it for enchiladas, chili, or whatever.

    You can also make your own by purchasing whole, dried chiles and simmering in water to extract the flavor. Pierce the chile with a knife and shake out the seeds prior to placing them in water or broth. When tender, blend the chile into the juice along with your preferred herbs and you have a chile broth to add to your sauce (great base for chili as opposed to chili powder.) I have not tried doing this in the pressure cooker, but do intend to try to see what happens. From reading this site, I understand that the heat may be amplified. Simmering on the stove removes the heat; so be careful out there. ;)

    Cascabel is the traditional chile for tamales, but Ancho and Chipotle are good too. Bags of chiles are cheap and light weight; thus cheap to ship, so should not be expensive for those that can’t readily purchase them at your local market. You can experiment until you find exactly the flavor you prefer. Mix and match. I do not recommend California chiles as they impart little flavor at all and not worth the effort. Note that some chiles need to be peeled prior to blending as the skins are tough leaving little tough bits in your sauce if not removed. Most do not.

    Banana leaves, if you can find them, impart more flavor into the masa of the tamal and easier as they make for fat tamales; thus fewer to roll. If you don’t have an army of kids to help, you might want to opt for the banana leaves.

    While I am on the subject of chiles, any time a recipe calls for green peppers, try poblano or hatch instead. I suspect you will never touch another green pepper again. Just be sure to cook the pepper thoroughly to prevent them from being hot.

    For those of you not accustomed to the heat of chiles, try purchasing Hatch chiles in their various forms. New Mexico Hatch chiles are flavorful and rarely have the heat of some of the other chiles. They are especially lovely on the top of a seared-on-open flame-steak or just about anything for that matter. My hat is off to New Mexico for their Hatch chiles. ;)

    Lastly, while not new to basic pressure cooking, I am new to this site and excited to try more varied recipes. I now realize there are so many more dishes I can cook quickly and had no idea I was doing some of my recipes incorrectly! I have put chiles in my pressure cooker in the past and did not notice (or remember) the dish being hotter than usual, but am now wary. Not sure that I am willing to forgo chiles and substitute red pepper flakes and cayenne, but will keep an open mind. We eat chiles for their flavor, not so much the heat. This might be a problem , but hope to find ways around the problem when it occurs.

    Thank you so much, Laura, for this site. I have already found the information here invaluable and will be purchasing your book (and clicking links) as a thank you.

    1. Your suggestions are very good and authentic. We always use pork and I like the idea of using banana leaves instead of corn husks. I love the chile in New Mexico. I lived there for a few years and their food is like no other. Terrific post, thanks for giving everyone good tips. : )

  4. I think one can mix several types of chiles together. I know that some of us like traditional tamales but I have used Kashmiri Mirch, a hot orange chile, when making enchiladas and I use it in addition to red chile. Kashmiri Mirch has tremendously great flavor even when using only a little. It has the right amount of heat. Having lived in New Mexico, I have to say I love the “orange” chile and it is very hot and has wonderful flavor also.

    I think being able to mix some of these chiles together just may be a match made in heaven.
    With the dry chiles Negroes one finds in the market, it is necessary to steam them or pressure cook them, cut them open, and scrap out the pulp inside. This is the chile traditionally used in making the filling for tamales. This can be done with any dry chile of course.

    The pork should be pressure cooked until it is easily pulled apart, add the seasoning while cooking or after and pressure cook for a few minutes to marry the flavors.

    One can use oregano, cumin, other chiles or chile powders, cilantro, broth and salt and pepper for seasoning.
    We never use garlic as we believe it taints the other flavors that we wish to enjoy but each to their own. : )

  5. I’ve got to try Kashmiri Mirch! :)

  6. What are the cooking instructions for an electric pressure cooker. I only see for the natural release method. Thank you.

    1. The instructions for electrics are in the recipe.
      For your convenience, I will summarise:
      High Pressure for 20 minutes
      Wait 10 minutes after time is up, then release pressure.

  7. Hi Laura. I have only had my DUO60 7 in 1 InstantPot for 4 months. I was defrosting the freezer and found a dzn pollo tamales that my husband bought at Christmas from the “tamales lady” in town. I thawed them in fridge and now I wonder how long to steam? 10? 15? 20 minutes? Start with 10? I am confused about this. Lol. Sorry

  8. You should put the pictures which is illustrate the steps between each directions to make the readers understand easier. Adding a instructions video is also a good idea.

  9. what if I have tamales that have been frozen? Can I steam them in the instant pot?

  10. I also would like to know if ii can put them in frozen is the time the same they have been hand made giving a party so please advise me

    1. You should be able to put them in frozen, but my preference, as always, would be to defrost them first. But that is a personal preference and may have no basis in fact.

      You would need to add more time for frozen as you first have to defrost them, then cook them. But you would need to experiment to find the correct time. Don’t forget that unless you really jam them in, the cooking time for one will be the same as for a dozen or two, so you can test with a single tamale.

  11. Why can’t they lay horizontal? My pressure cooker isn’t tall enough for then to be vertical or diagnal….

    1. Maranda, if they’re not snuggled too tight and the filling does not fall out you can lay them down. Keeping them vertical or diagonal keeps space around the sides to steam the contents of the tamale evenly.



  12. Used 2 cups of water and the same type of colinder and stayed pretty close to the recipe and 3 hours later they were still gummy. Started this project at 2pm with the Masa already mixed and the filling prepared and had them all folded and in the pressure cooker by 3:30 we’d started cooking it in the pressure cooker and by 7:30pm we gave up and put them in an old style pot and about 3 hours later and2 pots of coffee and they were done.

    1. Yellow girl, can you give me more details on the type of cooker you used?



      1. Farberware 8qt

    2. Same happened to me! :( i was super sad. I steamed them the traditional way a week before, but saw it would only take 20 mins in my pressure cooker and couldn’t resist. 40 mins and was still gummy…

  13. Hi I am a little to pressure cooking. I bought the 16qt Presto pc for the sole purpose of cooking tamales. Cooking the meats in the pc for the tamales was fantastic (about 20min at 15PSI)! I was able to fit almost 4dz tamales and cook in 30min at 15PSI. I just guessed at the cooking and psi since there where no instructions on cooking tamales in the manual. I used it again a few days ago cooking cheese tamales and half of them burnt. The bottom of the pot warped, turned black on the inside and had black crusted stuff on it. I’m guessing I should’ve added more water or I’ve been cooking my tamales wrong the whole time. So now I’m trying to decide what kind of pc to buy and replace my Presto. I need a big size one for making pozole, soups, tamales, chili beans, stews etc. I’ve read about the InstaPot but it’s just not big enough. Thinking of getting another 16qt Presto or the 20qt Granite Ware cooker. Any advice on which pc to purchase and how long & what PSI to cook tamales would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  14. I got my instapot for Christmas and am looking for recipes. I made green tamales years ago in a regular pot, but quit because of the amount of cook time and uncertain results. I love the fresh corn taste. I’m anticipating summer.
    What changes would I make to cook time for Green Tomales adding fresh corn to masa and using fresh green husks?

    1. I’m sorry, Jane. I don’t have personal experience with green tamales (but, dang, they sound delicious)! I hope a reader more experienced in tamale-making than myself can answer you.

      If no one does, I would do a “test” tamale following the generic pressure cooking time and if you like the results load-up the cooker and do a whole batch- remember they need to be left with an open end so the steam can get in there and cook the masa mix.



  15. I made these tamales for Christmas dinner- a batch with carnitas and a batch with poblanos and Oaxaca. These we possibly the most delicious thing I’ve made. Big success!

  16. How long to set high steamer if
    store bought pork tamales
    straight from freezer to electric instapot
    (assuming 2cups water)


    1. I have a 14 qt Gowise electric pressure cooker for my bigger projects. I love it. I steam frozen (not thawed) tamales 8 minutes HP , high pressure, QR. Quick Release

  17. Just a small thing but “hot tamales” are a US Southern regional thing starting in the Mississippi delta and are made with cornmeal… like, straight up polenta ;-)
    Most recipes also have the filling mixed in with the dough, and are boiled not steamed but I do not know how standard that is vs just what I’ve seen.

    Your recipe – using masa & steaming is 100% classic Tex-Mex and is a really good adaptation. The old school version obviously uses lard, but most people wouldn’t miss that at all :-)

  18. I followed the pressure cooking instructions for a batch of homemade tamales in my fagor pressure cooker. It was not this recipe, but one I make all the time and it takes about 45 minutes to steam them when cooking the normal way, but I cooked them on high for 20 minutes in my fagor pressure cooker, using the natural pressure release/sit for 10 minutes and when I took off the lid they had exploded all over the inside of the pot.

    1. Kristin, I can’t imagine what would have been in your recipe to cause this. It must have been really disappointing!!!

      There are three reasons why the contents would “explode” or spray in the pressure cooker…

      The first would be that the cooker had problems building pressure because there was not enough liquid. So while the liquid in the base is trying to boil, so are the contents of the tamales!

      The second reason would be to use a fast pressure release (which you say you did not do). Similarly to how when the cooker struggles to reach pressure, if the filling of the tamales is still quite liquid and has not yet solidified (this could be recipe related) when pressure is released the filling would bubble and boil just like the liquid at the base of the cooker. Always do a full natural release to make sure the contents of the tamales are not “agitated” in this way.

      The third reason would be that they were closed too tightly and this would create a pressure difference between the space in the pressure cooker and inside the tamale. The wrappings don’t have a release valve like your cooker so when the wrapping gives up the contents would then “spray” out (or release ; ). When pressure cooking tamales, remember to leave one end open to avoid this.

      I hope that with this information your next pressure cooker tamales will be winners!



  19. Umm couldn’t you just order the shit you need online as opposed to “smuggling” them?

    1. Now my local international store carries this – but years ago when I was testing and working on this recipe you couldn’t get everything you wanted online – specifically from Europe.

      Thanks for the snark.



  20. How long would I pressure cook if the tamales were frozen raw?

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