What to Do if Tamales Are Soggy (And How to Avoid It)


Tamales are a delicious addition to any family dinner or holiday. Instead of being baked or grilled, this traditional Latin-American dish is steamed to perfection. If this step is not done correctly, it will not lead to an appetizing result.

To fix soggy tamales, wrap them and put them back in the steamer for 5 additional minutes and re-check them. Or, wrap them in a damp paper towel and cook on high for 14-20 seconds. Soggy tamales usually means that they were not left in the steamer long enough.

Pro Tip: If you are not cooking your tamales with a steamer specifically designed for the task, this could be making getting a perfectly cooked result more difficult. Here is a steamer specifically designed with tamales in mind.

There are lots of little details that come into play when it comes to making delicious tamales. The rest of this article will tell you how to avoid soggy tamales and fix them if they accidentally end up undercooked.

How to Avoid Soggy Tamales

One of the most unfortunate things in the world is a soggy tamale. After all the time, preparation, and patience it takes to make a batch of tamales, you would hope they were delicious.

Here are a few tips to make sure you have the ideal tamale texture and avoid soggy tamales:

  • Know what good tamale texture is- If you have eaten many tamales in your lifetime, this will be easier for you to know. If you are not too familiar with tamales, they should have a firm texture on the outside. They should still be soft, yet firm enough to hold their shape and the fillings without splitting open. The inside of the tamale should also maintain its shape when eaten with a fork.
  • Check up on your tamales during cooking- Generally, tamales are steamed for 1-2 hours. Remember that cooking time depends on the number of tamales, stove you use, and the size of your steamer. It would be a good idea to check them around every 30 minutes.
  • Use the right amount of filling- Too many fillings can cause the tamale to break apart, or not cook properly. Carefully distribute tamale fillings evenly throughout the batch and use the correct ratio of fillings and masa.

How Long To Steam Cooked Tamales

After eating the marvelous tamales you’ve made, you may have a few of them left over. Steaming your tamales again can help them retain their fresh flavor. You can steam tamales even if they are already fully cooked.

Steam your tamales in your steamer for 15-20 minutes. If your tamales are frozen, you can add an additional 10 minutes or so to the steaming time. Tamales can still be accidentally over steamed, so check up on the tamales around every 5 minutes while they are reheating. 

How To Tell If Tamales Are Done

Pile of Cooked Tamales

The way to tell if tamales are done is by peeling the husk. You should be able to peel the husk smoothly and fairly easily once they are done. If it is hard or brittle, they are likely not done. If you are still unsure, take a bite and if the dough does not taste undercooked they are ready to eat.

Here are a few signs that will let you know that your fresh batch of tamales is good to go:

  • Softness of the Husk- The most accurate thing you can do to check if a tamale is ready is to remove one from the steamer and feel the husk. Let this cool off for a few minutes before opening it. Before the husks are steamed, the husks are hard and brittle. Steaming softens the husk, making it easy to peel. The husk should peel smoothly when the tamales are ready.
  • Sample them- This is the best way to know if your tamales are ready. For your patience and dedication, you get to take the first bite! Taste and texture are the senses that matter now. Make sure the dough tastes well and it is not undercooked. 

How To Fix Undercooked Tamales

You did all this work before you realize that the tamales are not cooked all the way. Don’t get too disappointed. There are a few ways that you can fix them:

  • Leave in the Steamer for More Time- If you catch your mistake while sampling your tamales, you can always wrap it back up and place it back in the steamer. Check them periodically with your best guess about the time. 
  • Microwave- If you put away the steamer when you realize your tamales are undercooked, there is a quick fix. You can wrap your tamale in a damp paper towel and warm it up for 15-20 seconds. You can leave on the husk and repeat this process as much as you think your tamale needs. Just remember to keep the paper towel damp!

Can You Steam Tamales Too Long?

Tamales that are steamed for too long and can drastically affect the taste, look, and texture. You can have perfect masa, fillings, and husks, but the wrong texture is hard to fix.

Tamales can be steamed for too long. Tamales that are over-steamed will fall apart once you try to cut into them and they will turn soggy or mushy and not have a good taste as a result.

How Long Should Tamales Sit After Steaming?

Tamales should sit 10-15 minutes before attempting to remove the husks. If you peel away the husk earlier, you might peel the masa right off.

As you might be able to tell, timing is everything when it comes to making this Mexican dish. After steaming your tamales to perfection, it’s best you leave the tamales alone for a while. 

Final Bite

Tamales are a delicious meal that takes time and patience to make. If you are not careful, they can end up soggy or mushy. A few things to avoid this are steaming the tamales for just the right amount of time and using other signs to know when they are finished. Some examples are the texture of the husks, the firmness of the masa, and the taste of the tamale.

If you accidentally overcook or undercook them, there are ways they can be fixed. Whatever mistake in the cooking process, you can still end your day with soft and authentic tamales.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

For more, don’t miss 10 Best Types of Cheese to Put on Nachos.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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