Updated September 2021
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Buying guide for Best tamale steamers

One of the more impressive authentic Mexican dishes a home cook can attempt to make is the tamale. While tamales can be time-consuming to prepare and cook, they are a delicious and visually stunning entrée whether you are serving your family or a crowd.

Using a tamale steamer can simplify the tamale creation process. A tamale steamer is designed specifically with tamales in mind, although the majority of these steamers can also be used to steam vegetables and seafood, cook sauces and stews, and even fry foods.

While fairly simple in design, you will still face several considerations when selecting a tamale steamer. For example, would you prefer a steamer made of pricey stainless steel, or would you be satisfied with a less-expensive aluminum steamer? 

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A tamale steamer with a removable steamer insert can also function as a stock pot.

Key considerations

Capacity

The capacity of a tamale steamer could be a few quarts or as many as 80 quarts. The larger the steamer, the more tamales you can cook at once. Because tamales can take up to an hour to cook, a larger size is best if you’re cooking for a crowd. Notably, a large tamale steamer will be more cumbersome to use, clean, and store than a smaller one. Nevertheless, if you have the space for it, we recommend buying a larger one so you can cook for a variety of group sizes.

Number of pieces

The classic tamale steamer consists of three pieces: a pot for boiling water, a steamer insert in which the tamales sit, and a lid to hold the steam in. While rare, some tamale steamers come with extra pieces or even two complete steamer sets of different sizes.

Dyk1
Did You Know?  
The corn husks used in tamales are there simply to hold the tamale together while it steams. They are not eaten with the tamale.
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Features

Materials

The majority of tamale steamers are made of aluminum or stainless steel.

Aluminum: Tamale steamers made of aluminum are lighter than those made of steel. Aluminum heats up faster than steel, which may cut down a bit on cooking time. Further, aluminum cools faster than stainless steel. Some people dislike aluminum because it can have a “cheaper” appearance than steel. In fact, aluminum cookware does tend to cost less than stainless steel cookware.

Stainless steel: Stainless steel is more durable than aluminum, and it’s more attractive to the eye. Stainless steel resists stains and odors, and it is less prone to rust than aluminum. Many cooks say it distributes heat more evenly and therefore cooks food more evenly than aluminum.

Pot, insert, and lid

Pot: As mentioned, the pot holds the boiling water used to steam/cook tamales. Therefore, the handles should be sturdy, and the bottom should be completely flat. (Any sort of a curve on the bottom will result in a pot that rattles and jumps when it reaches a boil.)

Insert: The steamer insert sits inside the pot and holds the tamales above the boiling water. Tamale steamers with removable inserts can be used for a range of other purposes, such as deep frying and making stock. Tamale steamer inserts generally do not have handles, though some do.

Lid: The lid holds the steam inside the pot. It may be flat or dome-shaped and made of metal or glass. While the lid should sit snugly atop the pot, some lids have steam vents or valves to prevent the steam from building up too much. The handle usually sits at the center of the lid.

Handles

Handles on a tamale steamer provide you with an easy way to move the steamer around, say from stove to table, and a simple and safe way to lift the lid off the steamer. Handles for moving the steamer around are typically located on the sides of the pot. While they can be welded on, riveting provides greater strength.

Some side and lid handles are coated with a heat-resistant material, making them easier and safer to handle. When choosing a tamale steamer, note the size of the top and side handles, as most people find larger handles easier to grasp.

While a glass lid will provide you with an easy way to keep an eye on your tamales, it should be made from a shatterproof material.

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Accessories

Tamale wrappers: Powernutri Corn Husks for Tamales
While you could strip corn cobs of their husks to create your tamales, a simpler method is to buy husks specifically for making tamales, such as these husks from Powernutri.

Margarita machine: Margaritaville Bahamas Frozen Concoction Maker
If you’re looking for a delicious beverage to complement your tamales, a margarita is a mouth-watering choice. Make your own using this at-home blender with built-in ice shaver.

Dyk2
Did You Know?
You can usually cook around 30 tamales at a time in a 10-quart steamer.
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Tamale steamer prices

Inexpensive: Tamale steamers under $30 tend to have the lowest capacities, usually 12 quarts or less. They tend to be less durable and are often made of aluminum.

Mid-range: If you're cooking tamales for an average-size family, a steamer in the $30 to $50 range may be your best choice. These steamers are usually crafted of aluminum, though some are made of stainless steel, and most can hold between 20 and 32 quarts, which is a “middle-of-the-road” capacity.

Expensive: If you frequently cook for a crowd, a tamale steamer in the $50+ range could be your ideal. The capacity of these steamers is much greater than that of other tamale steamers, often 64 quarts or more. You’re more likely to find stainless steel pots in this price range as well. Some have extra pieces that make them even more versatile.

Tips

  • If you’d like a larger tamale steamer but have limited counter space, seek a taller option. With a tall steamer, you can vertically stack the tamales, allowing you to cook more at once.
  • A glass lid allows you to keep an eye on your tamales as they cook. This is particularly true for cooks who can’t resist constantly lifting the lid to check their food.
  • Tamales take 30 to 40 minutes or longer to cook. To check for doneness, remove a tamale from the steamer and carefully unwrap it. The masa dough of a cooked tamale should be completely set and should not stick to the corn husk when you unwrap it.
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Originating in Mexico and Central America, tamales are known by a few different names, including tamal, tamalli, and nacatamal.

FAQ

Q. What is masa?

A. Tamales consist of meat, beans, and cheese wrapped in a corn-based dough called masa. Masa is made with masa harina flour. It’s fairly easy to make; plenty of recipes for simple masa can be found online.

Q. Are tamale steamers dishwasher safe?

A. It depends on the product. Some are dishwasher safe; others are not. Check the manufacturer’s care and use instructions to be sure.

If you are just steaming tamales (as opposed to making a stew or sauce), you might be better off washing the steamer by hand instead of trying to wedge all the pieces of it in a dishwasher. Hand washing can usually be accomplished with a bit of mild dish soap, warm water, and a cloth. Dry your tamale steamer thoroughly before storing it.

Q. Will a tamale steamer work on an induction stove?

A. This depends on what the tamale steamer is made of. Some aluminum steamer pots include a layer of magnetic material that will function on an induction stove, but pots made from straight aluminum, glass, or copper will not work on an induction stove.

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