Try these Mississippi Delta tamales for a Southern twist on a Mesoamerican tradition

Southern Kitchen

About the recipe

“Over the decades, various cultures put their spin on the tamale until we had the hot tamale we love today,” said Anne Martin, author of Delta Hot Tamales and co-founder of the Delta Hot Tamale Festival in Greenville, Mississippi. “And what better place to find this perfect, portable food than at a gas station? You grab a bundle, and a lot of paper towels, and very carefully push that spicy goodness out of the corn shuck into your mouth.”

This recipe was adapted from the Southern Foodways Alliance and the Hot Tamale Trail.

Serves: 7 to 8 dozen

Hands On Time: 4 hours and 0 minutes

Total Time: 8 hours and 30 minutes



6 to 8 pounds boneless pork shoulder, chuck roast or chicken thighs, cut into large cubes

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup chili powder

2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin


8 dozen corn husks

8 cups dried masa flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons salt

1 2/3 cups lard or vegetable shortening

6 to 8 cups warm cooking liquid from the filling (above)


To make the filling: In a large, heavy pot, cover the meat with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the meat is very tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a bowl and let cool. Reserve the cooking liquid.

When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove and discard any skin and large pieces of fat. Shred or dice the meat into small pieces. There should be about 14 to 16 cups.

In a large, heavy pot, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Stir in the chili powder, paprika, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, cayenne and cumin. Add the meat and stir to coat it with the oil and spices. Cook, stirring often, until the meat is warmed through, 7 to 10 minutes.

To make the tamales: While the meat is cooking, soak the husks in a large bowl or sink full of very warm water, until they are soft and pliable, about 2 hours. Gently separate the husks into single leaves, trying not to tear them. Wash off any dust and discard any corn silks. (Keep any husks that split to the side, since two small pieces can be overlapped and used as one.)

In a large bowl, stir together the masa, baking powder and salt. Add the lard and stir until well-blended.  Gradually stir in enough of the warm cooking liquid to make soft, spongy dough that is the consistency of thick mashed potatoes. The dough should be quite moist, but not wet. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth.

Remove a corn husk from the water, pat it dry, and lay it on a work surface. Spread about 1/4 cup of the dough in an even layer across the wide end of the husk to within 1 inch of the edges. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture in a line down the center of the dough. Roll the husk so that the dough surrounds the filling. Fold the bottom up to close and complete the package, leaving the other end open. Place the completed tamales in a single layer on a baking sheet. Repeat until all dough and filling is used.

Stand the tamales closed side-down in a large steamer basket. Cover the tamales with a damp towel or additional husks. Steam over simmering water until the dough is firm and pulls away from the husk easily and cleanly, 60 to 75 minutes. Serve warm.