Bex’s Pork Tamales, the Star of her Mexican Tamalada

Bex pork tamales tamalada

“Making pork tamales with family and friends is a way to share a loving cultural tradition, and a way to introduce this Mexican family custom to others,” says Bex Streeper of Des Moines, Iowa. Bex is one of our favorite Mexican food and Puerto Rican food homecooks, reflecting the two delicioso branches of her family heritage.

Bex views tamales as a Christmas essential, as important as spending time with family, attending midnight Mass, and gathering over great food together. These traditional tamales are also a way for Bex to incorporate her husband’s cultura into the holiday festivities, since his mother’s side of the familia is Mexican. Another Mexican holiday tradition Bex deeply loves is the celebration of Las Posadas, where family and friends visit each other over food and drink to commemorate the biblical Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter and food before the birth of their child, Jesus.  

Pork tamales Bex tamalada
Bex makes pork tamales for Christmas to honor the Mexican side of her family. She serves them with coquito to honor the Puerto Rican side of her familia. Good combo!

Yet one more holiday highlight for Bex is her annual pre-Christmas tamalada, a fiesta she has hosted for 11 years. The whole family comes over to help make these delicious pork tamales (made extra-flavorful with the pork broth and red salsa infused into the masa dough). It’s a full-day event, usually fueled by Puerto Rican coquito, but the tamales are 100% worth all the work, Bex is quick to add. Although she and her relatives celebrate the holiday on Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve, the tamalada takes place early in December. It’s an important way for the family to come together early in the season to kick off the holiday celebrations and prepare for the entertaining that will follow all the way through New Year’s Eve.

Bex pork tamales tamalada
Bex Cooking pork tamales in her kitchen in Des Moines, Iowa for her annual tamalada fiesta every early December.

Bex learned to make tamales from a combination of people, she says. When she was growing up in Chicago, “I learned to make the red sauce from my good friend Kristi Elliott’s mom, Candy, who learned it from her suegra in Mexico,” Bex says. “I researched and experimented over the years, which is why I add more spices that the original recipe.” 

See how Bex and her guests do the tamales test to make sure that they are done and ready to serve!

Learn more about the history of tamales and the different versions made throughout Latin America here (including why some are wrapped in corn husks and others in banana or plantain leaves). From Frida Kahlo’s red pork tamales to sweet tamales filled with guava to Puerto Rican pasteles to hallacas from Venezuela, there is so much variation in flavor, preparation and ingredients! All of us at Familia Kitchen are endlessly fascinated by this traditional masa-stuffed wonder that has been the Christmas comida essential for so many families—for centuries.

Ready to Host a Tamalada Starring Bex’s Pork Tamales?

Bex’s Pork Tamales with Red Salsa

Recipe by Bex Streeper
4.0 from 2 votes
Cuisine: Mexican


Cooking Time




Total Time




  • For the Pork Filling
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp lard or vegetable oil

  • 3 to 3½ lbs boneless pork shoulder (also called Boston butt), cut into 3-inch chunks and trimmed

  • 1 white onion, medium, roughly chopped

  • 6 cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled

  • 4 dried bay leaves, toasted

  • 1 Tbsp dried Mexican oregano

  • 1 ½ tsp kosher salt

  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns

  • 3 to 4 whole cloves

  • 1 tsp whole allspice berries

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • water, to cover

  • 4 guajillo chiles, toasted, stemmed, seeded

  • 2 ancho chiles, toasted, stemmed, seeded

  • For the Red Salsa
  • 6 guajillo chiles, toasted, stemmed, seeded

  • 3 ancho chiles, toasted, stemmed, seeded

  • 1 white onion, medium, halved

  • 2 cups canned, puréed fire-roasted tomatoes

  • 2 cups reserved pork cooking broth or low-salt chicken broth

  • 1 tsp whole cumin seed, toasted

  • 1 tsp dried Mexican oregano, toasted

  • 1 tsp allspice

  • 1 tsp cloves

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 1 Tbsp piloncillo

  • 2 heads garlic, medium, peeled

  • 1 Tbsp tamales-grind masa harina

  • 2 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)

  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil or lard

  • For the Masa and Corn Husks
  • 3 1/2 cups masa harina for tamales, like Maseca

  • 1 1/2 cups lard or vegetable shortening

  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder

  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt

  • 2 to 2½ cups reserved pork cooking broth

  • 1/2 cup red salsa, recipe above

  • 25 corn husks


  • Make the Pork Filling
  • Heat the lard or vegetable oil in a Dutch oven. Working in batches as needed (so as not to crowd it), brown the pork chunks, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the pork to a plate after it browns so that you have room for the next batch.
  • Return all of the browned meat to the pot. Add the onion, garlic and the rest of the spices.
  • Rinse, stem and seed the chiles. Dry toast the chiles on a medium hot cast-iron pan or comal for about 5 minutes. Add to the pot.
  • Add water to cover the pork and other ingredients. Bring to a boil.
  • Once boiling, cover with the lid, and reduce the heat to simmer.
  • Cook until the meat is fall-apart tender, 1 to 2 hours.
  • Remove the meat and shred it using a hand mixer or two forks.
  • Strain and skim the broth. Let it cool. Set aside about 5 cups for use in making the red salsa and the masa, below.
  • In a medium bowl, mix the toasted chiles with the shredded pork. Taste for seasoning, and adjust the salt and spices, as needed, to your taste. Set aside.
  • Make the Red Salsa
  • Rinse, stem and seed the chiles.
  • On a medium-hot cast-iron or comal, dry toast the chiles for about 5 minutes.
  • Dry toast the spices.
  • In a saucepan, add the water, tomatoes, onion, toasted chiles and toasted spices. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Once the mixture is boiling, remove the pot from the heat. Discard the cinnamon stick.
  • Transfer the chiles mixture and 2 cups of reserved liquid from cooking the pork (or use chicken stock) to a blender. Add the salt, piloncillo, masa harina and the garlic. Blend until smooth.
  • Heat 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil in a large pot. Pour the blended salsa into the pot. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • When ready, taste for flavor. Adjust the salt and spices, as necessary. Set aside.
  • Make the Masa
  • In a large bowl, pour in the tamales-grind masa harina. Follow the directions on the package and mix with warm water. Cover with a kitchen towel and let sit for 30 minutes.
  • While the masa is resting, use a stand mixer with the whipping attachment to mix the lard or vegetable shortening. Beat on medium-high until fluffy (1 to 2 minutes).
  • Add the baking powder and salt. Mix it in.
  • When the masa is ready, switch to the paddle attachment on your stand mixer. Continue beating the mixture while adding the masa in golf-ball-size pieces, waiting a few seconds between each addition.
  • When about half of the masa is mixed in, start alternating small amounts of both the remaining masa and the pork broth until all of the masa and broth are incorporated.
  • Add about 1/2 cup of the red salsa. Blend it until the mixture is light and fluffy, adding a little more pork cooking broth if the masa seems too dry.
  • Do the Masa Test
  • When the tamales mixture ready, drop a ½ tsp of masa in 1 cup of cold water.
  • If it doesn’t easily float, continue to whip the masa for few more minutes and test again.
  • Add a tiny bit more of the pork broth if you need to. But remember, this is a fine dance: DO NOT add too much liquid, or you’ll end up with overly soft masa and shapeless tamales.
  • Prep the Corn Husks
  • Soak the corn husks in water for an hour before needed, or overnight.
  • Rinse well with running water to remove any dust or corn husk fibers.
  • Cut any ripped or too-short husks lengthwise so that you have 25 thin strips to use later when tying the tamales closed.
  • To keep the corn husks pliable, keep them in water while filling your tamales. Dry one batch at a time.
  • Assemble the Tamales
  • Starting at the widest portion of the husk, spread 2 Tbsp of the masa with a spatula or spreader, leaving about a 1-inch husk border around it.
  • Add with 2 Tbsp of pork filling on top of the masa.
  • Fold the husk lengthwise, connecting the four corners. Then bring the tail of the husk toward the filled end, lining up the edges.
  • Use a thin strip of cut corn husk to tie the tamales closed, so they won’t open during steaming.
  • Steam the Tamales
  • Fill a pasta pot with a pasta insert or place the tamale rack inside a tamale steamer. Add water up to the pasta insert or tamale steamer fill line.
  • Place the tied tamales upright, with the fold against the sides of the other tamales to keep them upright and tightly closed.
  • Cover the pot with a tightly fitting lid and gently boil 1 to 1½ hours.
  • To test if your tamales are ready, scoop out 1 tamal. Place it on a plate and remove the corn husk. If the wrapper comes off easily without sticking to the masa and pork filling, your tamales are done!


  • Lay a heavy plate on top of the corn husks to keep them submerged while soaking.
  • Place a penny at the bottom of the steamer pot to alert you if the water level is low so so you can add more wate

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