Pressure Cooker / Instant Pot Pork Tamales

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This Pressure Cooker / Instant Pot Tamales recipe is the easiest way to achieve fluffy and savory homemade tamales. This recipe is fun to make and results in tender steamed masa tamales stuffed with moist shredded pork shoulder.  

Overhead shot of Instant Pot Pork Tamales, featuring a large serving platter with tamales, two tamales plated up, and a bowl full of servings, with cilantro and avocado on the page

This fantastic recipe for Pressure Cooker Pork Tamales is a must-have Cinco de Mayo menu item. Tanette Arana shared her family’s recipe for pork-stuffed tamales a few years ago, and I instantly fell in love with the dish. 

I tweaked Tanette’s recipe just slightly to create my Green Chile Pork Tamale recipe for Barbara Bakes. Then, I adapted it for the Instant Pot to share with you here. 

Update: This is a wonderful recipe for pillowy-soft pork tamales made easy in the pressure cooker. It does require a few more steps than most of our quick and easy recipes, so I’ve updated the post to ensure your tamales are foolproof. 

About Tamales

Did you know that tamales are an ancient food from Mexico and Guatemala? They were traditionally one of the first packed lunches. Because tamales come in their own neat little pouches and can be flavored with any manner of filling, depending on what you have on hand, they’re the ideal pack-and-go meal. 

Today, tamales are eaten throughout Central and South America, and the flavoring possibilities are truly endless! We love this Mexican-flavored recipe, especially to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

How to Make Pork Tamales in an Instant Pot / Pressure Cooker 

This Pork Tamale recipe will work in any brand of electric pressure cooker, including the Instant Pot, Ninja Foodi, or Power Pressure Cooker XL.

Using an electric pressure cooker makes homemade tamales much easier to cook at home. The filling itself is an easy dump-and-go recipe. And once assembled, the pressure cooker is the perfect way to steam them. Unlike the stovetop, no steam can escape, so your tamales cook faster and more evenly. 

Note: I prefer to make this recipe over two days. However, you can do it a single one day if you start the pork first thing in the morning. 

Instant Pot Tamales Day 1

On the first day, I soak the corn husks and pressure cook the pork shoulder filling. Letting the shredded meat rest overnight in the fridge soaks up extra flavor and allows you to easily remove the fat.

How to Soak Corn Husks for Tamales  

I like to start the recipe by soaking the corn husks (so I don’t forget to do it!). 

Simply fill up a large pot of cool water and place the corn husks inside. Place a plate or a weight on top of the corn husks to keep them fully submerged. Let soak for several hours or overnight.

You can find corn husks for tamales at specialty markets, as well as online (affiliate link). 

Make the Filling for Pork Tamales

Next, it’s time to cook that pork shoulder. This is the easy, set-it-and-forget it step to Instant Pot Pork Tamales. Just like you would for pressure cooker pulled pork, start with a flavorful cooking liquid. 

We flavor the filling with onion, garlic, two kinds of chili powder, and cumin. 

🚫🌶️ Don’t be alarmed by the two kinds of chili powder! They give this dish a great flavor without making the meat too spicy! These pork tamales are fully kid-approved. Especially when the filling is encased with fluffy masa dough!

Set the pork shoulder on top of the cooking liquid and seal the pressure cooker. The meat cooks on High Pressure for 75 minutes. This long cooking time results in tender, fall-apart pork shoulder that shreds beautifully. 

When it’s finished, transfer the meat to a bowl and shred. 

In a separate bowl, reserve the cooking liquid, which will flavor your masa! 

After cooling, store the meat and cooking liquid in the fridge overnight. 

Instant Pot Pork Tamales Day 2

On the second day, I make the masa, fill and wrap the tamales, and steam them in the pressure cooker. 

Finish the Pork

After chilling, the fats in the cooking liquid will have solidified into a layer on the top of the cooking liquid in the fridge. Use a spoon to scrape off that layer and discard. 

Tip: At this point, I like to taste the pork filling again and add any more seasoning I find lacking. Maybe a dash more chili powder, or a pinch of salt. 

Add a splash to the meat to loosen it up. Be careful to not add too much—the meat should be moist but not runny. 

How to Make Masa

To make the masa, turn to your stand mixer (affiliate link). You can also do this by hand if you don’t have an electric mixer. Our masa dough recipe is quick and easy, with just five ingredients (including salt). Simply toss masa, shortening, corn oil, salt and baking powder together in the stand mixer. 

Then add in the cooking liquid and mix until the masa dough is light, fluffy and flavorful. 

How to Fill and Wrap Tamales 

Now that your masa dough and pork filling are finished, it’s time to fill your tamales. 

Start by removing two corn husks from the soaking liquid. Lay them flat on a work surface and spread ¼ cup of masa down the center of the husks. Press the masa into a 4-inch square with a 2-3 inch border on the bottom. 

Then, add a heaping tablespoon of pork filling on top of the masa. Lay it in a line down the center of the masa square. 

To close the tamale, fold in the sides of the corn husks until they overlap and wrap the husk tightly around the dough. Fold in the bottom of the husk to seal your tamale closed. 

If you’re new to making tamales, this Tamales cookbook has great step-by-step reference photos for filling and wrapping your tamales.

How to Steam Tamales in an Instant Pot

Add 1 cup of water to the bottom of the pressure cooking pot and place a steamer basket (affiliate link) inside. Gently place the folded tamales standing up in the steamer basket. 

Seal the lid and cook the tamales on High Pressure for 20 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then finish with a quick pressure release.

To check your tamales for doneness, remove one tamale from the cooking pot and allow to cool for a few minutes. Carefully unwrap to check the masa—if it’s ready, the masa will be set and will pull away easily from the corn husk wrapping.  

Your homemade Instant Pot Pork Tamales are hot and ready for digging in! 

Remember to peel the husks away before eating! They’re not edible. 

Can I Substitute Corn Husks to Make Tamales?

Tamales are traditionally wrapped in corn husks for a few reasons. 

  • The husks won’t wilt under the steam in the pressure cooker. 
  • Husks keep the masa dough moist and spongy. 
  • Corn husks add a nice corn flavor to your homemade tamales. 

If you can’t find corn husks near you, there are some handy substitutes to make homemade tamales easier. Parchment paper, for example, allows the tamales to steam. 

You can also use fresh corn husks if those are more readily available. However you wrap your tamales, be sure they’re tightly closed before steaming. If you go with parchment paper, a piece of kitchen twine might help you keep them closed. 

How Many Servings Does This Recipe for Pork Tamales Make?

The recipe makes about 24 tamales. My family of five ate all but five the first night. They loved them!

You can easily half this recipe. 

Can I Freeze Pork Tamales?

If you’re not making the tamales right away, the filling can be made up to this point in advance and frozen. Simply defrost the meat before continuing with the recipe. 

If you don’t devour the tamales like we did, you can also freeze the tamales after they’re fully cooled. I recommend laying the tamales (still wrapped in corn husks) flat on a baking sheet in the freezer first. Then, when the tamales are fully frozen, transfer them to Ziploc bags. 

To reheat, place the frozen tamales on the steamer basket in your pressure cooker with a cup of water. Set to High Pressure and 5 minutes cook time. If the tamales are not fully hot when you remove the lid, cook them under pressure for another minute or two. 

More Mexican Recipes to Serve with Instant Pot Tamales

Why not turn these tamales into a Mexican celebration for Cinco de Mayo? Here is some more Mexican inspiration to add to your menu:

Overhead close up of several pork tamales, laying on a bed of lettuce, topped with tomatoes and sour cream, with an avocado in the bottom left corner
Yield: about 2 dozen

Pressure Cooker Pork Tamales

Ingredients

  • 1 – 8 ounce package dried corn husks
  • 3 lbs. boneless pork shoulder
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 4 cups masa
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1/4 cup corn oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

Instructions

Place the dried corn husks in a large pot (not the pressure cooking pot) and cover with water. Place a heavy plate or a smaller pot full of water on top of husks to keep them in the water. Let soak for 3 hours or up to 1 day, flipping occasionally until husks are softened.

Add 2 cups water, onion, garlic, chili powders, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and cumin to the pressure cooking pot and stir to combine. Add pork and lock the lid in place.

Select High Pressure and set the timer for 75 minutes. When beep sounds, turn off pressure cooker and use a natural pressure release for 10 minutes, then use a quick pressure release to release any remaining pressure. When valve drops carefully remove lid. Remove the meat from the pressure cooker and shred with two forks, discard excess fat as you shredded.

Strain cooking liquid and reserve to make masa. (I put mine in the fridge overnight and discarded the fat on top the next day.)

Place shredded pork in mixing bowl and season to taste with additional chili powder, salt and cumin. As you season the meat, add a small amount of cooking liquid to moisten meat, but it should not be runny.

Prepare the masa filling: In a stand mixer mix masa, shortening, oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and baking powder. Add remaining reserved cooking liquid with more hot water as needed and beat at medium or higher until fluffy with a loose cookie dough consistency.

Put a steamer basket in the pressure cooking pot and add 3 cups water.

Unfold 2 corn husks onto a work surface. Take 1/4 cup of masa and, starting near the top of the husk, using damp fingers press it out into a 4 inch square, leaving 2-3 inches at the bottom of the husk. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling in a line down the center of the masa.

Fold the sides until they just overlap, and wrap the husk around the dough. Fold up the bottom part of the husk.

Stand them up in the steamer.

Cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. Do a natural pressure release for 10 minutes, then use a quick release to release any remaining pressure.

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originally published July 29, 2015 — last updated May 2, 2020
Categories: Pork