Pork Shoulder Chile Ancho Tamales

These Pork Shoulder Chile Ancho Tamales are a traditional Mexican recipe made with time, love and some lard. My Abuelita would make these for us every time we came home for a visit. I have no idea when she would start making these but I know by the time I woke up the recipe would be in full swing; masa prepared, the scent of chile ancho in the air, and the corn husks were being soaked. Everything was ready for us to help build the tamales.

Tamales are deeply rooted in the Mexican culture; originating in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 – 5000 BC. The tamal consists of masa which is ground hominy made into a batter (hominy is corn that has been soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution) and a sweet or savory filling.

Tamales are associated with gatherings and festivals. It is also a perfect food when on the move since it is wrapped in it’s own dish, the corn husk. The tamal making process is a ritual and a perfect example of communal cooking in the Mexican culture.

This recipe is not a quick easy dinner but a labor of love, family and history. Recipes for tamales are so diverse and reflect the evolution of that family line.

Sitting here writing this I am taken back to her yellow and green kitchen, with blue spoons spotted with white dots. The kitchen was U-shaped with a table in the middle that would hold all the goodies for the day. It was small for 10 people and everyone who came over but it never felt that way. Her kitchen is definitely the heart of the home and food is one way of sharing love. In fact it is a joke in the family that we eat before we eat; there is always something cooking!

Here I share a part of my family history and look forward to you and my future family enjoying it for years to come.

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Makes approximately 25 tamales.


  • 3 pounds pork shoulder
  • 2 tbsp cumin
  • 20 – 25 garlic cloves
  • 10 oz. dried chile anchos
  • 1 cup lard
  • 4 tbsp salt (split in 2 tbsp + 2 tbsp)
  • 5 oz. bag of corn husks
  • 5 pound bag of masa preparada para tamales

Tools Needed

Pork Shoulder Chile Ancho Tamales Directions

Preparing the Pork Shoulder

  1. Soak Chile Anchos in water until they are soft. I soak them overnight but 3 – 4 hours while you prepare the pork shoulder should work.
  2. Prepare the pork shoulder by cutting away excess fat and cutting into 2 x 2 inch cubes.
  3. Bring about 5 – 6 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Add 2 tbsp salt and pork shoulder and allow it to simmer on medium low heat for approximately an hour.
  4. Blend together garlic, 2 tbsp cumin and 1 cup of water; set aside.
  5. Shred pork shoulder with two forks, this is how I grew up shredding meat. You can use a food processor but the texture and consistency isn’t the same; however, it will save a ton of time! Once all meat is shredded set aside.
  6. Soak all corn husks in water to soften.
  7. Chile Anchos should now be soft. Remove stems, veins, and seeds from all the chiles and place in a blender.
  8. Keep the chile ancho water to thin the sauce as needed.
  9. Add the garlic, cumin, water mixture to the blender with the chile anchos. Blend together and set aside.
  10. Heat a large deep skillet; add 1 cup of lard and allow it to melt. Add half of the chile ancho mixture to the lard along with 2 tbsp of salt. Mix together and cook until hot; approximately 3 – 5 minutes.
  11. Add shredded pork shoulder and the rest of the chile ancho mixture. Combine until fully incorporated and cook until hot; approximately 10 minutes.
  12. Taste test! Add any additional salt or cumin at this time if needed.

Building the Tamale

  1. Take the 5 pound bag of masa preparada out of the refrigerator so it can warm up a bit before using.
  2. Corn husks should now be soft; drain the water. (water your favorite plant :))
  3. Prepare a 5 QT pot for steaming the tamales.
    • Put a penny at the bottom of the pot.
      • The penny is used to indicate water level once tamales are steaming. The boiling water will make the penny click. When the penny is clicking you know there is enough water. If penny is not clicking there is no more water; add hot water immediately so nothing catches on fire.
    • Add enough water to fill the bottom of the pot but not touch the steamer insert.
    • Stack the steamer insert.
  4. Line up corn husks, pork shoulder and masa.
  5. Grab one corn husk, shake off excess water, and inspect it’s structural integrity. It should not have any rips, should not be too thin and should not be too big or too small. If it is too big rip portions of the husk off so you have a more manageable size. If it is too small, compost it and move on!
  6. Scoop a good portion of masa onto the corn husk and start to spread it with the back of the spoon over most of the corn husk. Cover the wide top, both edges and about three-fourths of the way to the tapered end of the husk.
    • Make sure there are no gaps or breaks in the masa. The top layer of the masa should be smooth. If there are gaps or breaks the tamale will fall apart.
  7. Add the pork shoulder chile ancho mixture to the center of the tamale.
  8. Fold each side inward and the tapered end up. Leave the top open.
  9. Place tamale standing up in the large pot.
  10. Repeat steps 4 – 9 until pot is full or meat/corn husks/masa is gone.

Time to Cook these Tamales

  1. Bring water to a boil.
  2. Cover tamales with a kitchen towel. The towel captures the extra moisture so the tamales don’t get soggy. Use a towel you don’t mind getting messy. Cover the pot with a lid.
  3. Once water is boiling reduce heat to medium.
  4. Cook for 30 – 40 minutes. Check tamales after 20 minutes to make sure the masa is cooking. You know the masa is cooking if it starts to look dry and pull away from the corn husk. Actively listen for the clicking penny. If penny is not clicking, add more hot water. Make sure to remove the steamer insert before adding water so the tamales don’t get wet.
  5. Tamales are done once the masa peels easily from the corn husk.

Pork Shoulder Chile Ancho Tamale Tips

  • You can “shred” the pork shoulder with a food processor; it will be way faster but the texture is not the same.
  • Always have a second bag of corn husks on standby. Not all corn husks are usable and a whole bag of them may be full of poor choices; aka too thin, ripped, too small. When there is a second bag you don’t have to worry about running to the store. Also, the dried corn husks don’t go bad so you can save any left overs for another time.
  • Building tamales take time and there is no short cut so make tamale building a community event. Invite friends and/or family to help I am sure they will be more than willing knowing they will be compensated with a full belly of tamales.
  • Have a pot or kettle of hot water ready to go when you start steaming the tamales so if you run out of water you have more ready to go.
  • When adding more water to the pot when steaming the tamales remove the steamer insert and add water directly to the bottom of the pot. This way the tamales don’t get soggy with the additional water.
  • I have found over the years that steaming tamales on a gas stove is the way to go. The gas flame is consistent and steady therefore the steam is steady and the tamales are always done at about the 45 minute mark. I have cooked tamales on an electric stove and the experience was exhausting. It is doable but since the heat is not consistent (electric stoves turn off and on) the steam is not consistent and therefore the tamales take forever to cook. Instead of 45 minutes to steam I have had cook times of up to 6 hours! If you do steam the tamales on an electric stove check tamales every 20 minutes until the masa pulls away from the corn husk. You will definitely need more water so have that extra pot or kettle of hot water. And keep your ear on the clicking penny!

Storing Pork Shoulder Chile Ancho Tamales

Tamales are best when first cooked but you make a lot at once so lets review how to store them. If you plan on eating them all within the week you can store them in your refrigerator. If you need more time store them in the freezer. When you are ready to eat them up again wrap them in a moist towel and heat them in the microwave for about 2 minutes. It is very important they are wrapped in a moist towel otherwise they will dry out when reheating. 

Green in the Kitchen

I try my best to be as green as possible in the kitchen using organic ingredients and using tools that can be handed down through the generations and/or are sustainably made.  I am always on the lookout for products that support this vision.  Though not perfect I still have tools that are not completely in line with this vision; however, I look forward to taking great care of them and using them as long as possible so they stay out of landfills.  Once they have reached their end of life I look forward to introducing an eco-friendly version to the home.

I also look forward to sharing with you what can be composted from each dish so less food waste is sent to landfills.  If you have an opportunity to use the unused portions of ingredients in another dish all the better but if you don’t have plans for… let’s say, that whole head of lettuce YOU CAN COMPOST IT!

What Can Be Composted From These Pork Shoulder Chile Ancho Tamales?

The corn husks can be composted. Since these corn husks are dried they will be the brown (carbon) component to your compost heap. Break down the corn husks into strips, make them as small as you like, but 6 – 8 inches in length and an inch or two in width should help to keep the compost aerated as well. Having a good airflow in compost is key in the materials decomposing into a fluffy rich batch of black gold for your garden.

Mexican Recipe Ideas

Abuelita’s Ground Beef + Potato Flautas

Arrachera Tacos

Tomatillo Chile de Arbol Salsa

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