Smoked Pork tamales
January 9, 2011, 11:21 pm
Filed under: Easy but not quick, Holidays, Meat, Nibbles, Pork, Technique

Tamales are a Christmas food in Texas. I’m from Texas (sort of)…being born in Fort Worth and having family there, I can claim it. Never mind my parents, brother and I moved away when I was 6 weeks old, it’s long enough to be able to eat tamales during the holidays. I didn’t make them at Christmas because we had guests who wouldn’t understand, and New Years (when I’ve made them in the past) isn’t going to work out due to travelling, so I’m making them for the National Championship Game on the 10th (WAR EAGLE),when Terry’s having some friends over for hooting and smoking and eating and drinking.


Tamales are one of those things that you might as well go ahead and make 100. It’s the same amount of work to cook a 2 pound roast or a 5 pound one. Masa harina (the cornflour mix used to make the paste) is cheap, at about $1.50 for a 2 pound bag. Corn husks come in 8 ounce packages, and that will make about 3 dozen+/-. All the work is in the assembly, and you can do that in front of the TV while watching Law&Order on Netflix.

Stuff you need, plus you'll want meat

Typically you slow cook the meat (can be beef, pork, goat, chicken….whatever you want, really). The recipes I’ve found online involve putting the meat in a crockpot or a dutch oven with water, then using the broth as the liquid in the masa paste. I kinda loved smoked meat, and wonder what would happen if the pork roast was rubbed and smoked. I picked Boston Butt because it’s streaky with fat, and makes it easy for shredding and it’s also slam full of flavor. It’s the pork cut of choice here in the Deep South for barbeque, and I thought it would be a good choice for the tamales.

Rub stuff and a 3 lb boston butt

The pork was smoked with mesquite chunks and hardwood lump charcoal, because my brother, the Charcoal Snob, convinced me that it’s better than the pressed cake charcoal, and for applications where the meat is in prolonged contact with smoke, it’s definitely better at giving a good flavor without the slight petroleum aftertaste the pressed briquets seem to give. A bit more expensive, yes, but when you’re making something as involved as smoked meats, might as well do it right.

Good smokin' fire (or in the South "fahr")

Now, let’s say you don’t have a smoker. You can make this roast the same way (well ok not exactly) in a dutch oven. It won’t be all smokey, right…but still tasty and will still make yummy tamales. If you want to, add a couple of shots of liquid smoke to the rub. It won’t be exactly the same, but not bad, either.

Daisy, Guardian of the Smoker

Smoked Pork
2-1/2 pound boston butt
1 yellow onion, quartered

For the Rub
2 tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
1/2 teaspoon ground hot red pepper (chimayo or cayenne)

Mix the rub ingredients together and rub all over the outside of the pork roast.

Set up the smoker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Use a charcoal chimney to start the charcoal. DO NOT USE LIGHTER FLUID. In the water pan, filled 3/4 full with hot water, add a cut up yellow onion.

In a perfect world, smoke the roast for 6-8 hours, adding charcoal (pre-lit in the chimney before adding it) to maintain the smoker temperature at about 250F degrees (or, “ideal” which is what mysmoker says, being really cheap and not having an actual thermometer). Check it after 6 hours to see if it will shred easily. You can see a ‘smoke ring’ when you slice into it. This is a dark reddish layer from the surface inward about 1/8 of an inch,and is the sign of a properly smoked piece of meat.

See that reddish edge? That's a smoke ring...YUM

I was not living the perfect life just then, so I smoked the meat for 4 hours, then put it in the fridge for 2 days until I could get back to it, then cooked it in the crock pot with 2 cups of water for 8 hours, until it was falling apart.

Once the meat is done, let it cool then pull it apart with a pair of forks.

take care to guard it from the hands of Heathens.

Now that the meat is all done, it’s time to assemble the tamales.

First, take an entire bag (about 8 oz) of corn husks and soak them in a sink full of warm water. It’s very important that you do this first, so they have time to soften. If you try to assemble tamales with dry husks it just won’t work.

Soak um!

For the masa, you need
a 2.5 pound bag of masa harina (also called masa mix, or tamale mix or tortilla mix)
approximately 6 cups of beef broth (I used 6 cups water and a heaping tablespoon of beef base)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Dump the masa mix in a large bowl and start mixing in the broth and oil, 1 cup at a time, until you have a soft dough. how much broth it takes will depend on how dry the masa mix is, ambient humitidy, all that. Today, a cold dry day, it took 6 cups liquid.

Start mixing, a cup at a time of liquid

Keep mixing until you have a soft dough, alot like a nice cookie dough. It won’t be very sticky, and you can totally mix with your hands. I recommend it.

Use your hands!

Let Daisy taste-test the smoked meat.

To assemble the tamales, you need to set up an assembly line with the cornhusks, masa paste, meat, and a colander or steamer basket.

Smear a bit less than 1/4 cup masa paste on the corn husk

add about a small bite's worth of meat

Fold over the sides, then each end, to make a small package

Stand the little packets on end in a steamer, not too tight, and cover to steam for 45 minutes

to eat, unwrap and add a couple shots of hot sauce

So, you can make the meat when it’s convenient, then when you have the time (it took me about an hour of assembling), put the tamales together. 3 batches at 45 minutes of steaming per batch resulted in 50 lovely tamales all ready for tomorrow. They can be warmed up in the microwave without any loss of quality…in fact, if you make a whole ton of them, they freeze like WOAH then you can zap them for a lunch or something…so go ahead and make a bunch and have them for emergency parties and such.

Now, I know I make ugly Gringo tamales. Alot of them were prettier than the one in the picture. Technically you’re supposed to have the masa stuff wrapped completely around the little meat tidbit, and the more I made the better they got. However, I could not tell a difference in the flavor of the ugly Gringo tamale from the fit and proper well made one. So I don’t want to hear any “hey your tamales are ugly and improperly made!” You don’t like them? write your own post and take pictures while doing it…ok?

The hardest part is beating off the heathens so you’ll have enough to serve at the National Championship game party tomorrow night! (War Eagle! Go Tigers! Woot!)


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