What Type of Beef Works Best for Making Tamales?

Tamales are a classic Latin American dish featuring masa dough wrapped around a savory filling. Beef is one of the most popular proteins used to make the filling for tamales. But not all cuts of beef work equally well. The right beef makes tamales moist and tender, while the wrong choice can dry them out. So what’s the best type of beef for tamales?

Choosing the Right Beef for Your Tamale Filling

Selecting beef with the proper balance of fat and connective tissue is key to ensuring your tamales turn out tender and juicy. Here are some tips on picking the ideal beef cuts:

Look for Well-Marbled Cuts

  • Marbling provides moisture and flavor.
  • Good choices are chuck roast, brisket, and short ribs.
  • Avoid extra lean cuts like eye of round.

Choose Cuts with Connective Tissue

  • Connective tissue melts into gelatin when braised.
  • Helps keep tamale filling succulent.
  • Chuck roast, brisket, and skirt steak have lots of connective tissue.

Pick Shoulder Cuts

  • Cuts from the shoulder like chuck and brisket become tender when braised.
  • Shoulder muscles get more exercise so they develop more collagen.
  • Collagen breaks down into gelatin which bastes the meat from within.

Buy Less Tender Cuts

  • Tenderness corresponds with price – cheaper cuts are less tender.
  • Cheap cuts work well since tamale filling gets braised for hours.
  • Expensive tender cuts like tenderloin would be wasted in a tamale.

Best Beef Cuts for Tamales

Taking into account all the above factors, these are the best beef options for tamale fillings:

Chuck Roast

  • Excellent shoulder cut for braising.
  • Has great marbling and connective tissue.
  • Turns meltingly tender after slow cooking.
  • Can use chuck eye roast or chuck shoulder roast.


  • Classic barbecue cut also perfect for tamales.
  • Marbled point cut or leaner flat cut both work well.
  • Connective tissue softens into succulent gelatin.

Short Ribs

  • Heavily exercised shoulder cut.
  • Abundant marbling bastes the meat.
  • Collagen melts away after hours of braising.

Skirt or Flank Steak

  • Very flavorful but need moist cooking method.
  • Cut across the grain into thin strips before braising.
  • Add shredded after chuck roast for texture.

Stay Away from Extra Lean Cuts

  • Extra lean cuts like eye of round lack fat and connective tissue.
  • Can dry out and become tough when braised for tamales.
  • Need additional fat from lard or oil to stay moist.

Tips for Preparing Beef for Tamales

Once you’ve chosen the right cut, proper preparation is key to getting tender, juicy beef in the final tamales:

  • Cut beef into 1-inch cubes to reduce cooking time.
  • Brown beef before braising to amplify flavor.
  • Braise or simmer beef until extremely tender – 2-3 hours.
  • Shred beef after cooking while still warm.
  • Mix shredded beef with defatted braising liquid to moisten.
  • Season braising liquid to infuse beef with flavor.

Sample Beef Tamale Recipes

To see these principles in action, here are a few excellent beef tamale recipes showcasing different cuts:

Chuck Roast Tamales

Beef Tamales – Uses chuck roast braised with chiles and spices.

Brisket Tamales

Authentic Beef Tamales – Made with tender braised brisket and garlic.

Short Rib Tamales

Beef Short Rib Tamales – Shredded short ribs cooked in guajillo sauce.

Skirt Steak Tamales

Skirt Steak Tamales – Strips of flavorful grilled skirt steak.

With the right cut of beef and proper preparation, you can make tender, flavorsome tamales perfect for any occasion!

TAMALES RECIPE | How To Make Tamales | Simply Mamá Cooks


What are real Mexican tamales made of?

Tamales are a traditional Mexican dish made with a corn based dough mixture that is filled with various meats or beans and cheese. Tamales are wrapped and cooked in corn husks or banana leaves, but they are removed from the husks before eating. Try them served with pico de gallo on top and a side of guacamole and rice.

How much meat do you need for tamales with masa?

Estimating how much masa and meat to purchase, a good estimate is that for 5 lb. of MASA you will need 5 -10 pounds of meat. Measuring the same as masa will yield equal amounts of filling as to masa. If you like twice the meat as masa then go with 10 pounds of meat for every 5 pounds of masa.

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