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These Southern-Style Hot Tamales are packed with delicious Mexican-inspired flavors using just a few commonly-found ingredients. While this recipe will take some time to throw together, it is worth the effort!
For my tamales recipe, you’ll notice the ingredients list is much shorter than others. I value a simple yet mouth-watering recipe! Actually, this recipe came from my grandmother’s stash and has been tweaked to make sense for the modern cook!
Typically, these are served as a Full House, a fancy way of saying tamales in a bowl smothered with chili. This a dish that’s perfect for football parties or cold winter nights!
Full House Tamales are often sold for mission trip fundraisers at churches, where people come together to make lots of tamales.
Making a batch (or two) of tamales is much easier and quicker when you make them with friends. It’s a great way to spend quality time with family and loved ones!
Before we get started, check out more of my crowd-pleasing recipes to serve at your upcoming gatherings, like these Italian Nachos, fan-favorite Sticky Baked Chicken Wings, easy Slow Cooker Jalapeno Popper Dip, or saucy Italian Meatball Subs.
Key ingredients & substitutions for Homemade Spicy Tamales
- Ground beef | The meat filling for your hot tamales uses ground beef as its base. For extra tasty tamales, use high-quality ground beef. See the FAQ section for alternative meats you can fill your tamales with.
- Hot breakfast sausage | Bring some additional spices and a kick of heat to this recipe by mixing hot breakfast sausage with your ground beef. If preferred, choose a plain or mild breakfast sausage instead.
- Chili powder | It wouldn’t be a HOT tamale without peppery chili powder. Hot paprika, cayenne pepper, or your favorite hot sauce will add some heat to the meat mixture.
- Cornmeal | Grab a box of ordinary cornmeal from your local grocery store. If you pick out a cornmeal mix product, omit the kosher salt in this recipe.
- Vegetable shortening | Vegetable shortening helps to bind all the meal mixture ingredients together.
- Kosher salt | Season the tamales filling with plenty of kosher salt. If necessary, use ordinary table salt. However, you may need to adjust the measurement some. If desired, add a little black pepper to the mix.
- Water | Boiling water also helps to bind the ingredients together when creating your meal mixture.
- Corn husk substitute — Textured tamale wrappers
- Kitchen twine — For tying the tamales
- Kitchen shears
- Mixing bowls
- Food safe gloves
- Stock pot
How to make Full House Tamales
If you didn’t know already, making tamales can be quite lengthy. But, not to worry! This recipe will make it as easy as possible. Plus, it’s a great way to invite your friends and family to the kitchen to pitch in and enjoy quality time together!
STEP 1 | Soften the wrappers and prep equipment
This recipe starts simple—First, separate the tamale wrappers and place them in a shallow dish. Then, boil water in the microwave or on the stovetop and add the steaming-hot water to the wrappers in the container. Doing this will soften them, making them easier to handle when it comes time to fill them!
Then, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a silicone baking mat and set it aside for later in the process.
STEP 2 | Create the beef mixture
Next, combine the ground beef, hot sausage, and chili powder in a mixing bowl. Use your hands to create an even and silky smooth texture. Whenever you work with raw meat in the kitchen, it’s always a good idea to wear food-safe gloves.
Then, scoop out some heaping tablespoons of the spicy meat mixture and use your hands to shape each into an oblong shape about 3 inches long. One by one, place the formed filling on the prepared baking sheet.
STEP 3 | Mix the cornmeal filling
Now, set out another large bowl. Add the cornmeal and shortening and combine them using your hands. Remember to change your gloves when moving onto this step.
Once the shortening is well incorporated, pour a quart of boiling water into the bowl and stir with a large wooden spoon or sturdy rubber spatula. You may stop stirring when no more lumps are in the mix.
- If you grab “cornmeal mix” from the store rather than plain cornmeal, you won’t need to add any additional salt to the recipe.
- Work slowly and cautiously with folding and tying the tamales, especially if this is your first time throwing them together. If you rush the process, the tamales may fall apart. Perfectly folded tamales take time to master, so be patient with yourself as you learn!
STEP 4 | Assemble the tamales
Next, clean a surface to assemble the tamales. Remove one corn husk from the water-filled dish and place it on the prepared surface.
Scoop a rounded tablespoon of the cornmeal mixture onto the softened wrapper and slightly smooth it out with the back of the spoon. Then, place a piece of the meat you set aside in the center.
Cover with another rounded tablespoon of the cornmeal mixture. Be sure no meat is showing through by gently smoothing the cornmeal to cover the meat mixture.
STEP 5 | Fold and tie up the filled wrapper
The last step to assembling the delicious tamales is to fold the ends and tie up the wrapper! So, bring the short ends of the tamale wrapper toward the center and fold the long ends over, like you would wrap up a burrito.
Grab some kitchen twine and snip a piece at about 9 inches long. Carefully nestle the string under the center of the tamale.
Finally, tie it into a tight knot on top of the tamale and snip off the excess length at the ends. Be sure to leave about three inches on each end of the knot.
STEP 6 | Boil the tamales
While you assemble and tie up the tamales, have a large pot of water boiling on the stovetop. Then, be careful not to splash yourself and gently drop the tamales into the pot and simmer for about 40 minutes.
If the water is getting low, add more hot water while the tamales cook. You want them to be covered the entire time.
Lastly, serve your tasty hot tamales as soon as they come out of the boiling water! Or freeze them to serve on another day!
See the final step below to take the recipe to the next level and make your tamale dish a full house with chili and all!
STEP 7 | Make it a Full House!
For a genuinely southern-style tamale, serve each one as a full house! All you need to do is ladle a serving of freshly made chili into a bowl.
Then, snip the cooked cords and remove the corn husks. Place just the delicious filling on top of the saucy chili. If preferred, garnish the dish with chopped green onions and cheddar cheese — YUM!
Frequently asked questions
Most traditional tamale recipes include ground beef. However, you can alter the recipe to your liking by using shredded beef, pulled pork, roasted chicken, or even ground turkey for a healthier alternative.
Tamales are also perfect for making a vegetarian or vegan meal. Swap the meat for beans, chickpeas, or your favorite meat replacement.
EASY—For mild tamales, lessen or omit the hot spices and ingredients. For instance, get regular breakfast sausage rather than hot and use less or none of the chili powder.
On the other hand, it’s also easy to turn up the heat in this recipe! Just add a bit more chili powder, or cook the grown beef with hot peppers, like jalapenos. Remove the cooked-down peppers before adding meat to the tamales, and you’re good to go!
I would say, as is, this southern-style tamale recipe is on the hotter side. So, if you aren’t a fan of spice, lower the heat with the above alterations, or kick it up a notch if you really want to torch your tongue!
To freeze, remove the tamales to a platter and let them cool completely. Once at room temperature, place the tamales in the refrigerator until they are chilled. Then, transfer the tamales to resealable freezer bags and store them in the freezer for up to 3 months.
To reheat, drop frozen tamales into boiling water and cook for about 30 minutes or less, just until they are heated through.
I LOVE serving tamales Full House style! It’s the perfect southern touch to this Hispanic-inspired dish. I don’t know if anyone is quite sure why they are named so. I would assume it likely has something to do with the gambling term.
Nevertheless, it is the best way to serve tamales with a southern flair and is especially great for serving large crowds!
All you need to do is add some ingredients to your grocery list, like shredded cheddar cheese and green onions, and make some delicious chili.
It’s best to start simmering the chili before starting your tamales. That way, you can serve the full-house tamales as fresh as possible. If the chili is done before your tamales, keep it warm on low heat until you’re ready to serve your dinner guests.
With or without the full house-style chili addition, serve this tasty dish with all your favorite tamale toppings!
Try them with guacamole, queso, marinated onions, pico de gallo, sour cream, and salsa. If you’re serving a crowd, it’s an excellent idea to set out a toppings bar, so each person can dress their tamales as they’d like.
If you’re serving your hot southern tamales for a game night or another big event, complete the spread of delicious foods with tamales as your main dish and dips and other nibbles as snacks.
The heat of the tamales is perfectly balanced with my creamy Spinach Artichoke Dip. Or you can contrast the soft-boiled tamales with crispy Onion Rings and Spicy Dipping Sauce.
If you’d like, you can also keep it traditional by serving your tamales with delicious Roasted Corn Salsa and salty tortilla chips.
For more excellent ideas, check out my appetizer recipes page, where you will find all the best and easiest dishes to serve a gathering of people!
Behind the recipe: Southern-Style Hot Tamales
I’m familiar with this southern-style hot tamales recipe because of my grandmother and the many times I’ve seen them sold at church missionary trip fundraisers. However, the Full House serving style has been a Knoxville tradition for many years.
It all began in 1887 when a man introduced his Knoxville community to the unique Hispanic dish. Harry Royston had a long career of selling fun food carnival-style and picked up tamales along the way.
He wheeled around a cart and sold his delicious tamales to all kinds of residents in the area. Because there weren’t many Hispanic restaurants in the town then, his tamales were a hit!
Once Harry Royston retired from his tamale cart, Andrew Taylor followed shortly with his thick and dark tamales. And after 50 years of success selling the Hispanic dish, Charlie Greene introduced the delta tamale to Knoxville.
With his partner Allen, Greene opened a restaurant featuring his tasty tamales. But he also took to the old-school approach of using a cart to sell them on the streets.
Greene served Knoxville his irresistible tamales into the late 80s, then passed on the recipe to his trusted sisters Mary Manuel and Clara Robinson. The ladies opened yet another tamale restaurant in 1989.
Well into the 90s, tamale restaurants were quite popular in Knoxville. But they began to disappear soon after. That is until Good Golly Tamale opened in 2015, where you could enjoy the traditional Knoxville tamale with a modern twist.
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Southern-Style Hot Tamales
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 pound hot breakfast sausage
- 3/4 cup chili powder
- 6 cups cornmeal
- 1 cup vegetable shortening
- 2 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
- boiling water
- First, separate and place the tamale wrappers in a shallow dish and cover with boiling water to soften the wrappers. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.
- Mix the ground beef, sausage, and chili powder with your hands (wearing food safe gloves) for a smooth even mixture. Measure out the meat mixture into heaping tablespoons and shape it into an 3-inch oblong shape and place on the prepared baking sheet.
- In another large bowl, combine the corn meal and shortening — again, it is easier to do with your hands, but put on a clean pair of gloves — until the shortening is well incorporated. Pour a quart of boiling water into the cornmeal and stir with a large wooden spoon or sturdy rubber spatula until no lumps remain.
- Remove a tamale wrapper from the water and place it on a flat surface. Drop a rounded tablespoon of the cornmeal mixture onto the wrapper and slightly smooth it out with the back of the spoon. Place a piece of the meat mixture in the center, then cover with another rounded tablespoon of the cornmeal mixture, making sure no meat is showing through.
- Bring the short ends of the tamale wrapper toward the center, then fold the long ends over like a burrito. Cut a 9-inch piece of kitchen twine and nestle it under the center of the tamale. Tie it into a tight knot and snip off the ends, leaving about 3 inches.
- Carefully drop the tamales into a pot of boiling water and simmer for 40 minutes. If needed, add more hot water during cooking to make sure the tamales are covered. Serve immediately or freeze for later use (see notes).
- For a full house, ladle a serving of chili into a bowl. Snip the cooked tamale's cord, remove the wrapper, and place it on top of the chili. Garnish with chopped green onions and cheddar cheese, if desired.
- If using “cornmeal mix”, do not add salt.
- To freeze, remove the tamales to a platter. When at room temperature, place the tamales in the refrigerator until completely cool. Then, transfer to resealable freezer bags and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. To reheat, drop frozen tamales into boiling water and cook for 20-30 minutes until heated through.
About Sheila Thigpen
Recipe Developer, Food Photographer, Food Writer
Sheila Thigpen is the publisher of Life, Love, and Good Food — a Southern food blog — and the author of Easy Chicken Cookbook and The 5-Ingredient Fresh and Easy Cookbook. After 20+ years in the publishing industry, she retired in 2018 to focus on her own creative endeavors full time. She and her husband live near the beautiful Smoky Mountains and have a precious little granddaughter who has stolen their hearts. As an influencer, Sheila has collaborated with brands like Creamette, Kroger, HERSHEY’S, Hamilton Beach, Garafalo Pasta, OXO, Smithfield, Valley Fig Growers, and more.