Pulled-Pork Tamales


People in the Delta are very serious about their tamales, which were introduced to the region decades ago by Mexican migrant workers. Big or small, hot or mild, steamed or stewed — every version is delicious. The leftover pork in Michael Lomonaco's tamales is great for making sandwiches. Grilling experts Cheryl and Bill Jamison add espresso to give the barbecue sauce a deeply rich, complex flavor. It's delicious with smoked or grilled pork, beef, lamb, or duck.

Pulled-Pork Tamales
Photo: © John Kernick
6 to 8 servings


Espresso Barbecue Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion

  • 4 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 serrano chile, minced

  • 1 cup ketchup

  • 1 cup brewed espresso

  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons unsulfured molasses

  • 2 teaspoons chile powder

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce


  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped

  • 1/2 cup ketchup

  • 1/4 cup honey

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar

  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

  • 2 tablespoons ancho chile powder

  • 2 large garlic cloves

  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 1 (3 1/2 -pound) boneless pork shoulder roast, tied

  • 2 1/2 cups hot water, divided, plus more as needed

  • Espresso Barbecue Sauce

  • 2 cups masa harina (see Note)

  • 1/3 cup solid vegetable shortening

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

  • 24 fresh corn husks (from about 5 ears of corn), optional


Make the Barbecue Sauce

  1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter in the oil. Add the onion, garlic, and serrano and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in all of the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook the sauce over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  2. Scrape the sauce into a food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and let cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the sauce to mellow.

Make the Tamales

  1. In a food processor, combine the onion, ketchup, honey, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, chile powder, garlic, and 2 tablespoons each of salt and pepper and pulse until smooth. Transfer the paste to a large resealable plastic bag. Add the pork roast, turning to coat it with the paste; seal the bag and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

  2. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Set the pork in an enameled casserole and cover with the paste. Add 1 cup of hot water and bring to a simmer. Cover the casserole and roast the meat in the oven for 3 1/2 hours, or until meltingly tender; turn the roast occasionally and add more water if it is looking dry. Transfer the pork to a cutting board and let cool. Remove the strings and pull the meat into thick shreds. Transfer to a bowl and toss with 1/2 cup of the Espresso Barbecue Sauce.

  3. Put the masa harina in a large bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups of hot water in a thin stream and beat at low speed until a dough forms. Beat at medium-low speed until the dough is cool, about 5 minutes. Add the shortening, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the baking powder and 2 teaspoons of salt. Scrape the dough into a large bowl and fold in 2 1/2 cups of the shredded pork.

  4. Arrange the corn husks on a large work surface. Scoop about 1/4 cup of the tamale filling into the center of each husk. Fold the ends of the husks over the filling, then roll the husks up to enclose the filling completely. Alternatively, wrap 1/4 cup of tamale filling in a rectangle of foil, forming an oval shape, and twist the ends securely. Place the tamales, seam-side down, in a large steamer basket, in several layers if necessary.

  5. Steam the tamales until the filling is firm, about 20 minutes. Serve the tamales piping hot, with the remaining barbecue sauce on the side.

Make Ahead

The tamales can be prepared through Step 4 and frozen for up to 1 month in a sturdy plastic bag. The barbecue sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.


Masa harina, a flour made from corn that has been treated with lime, is used to make tortillas and tamales. It is available at most supermarkets.

Suggested Pairing

These tamales are best suited to a full-flavored beer. Try a Brown Ale or Red Ale.

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