Also referred to as a tamale cooker or tamalera, a tamale steamer is a large cooking pot that is used to steam tamales. There are several considerations to keep in mind when choosing the best tamale steamer, including the size of the pot, its material and its components. Along with those considerations, consider your personal needs, such as the amount of tamales that will be cooked at one time and the amount of money you have to spend.
Tamale steamers are available in many sizes, from the smallest 12-quart (11.4-liter) pot to the large 32-quart (30.3-liter) pot. The larger the pot, the more tamales that can be cooked at one time. Large families generally need a larger pot. Cooks who make tamales often might need two or more sizes on hand — one for personal use and another for large gatherings. Depending on the size of the tamales, a 12-quart (11.4-liter) steamer will hold about 36 tamales.
The materials used to make tamale steamers are also vast. Some of the materials used to make a tamale steamer include galvanized metal, aluminum and stainless steel. Tamale steamers made from galvanized iron typically are less expensive, but stainless steel or aluminum make cleaning a tamale steamer easier. Enamel steamers are available in various colors, such as cobalt blue and turquoise.
After the size and material have been chosen, the components or accessories that come with the pot should be considered. Along with the pot and lid, a tamale steamer should include a rack or platform. The steaming rack is placed in the bottom of the pot to prevent the tamales from touching the water. The lid of the steamer should be fairly heavy and tight-fitting to prevent the release of the steam while cooking. The tamales generally are stood upright in the pot, but some tamale steamer sets also provide a divider to separate the tamales from each other and help them stand in the steamer.
There are many ways that tamales can be cooked, including baked and grilled, but the traditional Latin way of cooking tamales is to steam them. The tamale is a worldwide culinary fare made with a variety of ingredients. In Columbia, they are referred to as bollo, and in parts of South and Central America, they are simply called tamal. Tamales cooked in Mayan and Aztec cultures of years past were pre-made and warmed by various methods.