Side dish Tex-Mex

Tamale cornbread dressing

Tamale cornbread dressing DSC1394

The first time I heard of tamales used as a stuffing was in Mary Faulk Koock’s The Texas Cookbook, where she tells a story about a friend of hers in Amarillo who packs his turkey with dozens of tamales before throwing it on a grill and slathering it with barbecue sauce.

“Brilliant!” I said to myself. “I must try that!”

Of course, with no outdoor space I knew that my opportunities to grill a turkey were limited. But using tamales as a stuffing (or dressing, as we say down South), was very intriguing.

In my family, my uncle is on dressing duty every year so it’s not a dish I’ve spent much time making or refining. But I couldn’t stop thinking about incorporating tamales into the dressing, especially since tamales embrace some of the finer qualities of a dressing with their soft, steamed dough wrapped around a piquant, flavorful filling. And when you throw in some crumbled cornbread and roasted jalapeños, you’ve taken something traditional and elevated it to something unique.

Even though I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving with my family at my grandma’s farm, I’m a firm believer that feasting well and showing gratitude shouldn’t just be limited to one day. It’s for this reason my friends and I often get together and throw an early Thanksgiving dinner before we travel for the holiday. And when I learned I was on side-dish duty, I knew just what I would make.

A little poking around led me to a few recipes for tamale cornbread dressing. Interestingly, most of them hailed from Austin though I did find one from the Rio Grande Valley. After much thought, I decided to adapt an Austin Chronicle recipe that appealed to me because it had lots of cheese and corn. I also threw in some cilantro, cumin, and garlic for more flavor, and in a nod to my uncle’s dressing I swapped out the poblano chiles for jalapeños, which added more fire and pop to each bite.

While I made mine with beef tamales, it would be just as good with pork, chicken, turkey or any other type of tamale that you prefer. This recipe makes enough to serve eight hungry people, though it can easily be doubled if you have a larger crowd.

If you love cornbread and tamales, this dressing is for you. Sure, it’s special enough for the big feast, but I have a feeling it will be making more appearances in my kitchen during the colder months, especially if I have leftover cornbread I want to use. After all, as my uncle says, dressing is one of the ultimate comfort foods.

Tamale cornbread dressing DSC1394
4.84 from 6 votes

Tamale cornbread dressing

Servings 8
Author Adapted by Lisa Fain from an Austin Chronicle recipe


  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups crumbled cornbread (1/2 of a baked 10-inch skillet)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 jalapeños, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 4 ounces pepper Jack, shredded (1 cup)
  • 6 beef, pork, or chicken tamales, chopped
  • 2 cups turkey or chicken broth
  • Salt
  • Black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.

  2. In a large cast-iron skillet, melt the butter on medium-low heat. Add the onions to the skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.

  3. Once cooked, remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the cooked onions and garlic to a large bowl. Add to the large bowl the crumbled cornbread, cumin, sage, cilantro, corn kernels, diced jalapeños and pepper Jack cheese. Stir until well combined. Gently stir in the chopped tamales, and return the dressing to the skillet. (Alternatively, you can place the dressing in a greased 9×9 baking dish.)

  4. Pour over the dressing the chicken broth and gently stir to combine. Adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover the skillet with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15 more minutes or until top is lightly browned and the edges are crisp.

  1. Looks delicious!

  2. Amber Robinson

    This sounds so good, I'm dying to try it! I love trying your recipes and have not been disappointed. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kate Mary Betty

    I don't see the roasted jalapenos in the ingredient list…are they in the tamales or are they MIA from the recipe?

  4. Lisa Fain

    Becky–Thank you!

    Amber–You're very welcome. Thank you for reading!

    Kate Mary Betty–This is why I need an editor! Thank you for spotting that–it's been added to the recipe.

  5. donna!ee

    WOW, YMUUY! thank you much for sharing! 🙂

  6. Heather @ chiknpastry

    this looks great! and thanks for saying dressing – i usually almost say dressing but then realize that people won't understand me anymore since i'm not living in the south :(.

  7. Bria @ West of Persia

    Just brilliant, Lisa. I will be trying this sooner rather than later…I might just "accidentally" make extra cornbread for this year's Thanksgiving dressing, and use that.

  8. Heather @

    Ooohhhh…I love this idea! I don't think I'll be able to get it out of my mind until I try it, either.

  9. penandra

    Lisa: I love that Clay and Zack (over at the Bitten Word blog) do something similar to what you do with your friends . . . and call it "Fakesgiving"! My friends and I are doing the same thing this year (the weekend AFTER Thanksgiving! 😉

  10. Lisa Fain

    donna!ee–You're very welcome!

    Heather @ chiknpastry–I know! Up north, it's stuffing country!

    Bria @ West of Persia–That sounds like a plan!

    Heather @ –Hope you enjoy it!

    Penandra–That's brilliant! And may you and your friends have a wonderful Fakesgiving!

  11. Julie @ Willow Bird Baking

    OH MY GOSH I'm making this as soon as possible! I've been craving something like this (I've considered Mexican cornbread, corn pudding, cornbread pudding, etc.) for the longest, and this recipe just intensifies the craving!

  12. Lisa Fain

    Julie–If you've been craving those dishes, this will definitely meet your needs!

  13. Lauren at TwIn Style

    Mmm, this sounds delicious. I usually eat tamales only once per year, when I slather them in my dad's chili on Christmas Eve. For Thanksgiving, I always make my grandma's cornbread dressing (complete with li'l smokies and hot breakfast sausage), and I'd never stray from that, but this would be great for a pot luck. Out of curiosity, did you buy these tamales or make them?

  14. The Galley Gourmet

    I use cornbread in my dressing, but after seeing this, I want a Tex-Mex themed Thanksgiving in the future!

  15. Great post. And double YUM!

  16. maisouiparis

    Wow- and I thought jalapenos were hard to find in Paris. Now I am dreaming of tamales???? I'm thinking Thanksgiving in July, when I'm home and both jalapenos and tamales are plentiful! Thanks for giving me something else to look forward to!

  17. Margie Orr

    This sounds incredible. Who would have thought! Thanks for posting. Can't wait to try it. Have a dozen pork tamales in the freezer now. Got to get the cornbread cooking. Nothing like dressing. You're right–dressing is a comfort food.

  18. Anonymous

    This sounds great. I wish I could get fresh tamales, but I am definitely going to try this recipe.

    Martha T

  19. Judy & Bill Rouse aboard S/V BeBe

    We are in Cyprus so tamales are out of the question right now. But we are flying to Houston for Christmas and this tamale dressing will definitely be on the Christmas menu. This sounds scrumptious!

    Cannot wait to try it.

  20. I have had tamale dressing from the Central Market in Austin several times. It's wonderful! Have not attempted to make it at home yet, still working on getting just basic tamales down.

  21. OMG!! I totally agree with your uncle. Dressing is one of my favorite comfort foods and I can't wait to try this recipe!

  22. Anonymous

    Cooking your dressing in a cast iron skillet makes the dressing better, don’t ask me why it just does ,

  23. Lisa Fain

    Lauren at TwIn Style–It would be great for a potluck!

    The Galley Gourmet–Tex-Mex Thanksgivings are the best!

    Sherry–Yum indeed!

    maisouiparis–You're very welcome. I like the idea of Thanksgiving in July. Though can you find masa harina and corn husks in Paris? If so, you can make your own tamales!

    Margie Orr–Tamales in the freezer? Sounds like you're set!

    Martha–Good luck finding the tamales. Have you ever tried making them?

  24. Lisa Fain

    Judy–Have a great time in Houston!

    Amysue–I've never had the tamale dressing from HEB but I saw their recipe. Instead of chicken broth they use Ro-Tel to moisten the dressing, which also sounds good!

    Esmer–Isn't it?

    Anon–I'm convinced cooking just about anything in a cast-iron skillet makes it better!

  25. karley @ decaf & dessert

    What a wonderful idea!

    Also, I have to tell you that I am currently working as an aupair in Southern France, and am so "Texas homesick" (born and raised in Dallas, y'all) that I begged my mom to send me a copy of your cookbook in a care package. She did. I made your enchiladas for the French family I live with. They adored them. Still missing that Velveeta, but still…it was a literal taste of home. 🙂

  26. Susan........

    I just made a dressing using polenta, Italian hot sausage and roasted red peppers. I find that cornbread by itself can get mushy so I made a polenta cornbread. Turned out wonderful, but now I HAVE to try your version.


  27. My husband loves tamale stuffing especially the morning after topped with fried eggs and red chile. Your recipe is a bit different than mine though I may have to try a few new changes to it this year. Yummy!

  28. purpleranger

    If I can find any tamales in my area (I may have to settle for canned), I'll have to try this.

  29. DessertForTwo

    Oh Lisa, I've seen a million stuffing/dressing recipes and none have even tempted me away from my mom's cornbread stuffing…but this one! This one I gotta try!

  30. Lisa Fain

    Karley–What a treat for your French family! Perhaps your family can send you Velveeta in your next care package.

    Susan–I love that polenta idea!

    Abbe–Topped with eggs and red chile? That sounds fabulous!

    PurpleRanger–Make your own!

    DessertForTwo–If you love tamales, you can't miss!

  31. Homesick Texan, i have what may seem like a silly question to you, but where on earth do you find good cast iron pans? I live in VA and I can't seem to find them anywhere! The only brand I really see, online and otherwise, is Lodge Logic, and that didn't get very good reviews. Any suggestions? I've been wanting a cast iron pan for forever.

  32. The Cozy Herbivore

    This looks amazing! I recently learned how to make tamales, and now I'm totally addicted. My Texas girlfriend will absolutely LOVE the combination of tamales and cornbread– I can't wait to make this for her! (She's totally smitten with your site, by the way– she's a homesick Texan as well!)

  33. Yum! I wonder if this would also freeze well since there are just two of us.

  34. Lisa, awesome stuff. This was well loved at the Thanksgiving table. I have a question though. I made it for a person who needed gluten free options. It seemed perfect as I make a southern style cornbread that uses no flour. As a result I think the liquids did not absorb as well as it would have with a cornbread that has flour in it–the bottom of the stuffing was slightly soupy.

    Do you think adding a little thickener (corn starch or arrow root) to the stock or perhaps just less stock would help?

    Kirk in Dallas,

  35. The picture was great, so I made it for Thanksgiving. Logical? No! Scrumptious? YES! I always honor the recipe the first time I try it and this was easy. Pork Tamales and already made cornbread from Central Market in Houston made it easy. Out of the oven, it was beautiful. Into the mouth, it was delicious. Thanks! Horns Hooked the Aggies tonight real good!

  36. Made it, nailed it, won Thanksgiving! Thanks for posting this recipe!


    I made this for Thanksgiving and just wanted to say thank you for the great recipe. I plan on making this again next year (if not before then).

  38. Anonymous

    dear lisa,

    i myself am currently a homesick texan. i've spent the better part of 2 months in france now with 5 more to go and have been missing everything about the cuisine back home- namely the spice. coming from houston, i'm a born and bred spice junkie and have been missing the heat since leaving (i'm not complaining- a girl can get used to eating mounds upon mounds of chocolate and cheese. sometimes though, nothing quite does it like a jar of pickled jalapenos and the tang of barbecue sauce). i've adapted a couple of your recipes using the stuff i have available to me here (pretty small selection, but i have managed to find bird's eye chilis and sriracha, so i've been making good use of them). just wanted to say keep up the awesome writing and making the heartache of homesickness just a little less piquant. from one homesick texan to another.


  39. Anonymous

    This looks terrific! I'd love to make it for my own homesick Texan (husband). Would you share your favorite NYC source for tamales?

  40. Lisa Fain

    Suz–I get mine from a neighborhood taco truck. Almost all taquerias and Mexican grocers offer them here, and Trader Joe's has them in the frozen section.

  41. I made this. Doubled the recipe. Simply the best thing I've ever eaten. Nothing left on Black Friday.

    We finished off the leftovers late on Thursday while working a jigsaw puzzle and watching a movie. We took canned biscuits from Whole Foods, cut a slit in each biscuit dough puck and stuffed them with various combinations of tamale cornbread dressing, turkey, potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce. Then, after some time in the oven, we topped each biscuit off with cream gravy.

    I mean really, it will never get any better than that.

  42. cfootsoup

    Something similar is in a cookbook from Encino Press from the 1960s. Cant recall the title; probably out of print.

  43. I made this tonight. It was delicious! I am hosting my first Christmas dinner this year, and I am SOO excited to serve it to my family!

  44. Made this for Thanksgiving and it won the day. Best stuffing I've ever eaten. Paired great with the turkey. Absolutely delicious.

  45. What's the Homesick Texan version of cranberry sauce ?

    A fruit-laden salsa, maybe?

  46. Anonymous

    Made this yesterday and everyone just loved it!! So so good!!

  47. I made this Christmas day and have to say it was wonderful!! I love the spiciness, it was a great change from the normal dressing I usually make. Thanks for sharing!!!

  48. Jenn & Cardy

    I ordered a few dozen tamales at Christmas and threw some in the freezer. I was so excited when I found this recipe & I couldn't wait to try it out. My husband was skeptical & not very happy I was using all of the leftover tamales for this dish but in the end he was amazed at how awesome this was. I served it as the main course for dinner. I can't wait for more tamales to make it again. Thank you for your awesome recipes!

  49. Anonymous

    making this for thanskgiving!

  50. Anonymous

    Dumb question from a new englander making these for thanksgiving in tucson tomorrow. I steam the tamales first then combine with cornbread etc? Thanks bunches father in law is dreaming if this tomorrow :). Deb v

  51. Lisa Fain

    Deb–Yes, the tameles are steamed not raw. But if you're working with tamales that have already been steamed (cooked) but are cold because perhaps you made them or bought them the day before, you don't have to re-steam them as they'll heat as the dressing cooks.

  52. jody weems

    I made this yesterday, altered only slightly, used just one jalapeno I (I thought 3 was way over the top for our group) and added a handful of pepitas, since I had them on hand. It was absolutely delicious, and everyone asked for the recipe!

  53. Shasta Gaither

    I’ve been making this for the past 4 years for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We do traditional everything for Thanksgiving, but I add in something from Texas and Louisiana. This is the BEST dressing EVER!!!!

    • Lisa Fain

      Shasta–It’s an honor to have this recipe part of your tradition!

  54. Anita Stevenson

    I make this every fall…just finished off a big pan of it last week. It’s a favorite!

    • Lisa Fain

      Anita–It’s addictive, isn’t it? I’m so pleased it’s a favorite!

  55. Hey there! I’ve been making this for Thanksgiving the last five years and thank you so much for the post. I friend just emailed asking for this recipe and I emailed her the link and my suggestions below…

    I don’t make it in a cast iron skillet (just a regular 9 x 13 baking dish) and I only used one jalapeño because you’re weak. You and no spicy. I used less cilantro because Cruz hates cilantro. I’ve also made this vegetarian with cheese tamales and vegetable broth the year I had a couple of vegetarians coming for Thanksgiving and it was good (meat version is better). I also put in more cheese and increased all the ingredients to fill the larger 9 x 13 dish (like 8 tamales vs. 6). The point is you can tweak it to your family’s taste and it will be fine. I’ve made this a bunch, a little different each time and it’s always really good. This is a very tweakable recipe. Plus the leftovers (if there are any) freeze well.

    My only suggestion is bake the cornbread and cook up the onion & garlic (obviously refrigerate until needed) the day before and thanksgiving day all you have to do is mix all the ingredients and bake. It’s super easy.

  56. Is it ok to use canned tamale? I don’t know where here in Fl to get fresh tamales at short notice? Also, may I ask if the tamales more or less disappears in the dish leaving the taste? Sorry for stupid questions but I was just given this idea yesterday! Lol

    • Lisa Fain

      Cherie–I’ve never used it with canned tamales but if that’s all you have then it will be fine. The tamales don’t disappear, but they blend in well with the rest of the ingredients.

  57. Carol Lerche

    A few years ago my husband and I traveled to my daughter’s LA apartment to make Thanksgiving while she was in UCLA. I brought many ingredients but not cornmeal for our traditional cornbread dressing, because we could just buy it down there. But yikes! None of the stores had it because there had been a recall due to weevils in the cornmeal. So I told my husband to buy masa flour, with shich I made the cornbread. It tasted like tamales! (My stuffing has jalapenos, sausage, onions, celery and parsley, along with stock, eggss and butter.) It was so good that I have made it that way several times.

    • Lisa Fain

      Carol–What a wonderful tip! I’ve never made cornbread with masa harina but I’ll definitely be trying it.

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