Tamale cornbread dressing DSC1394

Tamale cornbread dressing

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.

4.88 from 8 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


  • Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.

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4.88 from 8 votes (7 ratings without comment)

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  1. Lisa Fain says:

    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.

  2. jody weems says:

    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!

  3. Shasta Gaither says:

    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!!!!

    1. Lisa Fain says:

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

  4. Anita Stevenson says:

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

    1. Lisa Fain says:

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

  5. 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.

    1. Lisa Fain says:

      Serena–Thank you for sharing your adjustments and tips!