Food Guide

7 Delicious Pork Cuts You Need to Know for Tamale-Making Success!

Tamales are one of the popular dishes in Mexican cuisine that can be served on any occasion.

It can be made from chicken, beef, or pork.

When it comes to pork tamales, do you know what cut of pork is best in this recipe?

If not, don’t worry, this post will take you through all the necessary information about the tips to choose pork for tamales as well as the best pork cuts that should be used for making this Mexican dish.

Let’s check it out!

How to choose pork for tamales?

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Ground pork is one of the key ingredients in a pork tamale recipe.

Choosing pork for tamales is just like choosing the pork for ground pork for any recipe like burgers, tacos, or meatballs.

Here are some tips to help you choose the best pork for tamales:

1.    A tough cut or tender cut can both work for pork tamales

In this case, a tough cut of pork or a tender cut can both work.

Since pork tamales call for ground pork, either a tough cut or a tender cut typically produces a similar texture to ground pork.

Our recommendation is that a tough pork cut often comes with more marbling fat and a more affordable price.

Therefore, there is no reason why you shouldn’t buy a tough cut of pork to make tamales.

2.    Buy fresh organic pork if possible

Organic pork is the meat that is produced by the pigs that are fed an organic diet.

Therefore, the meat is healthier and more nutritious, as well as being delicious and has a better texture.

Don’t forget to choose a fresh cut of pork to elevate your experience.

Consider buying in bulk by inviting some friends or neighbors so that you can save some money as organic pork is often pricier than the regular factory-raised pork.

3.    The perfect meat-to-fat ratio of ground pork for tamales is 80:20 or 70:30

The typical meat-to-fat ratio of any ground meat is often 80:20 or 70:30.

This means that the mixture of ground pork will consist of 80% lean meat and 20% fat, or 70% lean meat and 30% fat.

This ratio ensures that your ground pork is juicy and flavorful instead of being too fatty or dry.

4.    You can buy a whole cut to grind it yourself or buy fresh pre-ground pork

Ground pork can easily be found on the market.

If you are in a hurry but still crave some tamales, it is better to buy pre-ground pork.

But don’t forget to buy a package of fresh ground pork instead of the frozen one.

Otherwise, you can buy a whole fresh cut of pork and make your own ground pork with a meat grinder or a sharp knife in your kitchen.

Best pork for tamales

Tamales are a dish that calls for ground meat wrapped in masa or dough, then covered by corn leaves or banana leaves, and steamed.

Since the cooking method is relatively simple, as long as you have the right cut of pork, your dish will end up very tasty and juicy.

Below are the three best pork cuts that are perfect for making ground pork for tamales:

1.    Pork shoulder

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Pork shoulder is the top choice for making ground pork.

This cut has a moderately tender texture and a sufficient fat amount.

Pork shoulder is also an economical cut that can be found in any local butcher shop or grocery store throughout the country.

2.    Boston butt

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A Boston butt cut is often used to substitute for pork shoulder.

These two cuts both come from the shoulder section, but the pork butt comes from the upper portion and the pork shoulder is way below the forelegs.

Boston butt has a similar texture and flavor to the pork shoulder, making it perfect for ground pork that the tamale recipe calls for.

3.    Pork ham

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You can also opt for a pork ham cut in case the two aforementioned cuts are not available in your local butcher shop or grocery store.

Pork ham is a leaner cut with a tough texture, but you can make it juicier by adding some fat trims to the ground mixture.

This is also an economical cut that every home chef should try and add to their family diet.

The bottom line

Pork is a popular and versatile kind of meat.

It makes perfect tamales that are traditionally enjoyed within Mexican cuisine and many other Hispanic cuisines.

The most common and top choice for making pork tamales is pork shoulder, but you can also use the Boston butt or pork ham/leg in case you cannot find a shoulder cut.

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Emily W.

Emily Wong is an Asian-American food writer the founder of With nearly 8 years of experience, she has a passion for making cooking accessible to everyone and sharing her personal experiences with food. Emily's vision for is to create a community of food lovers who are passionate about cooking, eating, and sharing their experiences with others. Read my story
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