How To Heat Corn Tortillas So They’ll Roll

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February 23, 2011 by Flora Dawn

“Corn tortillas are a pain to cook with,” I hear this all the time. After all, they don’t roll, they just bend and break. Right?

Well, not really. If heated correctly, corn tortillas taste great and roll easily. And let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of convenient gluten-free tortilla options out there. Corn tortillas are easy to find and really inexpensive, making them the best choice, and most authentic choice, for Mexican food.

Although I do make my own corn tortillas (I posted the process here), sometimes I just need the convenience of the store bought variety; however, they are rather dry and brittle directly from the bag. Personally, I would never serve them without heating them first.

I have found that heating correctly not only improves the texture of corn tortillas, but also greatly improves their flavor. Here are a few of my tips for how to cook with store bought corn tortillas.

If you need to fold tortillas to hold in your hand for fajitas or tacos:
1) My preferred methods to heat the tortillas is on my gas grill (it only takes a couple minutes per side). I know, it sounds weird, but it really works. And if you are grilling meat for the filling, why not just use the preheated grill anyway? The tortillas get nice dark spots from the flames, and often will get huge air bubbles. Just be careful not to forget about them, or you’ll soon have tortilla chips!

2) If it’s winter or just don’t want to grill, a Cast Iron Griddle works perfectly. On a hot griddle, the tortillas will heat in less than 1 minute per side. If you don’t have a cast iron griddle, the pan or griddle you use to make pancakes should work just fine.

I really like my cast iron griddle though; it’s what I use to make my homemade tortillas. It is really a great kitchen item to have, especially if you are trying to get away from non-stick pans. I use my cast iron griddle almost daily to cook grilled cheese, quesadillas, french toast, etc.

If you need to heat corn tortillas so you can roll them for enchiladas:

3) I have found the microwave works really well. I take a stack of 8-10 tortillas and wrap them in a damp dish towel or paper towel (to get the towel damp just run some tap water over the towel and ring out all the excess water); then place the wrapped stack on a plate and microwave for about 2 minutes. The steam softens the tortillas and allows them to roll or fold easily without breaking. Well, and occasional tortilla might still crack, but not the whole stack!

I keep the tortillas covered with the damp towel while I am working, to keep them warm and pliable. I use this method only for dishes that will go in the oven, like a casserole or enchiladas, because the tortillas become damp while heating; not really the desired texture for a burrito or taco.

I hope these tips help you use corn tortillas without frustration. If you have a different method, please share!

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23 thoughts on “How To Heat Corn Tortillas So They’ll Roll

  1. Bev says:

    Thanks for the info. I was partly right. I used the wet towel in the microwave but only for a minute and they all split immediately after rolling and putting in the pan. However, when I put the sauce on, I couldn’t tell the difference.

  2. Kaiser says:

    Trying to make Flautas and taquitos was frustrating before the damp towel microwave method. My finished product looks much better.

  3. Molly says:

    George Forman Grill also works nicely!

  4. Michelle says:

    Thank you so much!!! I have always despised corn tortillas because of the cracking, but wanted to make taquitos. You are a lifesaver!!

  5. patti says:

    what brands work best? I make great tasting enchiladas but they always break… I am looking to find a store bought brand that will not break apart when I take them out of the baking dish.

    • Flora says:

      I’ve had better luck with the small, local tortilla companies (I am guessing because they are fresher, since they don’t ship so far). Also, white corn seems to be more flexible.

  6. Holly says:

    I bow to your common sense! I don’t have any 😛 After breaking a few of them while trying to make taquitos I used my google fu to find out how to magically make them roll. Thanks to you and the microwave steamer trick, I have delicious non cracked yummies!

  7. wayne says:

    you can also lay the tortillas directly on a hot cooktop. very simple and no need for the pan (although everyone should have a good cast iron skillet). just dont walk away from the stove!

  8. tiffany says:

    I was raised with what my family called “in and outs” . Hot oil in a frying pan, tortilla in and right back out. Wala soft tortillas that don’t dry out or brake. Not very healthy though.

  9. tiffany says:

    I was looking for a healthy way to make my enchiladas, I tried them with the damp towel in the microwave, it worked grate 🙂 thanx

  10. kitt says:

    can you do this in the oven somehow? I do not own a microwave.

    • Flora says:

      I know you can heat corn tortillas on the stovetop or in the oven; but I have never tried to use water with these methods. I am thinking you could try to lightly spray them with water before placing in a warm oven (maybe 200ish) and it would have a similar steaming effect.

  11. Kristy says:

    Tiffany mentions the hot oil method in a pan. We call this street style and all gather in the kitchen for each hot one to come out. Latest rendition is to put the cheese on the tortilla and let it melt before adding taco fillings and toppings… Always add a pinch of salt to frying pan… Thanks for the tips, making enchiladas tonight…

  12. Jimmie says:

    Flora…question….my homemade corn tortillas are always too hard to roll, what am I doing wrong. I am I cooking them too long on my comal?

    • Flora says:

      Jimmie, I cook mine until they get pretty browned, but I know if I make the tortillas too thick they are hard to roll.

      Are you keeping them warm before serving? I have found that as they cool they become much more brittle. Also make sure you have enough water, some days I have to add more water than others, I am guessing its’a humidity issue but I am not sure. My only other thought is trying a different brand of masa harina. I typically use Maseca or Bob’s Red Mill, I tried another couple of brands that didn’t turn out so well. Good luck and let me know if you figure out what was causing the problem.

  13. Cheryl says:

    When I was in Mexico, they always warmed them directly on a gas burner, no pans. I have electric and those coils aren’t very good for that. I do not have a microwave either (by choice) and although it’s not the healthiest method I prefer the cast iron with light olive oil and lightly drained. I’ve also steamed them in a double boiler before, you do have to grease the top pan though or they will stick. These do roll very well.

  14. Lisa says:

    OMG thank you so much! I’ve never used fresh corn tortillas before and recently bought some from a small local company. There were no directions on the package, so I had no idea what to do with them. I used a cast iron pan (heated in the oven at 350 for about 15 minutes or so, then over a high gas burner), lightly oiled. They came out amazing! We made breakfast tacos and they were so good. I will never buy taco shells or any tortillas other than corn tortillas again.

  15. Kalon says:

    Thanks! I was also told to preheat an oven to 375 and wrap the tortillas in foil and keep in the oven for about 10 minutes. Does that work too?

    • Flora says:

      Yes, that works too. So does just placing the tortillas on the oven rack, but only for a few minutes to soften them up; if you leave them in too long you’ll have tortilla chips.

  16. Jean C. Fisher says:

    The secret to heating tortillas is to have the heat very high and only let the tortilla touch the heat for a few seconds. Always heat directly on the gas (or electric) burner and always heat at least 2 (I do 4) at a time — letting one side of the bottom tortilla heat, flipping the stack to let one side of the the top tortilla heat. Then continue flipping over and over until all sides of all tortillas are heated. I heat tortillas this way and never have a problem rolling them (or having them “break”) for enchiladas, taquitos (actually called “flautas” in Mexico) or whatever end purpose.

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