Mexican

Our Favorite, No Equipment Way to Heat Up a Corn Tortilla

March 10, 2017

The tortillas I have easy access to are vacuum-sealed, such distant relatives from fresh tortillas that Alex Stupak, author of Tacos: Recipes and Provocations will never, in good conscience, suggest that they serve as an adequate substitute.

But many of us can't have fresh tortillas every time we want a taco—which makes embracing heat, the critical element for getting the most out of a grocery store corn tortilla even more important. Warming the tortilla releases their aroma and makes them pliable, so they won't crack under the weight of your carnitas. (Plus, the thought of biting into a cold-from-the-fridge store-bought tortilla makes me cringe a little?)

Our favorite way to heat them up also happens to be the fastest—with no equipment necessary.


Our Favorite Way (Also the Simplest!)

  • Set a tortilla over a gas burner on medium-low heat. (Do not step away from your kitchen!)
  • When the tortilla is charred, use a pair of tongs to flip it over and expose the other side to direct heat.
  • Stack the tortillas (in a warm dish cloth, if you'd like) as you char the rest.
  • You can do this on two, or three, or four burners if you're very coordinated. (Even so, it's probably not the method you'll rely on if you want to heat dozens of tortillas at a time.)
  • You can use the same technique on a grill or grill pan.
  • And here's another tip: Commenter Becka Hurst Schact wrote that she dips each tortilla in the dregs of a can of beans before throwing it on the grill.

The Other Ways

Stovetop:

  • Get a comal, griddle, cast-iron skillet, or wok very hot, then cook on both sides until toasty.
  • Food52er Sarah Larter wrote that her mom would "put a wire rack over the pot of simmering meat/fillings and set the tortillas on that to warm up." Cover with a wide lid until the heat from the fillings steams the tacos.
  • Over on Serious Eats, J. Kenji López-Alt contends that the right way to warm tortillas is on a very hot flat surface. But the important caveat: Dip each tortilla in water before directly transferring it to the griddle so that it will steam when it encounters the hot pan. And wrapping the stack of warm tortillas in a towel is an essential step for ensuring they're completely tender.
  • In Super Natural Every Day, Heidi Swanson says to wrap a stack of tortillas in a barely damp dish towel before placing the package in a large pot set over very low heat. Cover the pot and warm the tortillas into you're ready to serve.

Oven:

  • The slowest method, but perhaps the best when you're feeding a crowd: Wrap a stack of tortillas (five or fewer) in aluminum foil and heat at 350° F for 15 to 20 minutes. Warm multiple five tortilla-packets at the same time for maximum efficiency.

Microwave:

  • Diana Kennedy, in The Cuisines of Mexico, advises the use of a microwave and plastic wrap (even she seems a little scared to be making the suggestion): "I never thought I should be recommending a microwave oven but it is very handy when you have a large number of tortillas to reheat in a hurry." Wrap a dozen tortillas (no more!) in plastic wrap and heat for about 1 minute. Then turn the package over and heat for another 30 seconds. Done.
  • Rick Bayless also votes microwave (but omits the plastic wrap): Drizzle a clean towel with 3 tablespoons of water and wring it out so that it's evenly damp. Use the towel to line an 8- or 9-inch casserole dish with a lid, then pile on a dozen (no more!) tortillas, lay the towel over top, cover with the lid, and microwave at 50% power for 4 minutes. Let stand for 2 to 3 minutes before eating.

Steamer:

  • Bayless also offers instructions for steaming tortillas, which is the best method for warming large quantities (though you'll need a steamer): Pour 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of a steamer, line the basket with kitchen towel, then lay the tortillas in the basket in a stack of 12. Cover the tortilla stacks with the towel, then put the lid in place and bring the water to a boil. Let the water boil for 1 minute, then turn off the heat and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes. To keep the tortillas warm, either put the basket in a low oven or reheat the water.

Put Them To Use

What's your go-to method for heating a tortilla? Tell us in the comments below!

12 Comments

Tar February 22, 2018
My favorite is over the gas flame. But, I no longer have a gas stove, so I use an electric CocinaPro Tortilla maker / cooker. I've never made any, just use it to cook my locally made La Favorita tortillas. Works perfect every time, never a mess, and it stores in a small area up on top of the fridge.
 
Yiannis P. February 22, 2018
How the heck is hit "Our Favorite, No Equipment Way to Heat Up a Corn Tortilla"? Aren't a stove, an oven, a microwave & a steamer all "equipment"? If it's not, I shudder to think of the contraptions y'all were using to heat tortillas previously.<br />
 
Anna K. March 11, 2017
Smart. I'll try the gas burner trick. Recently moved to Washington from Texas and I really miss good corn tortillas.
 
Anna K. March 11, 2017
I would add to that that frying them helps. I lean towards tostadas rather than tacos with grocery store tortillas.<br />
 
dunham March 10, 2017
This is my go-to way to heat tortillas. I like to place them in a folded kitchen towel, while I heat the next one, to give them a chance to steam a little. You can also do this with flour tortillas, but you need watch them carefully. The flour ones burn much easier.
 
Alexandra S. March 10, 2017
The toaster!
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. March 10, 2017
The standard type?!
 
Alexandra S. March 10, 2017
Yes! I have a 4-slice toaster, so I just fold each tortilla in half and place one in each slot. They sort of hold their shape when they emerge. It's probably not the best method, but it's so fast, and it's easy when I'm making tacos for the kids to just heat more as needed.
 
PHIL March 10, 2017
That is worth a try.
 
Karin B. March 10, 2017
To summarize the article above: Anything that will burn your fingers will heat your tortilla.
 
Smaug March 10, 2017
At least in California, excellent storebought tortillas are easily available. I enjoy making my own, but they're really no better than what I can buy; perhaps if you can get fresh masa. Besides, yellow corn masa is difficult to come by for some reason, with the more insipid white variety dominating the marketplace. As indicated in the article, there are a million ways to heat them, all of them pretty simple.
 
PHIL March 10, 2017
I place them on the burners also as I like a little char on them. Same with flour tortillas. As can be expected on occasion I have been distracted and the ensuing tortilla fire has occurred.