How to Use a Tortilla Press Quickly & Easily (Step-by-step)

There’s nothing quite like a homemade tortilla! I have a tortilla press, but I still recall all my questions before I had one. I was afraid of trying to make homemade tortillas and had to really learn how to use a tortilla press.

Here are the exact steps for using a tortilla press:

  1. Use a sheet of plastic or wax paper on the bottom disc of the tortilla press
  2. Place the dough ball (corn masa or flour, or alternatives) in the center of the press 
  3. Place another sheet of plastic or wax paper on top of the dough ball
  4. Close the lid of the tortilla press
  5. Press down firmly and evenly
  6. Open the lid and rotate the tortilla (in the wrap) 90 degrees
  7. Close the lid and press firmly again
  8. The tortilla is now ready to be cooked

The smell (especially cooking on a comal) and the taste just can’t be beaten by almost every brand of store-bought tortillas out there.

But there are a lot more questions about homemade tortillas and tortilla presses, so let’s keep going!

How do you use a tortilla press for flour tortillas?

Lay a plastic sheet or piece of wax paper on the bottom disc of the press and center the dough ball on top. Place another sheet on top of the dough, and press down firmly. Lift the lid, rotate the tortilla 90 degrees, and press again.

Then, place the tortilla and sheets in one hand. Gently remove the wrap on one side and place the open side down on the cooking surface (a comal, griddle, or dry skillet) and quickly remove the other piece of plastic.

The removal of the plastic or wax paper can be tricky.

But it’s a lot easier using flour tortillas than it is with corn. Once you place one side of the raw flattened tortilla on the hot surface of a comal or dry skillet, quickly peel the other sheet off so it doesn’t melt.

Then don’t move the tortilla for at least 30-40 seconds (medium heat).

Here is how to make the dough

The big plus about homemade tortillas, aside from taste, is you get to control the ingredients. Many brands of store-bought flour tortillas contain hydrogenated oil (molecularly not much different from plastic) and also baking powder made with aluminum (linked to many health concerns). (source) and (source)

A good flour tortilla only needs 4 things:

  • Flour (unbleached all-purpose) – 2 cups
  • Salt – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Fat (oil, butter, lard, non-hydrogenated shortening) – 3 tablespoons softened
  • Water – 3/4 cup (not cold)

This will make 8 tortillas.

Start by placing all but the water in a food processor (blade is fine). If you are using oil instead of solid fat, don’t add the oil either, and instead add that to the water in a measuring cup.

Begin to pulse while you drizzle in the water (combined with oil if that’s your fat).

Once all ingredients are in, turn the processor on low and allow to mix until it naturally forms a ball. Remove the ball and place it on a counter or cutting board you have covered in flour.

Knead the flour (pressing, rolling, and gently pulling) for a few minutes and then roll back into a ball and leave on the cutting board covered with a kitchen towel.

After 15 minutes, it will be ready to cook.

Don’t be tempted to skip the kneading and/or resting period. The kneading & resting aligns the gluten proteins which allows you to press it without it immediately contracting or tearing.

Simply divide your big ball into 8 pieces and then roll each of those into a ball.

How to make corn tortillas

As I mentioned above, there’s really no substitute for fresh, homemade corn tortillas. Once you master them, you’ll never buy store-bought again and you’ll likely be tempted to never use flour again as well.

All you need to make corn tortillas are:

  • Masa Harina – 2 cups
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 cups warm water

As with the flour tortillas, add the dry ingredients to a food processor and gently pulse in 1 cup of water. It will look like small pellets.

Then continue adding the remaining water, pulsing as you go.

Pick it up and start to knead it after all the water has been added. Too sticky? Add more masa harina. Too crumbly? add more water.

Form the mix into one big ball. Then separate into about 8 pieces and roll each into golf ball-sized balls. Now you are ready to flatten and cook. Unlike flour, no resting time is needed (no gluten).

Ready to make enchiladas?

Not so fast! if you are using corn tortillas for your enchiladas (which you should), you have to soften them first so they don’t crack and fall apart when you fill them and roll them.

Luckily, I cover EXACTLY how to do that in a recent article. I even cover how to do it if you don’t want to fry them in oil.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Do you heat a tortilla press?

Most tortilla presses are not designed to be heated. Simply place the flour or corn masa dough ball between 2 sheets of plastic or wax paper at the center of the press. Close the lid and press down. Then carefully remove the tortilla, and cook about 1 minute per side on a comal or dry skillet.

Having said that, there are some electric tortilla presses that both flatten and cook.

I like to remove the plastic wrap from the bottom of the tortillas and then while holding the tortillas disc with one hand, gently peel away the top layer and lay it down on the hot surface.

Once the raw tortillas dough touches the hot comal or griddle, you won’t want to move it for at least 30 seconds, so make sure to lay it down perfectly flat on your first try (which has a small learning curve).

Allow the tortilla to cook for about 30-45 seconds and then flip.

Cook on the other side for about 30 seconds. While you can flip back and forth, once you get the timing and temperature right, you’ll find you only need to cook each side once.

It’s OK if they puff up a little and you do want the color to start to darken. You don’t, however, want large black spots (that means the comal is too hot or you left it on the surface too long).

Once they get to a nice dark tan color, transfer to a cloth-covered bowl with a lid so they will stay warm.

As inexpensive as they are though, I would strongly encourage you to get a comal if you’re serious about Mexican and Latin cooking.

Check out all there is to know about How to Use a Comal in this recent article. I get into what it is, why it’s better than just using a dry skillet, and how to season one.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Is it worth getting a tortilla press?

A tortilla press is worth it for making homemade tortillas as it gets much more consistent results than using a rolling pin or flattening the dough between 2 cutting boards.

Now if a tortilla press was really expensive, I might feel otherwise.

But most are really inexpensive and unless you trained under a Mexican grandmother the way my wife did, it will take you a long time to get the hang of doing it with a rolling pin.

I really like the Hardwood Tortilla Press by Central Coast Woodworks on Amazon.

It’s beautiful, and well-rated, and makes great tortillas every time. But even the cheap silver metal ones you find at Mexican markets will work just fine and be much easier than a rolling pin.

How do you use a tortilla press without sticking?

As a general rule, when making tortillas, use a sheet of plastic or wax paper on both sides of the dough ball. This is essential when making corn tortillas to keep the dough from sticking to the press. But it is still recommended for flour tortillas as well.

Without plastic or wax paper, corn tortilla dough will be VERY hard to peel off and it will be almost impossible to peel off keeping the tortilla shape intact.

Flour tortillas are a lot more forgiving and could be done without plastic wrap. That being said, I think it’s easiest to use plastic no matter what kind you’re making.

It also makes cleaning the tortilla press that much easier.

I’ve also seen Mexican markets where the women making tortillas often just use a plastic grocery bag. But I wouldn’t use that just because you don’t know how dirty it is and it would be hard to clean and then dry.

I would also not use cling wrap which can be too sticky and hard to work with. Wax paper works well though or ziplock bags.

For ziplock bags take freezer or gallon-sized bags and cut them in half.

Then simply place one piece of plastic on the bottom plate of the press and place a dough ball on top. Then top with the 2nd sheet of plastic.

Press down gently and slowly on your tortilla press and you should have a perfect, round tortilla. Pressing too hard too fast can make them split apart.

Do you need parchment paper for a tortilla press?

Avoid using parchment paper in a tortilla press and instead use wax paper, sheets of plastic, or a freezer-size Ziplock bag that is cut in half. Using some sort of removable sheet is essential to avoid the dough sticking to the tortilla press.

And corn is way worse to deal with than flour.

But even doing flour tortillas you’ll want to make sure and use plastic sheets or wax paper. Parchment paper doesn’t work quite as well due to the difference in how they are coated.

Parchment paper is coated with silicone whereas wax paper is coated with paraffin wax (or sometimes soy wax).

Wax paper is overall designed to be used for doing things at cold or room temperature. Parchment paper, by comparison, is often used for things that are heated. Such as wrapping a brisket halfway through the smoking process.

But if all you have is parchment paper, that’s better than not using anything on your tortilla press!

Can you put a cast iron tortilla press on the stove or cook a tortilla in a tortilla press?

Do not put a cast iron tortilla press on the stove. While cast iron can be heated, tortilla presses are not designed for the stovetop and many are painted with paint that could easily flake off when heated. Instead, use a comal or dry skillet to cook the tortillas once they are pressed.

I get that it seems like you could save a step by pressing the tortilla and then just putting it on the stove.

But also remember you’d have to remove the wrap before you did that. And then if yours is painted (often just cheap spray paint), your food would be in direct contact with that. And yes they do make tortilla presses/cookers all in one, but most of them on Amazon have terrible reviews.

So skip those and just use a comal or dry skillet, and once you practice a few times, you’ll be a tortilla master!

What size tortilla press is best?

An 8-inch tortilla press is the best size for making tacos. Any smaller than that, and the tortillas would be too small for most uses. A larger tortilla press would be needed if making burritos, but a larger size also requires more skill in handling the dough and can be more challenging to use.

You can buy cast iron, wood, aluminum, and even electric ones that cook as they flatten.

I have an old-school cast-iron one. Mine is painted silver, and while I don’t want paint touching my food since I use plastic sheets to completely surround the dough, that really doesn’t matter.

What you want is something hinged and one that flattens well as you press down on the handle. Not flat enough and you end up with a thick cake (which has its uses). Too thin and it won’t hold your filling without tearing.

I looked on Amazon when it was time to upgrade and found a great one.

Nothing else even came close to the Hardwood Tortilla Press by Central Coast Woodworks. Free shipping too. Made of solid walnut and oak and then treated with food-grade mineral oil and beeswax. It’s as beautiful as it is well functioning.

CLICK HERE to check current prices on Amazon.

Final thoughts

Using some sort of plastic or wax paper is crucial for using a tortilla press.

I also recommend starting with flour tortillas and only moving to make corn once you’ve mastered flour. I prefer corn tortillas (only when fresh). But they are a lot harder to deal with, and the dough is a lot stickier and more temperamental.

Or you could do a mix of corn and flour as you often see packaged these days in the tortilla section of grocery stores.

Either way, I don’t recommend using a rolling pin unless you have a lot of experience doing that or grew up with a Mexican grandma who rolled thousands of those with you.

It’s very hard to get a thin and even consistency with a rolling pin; especially when you first start out.

But once you get the hang of making your own tortillas, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this years ago. That’s because the flavor and texture will be so superior to anything you find at the grocery store.

If you’re looking to buy any small kitchen appliance, don’t forget to check out my Recommended Products Page which breaks down all my best picks by category.

Just click that link to go to that page on my website.

I always hand-select items that I either own, have used, or have researched well to ensure they are great items. I also give not only top-of-the-line as well as inexpensive alternatives so my choices work for any budget.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades and is now a recovering foodie. When he's not spending time in the kitchen, he can usually be found with 3 daughters, practicing martial arts, making music, or blogging on his other sites. Click to learn more about me

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