How to Use a Tortilla Press Step by Step (with video)

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 step by step.

Here’s what you need to know:

A tortilla press is made of cast iron, wood, or aluminum & contains 2 flat metal discs that are hinged. The top disc has a handle and presses down to flatten the dough ball you place in the center. Use 2 pieces of plastic on both sides of the dough ball to ensure the raw tortilla can be easily peeled off the press.

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!

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

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.

What is a tortilla press?

As I mentioned above, A tortilla press is a staple in Mexican cooking and would doubtless have a home in every Mexican household.

It is usually made of cast iron or aluminum and has 2 flat round surfaces around 8 inches in diameter. You place balls of fresh tortillas dough in the center of it and press down to flatten.

You can buy tortilla presses at your local Mexican market, in larger grocery stores, and, of course, on Amazon.

My wife’s family on her Dad’s side, who are Mexican, just rolled them out with a rolling pin; no tortilla press needed.

Personally, I find rolling them a lot harder to get right, but they’ve probably made a LOT more tortillas than I have.

How do you keep tortillas from sticking to the press?

If you are making fresh corn tortillas, using a sheet of plastic or wax paper on both sides of the dough ball is essential to keep the dough from sticking to the press.

Without plastic, the 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.

How do you press tortillas without a press?

No tortilla press? No problem!

There are a few ways to press a tortilla without the use of a mechanical press. The easiest way would be using 2 cutting boards. Simply place one on the counter and cover in plastic wrap.

Then place your dough ball in the center and lay a plastic sheet on top of it.

Now just place another cutting board on top and press down evenly, gently, and slowly. Remove the top cutting board and gently lift the plastic wrap and you’re done. You can adjust the thickness by pressing more for a thinner tortilla.

The other way is by using a rolling pin, or even a large glass that doesn’t taper.

Personally, I find this way trickier, especially with corn tortillas. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter or cutting board. Place your down ball in the center and top with another sheet of plastic.

Gently press down a little with the palm of your hand to get it a little flat.

Then, using the rolling pin, continue to roll and flatten evenly until your tortillas is thin enough (about 1/8 of an inch).

How do you make tortilla dough?

You can make tortillas out of almost any dough.

The most common, however, are corn and flour. But you can do whole wheat for a healthier flour option, or some other gluten-free flours (corn is naturally gluten-free though).

How to make flour tortillas

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 Alzheimer’s).

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 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, they 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.

What is masa in corn tortillas?

If you’re lucky enough to have a traditional Mexican market near you, chances are you can find ready-made corn tortilla dough and skip right to the rolling and cooking part.

For most of us, though, we buy a bag of corn flour almost every grocery store will have called Masa Harina.

Dried corn gets soaked in lime (calcium hydroxide, not lime juice) and then ground to make the dough.

The dough then gets dehydrated and powdered to make flour, otherwise known as Masa Harina. Then we simply add water to turn it back into dough.

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 is:

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

As with the flour tortillas, add the dry ingredients in a food processor and gently pulse in 1 cup of the 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 needed (no gluten).

How to use a tortilla press

I cover this above, but for the sake of keeping the steps in order, we’re now ready to use a tortilla press to press our tortillas.

Plastic sheets are less necessary for flour tortillas, but they are essential for corn tortillas. Personally, I use plastic either way.

In small markets in Mexico, it’s not uncommon to see women using plastic grocery sacks, but since we don’t know where those have been or what’s been in them, I would not go that route.

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.

What do you cook tortillas on?

Traditionally, tortillas, whether corn or flour, would be cooked on a comal.

A comal is a flat disc often made of clay, but in the US, it’s more common to see cast-iron ones. The cast-iron ones have the benefit of usually having a handle also.

Unlike a skillet, comals don’t traditionally have much of a side lip, so there’s not a point where they start to bend up. They just have a tiny lip.

No comal? No problem.

A large skillet or griddle works just fine. There are a couple of tricks here. First, don’t get the comal or skillet too hot.

Too hot and they will start to burn before they have really cooked through.

The other trick, unless you are simply warming store-bought tortillas, is to only cook one at a time. If you have a very large griddle, you can certainly spread them out and cook a few at a time, but don’t stack raw tortillas to cook them.

How do you cook tortillas?

I like to remove the plastic wrap from the bottom of the tortillas and then while holding the tortillas disc with one hand, gently peeling away the top layer and laying 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.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

How do you keep corn tortillas from tearing?

With fresh, uncooked corn tortillas you’ve just flattened, be very gentle. Keep the disc in between the plastic sheets until you are ready to cook them.

If they crack or tear while you are rolling them, you probably made the tortilla dough too dry.

Tortilla dough, whether corn or flour, is essentially just a mix of flour, water, and, with flour, also fat (could be oil, lard, butter, etc).

Too much water and they will be too runny. Too much flour and they’ll be too dry.  Too much fat and they’ll be too sticky.

I give you the best recipes below so your mix will be perfect.

Can you roll corn tortillas?

The short answer is yes; otherwise, the enchilada wouldn’t exist.

But if you are trying to roll store-bought corn tortillas, they can be very difficult to roll without them splitting or cracking.

In Mexico, the traditional method of softening a corn tortilla would be to fry them in oil.

I just use a skillet with a small amount of oil in it. Heat the oil on medium-high and when hot, dip the tortilla in for just a few seconds. Depending on the depth of your oil, you may want to use tongs and gently flip the tortilla or just lightly press down with a wooden spoon.

Then remove and place on a paper towel covered plate to drain.

Don’t let the tortillas sit in the oil too long or you’ll end up with crunchy tortilla chips (not a bad thing, but not what you want for enchiladas).

Do use them while still hot though as the longer they sit the tougher they’ll start to get. For enchiladas, traditionally, after the frying, you would then dip them in hot enchilada sauce to coat.

Then you would stuff and roll.

How do you soften corn tortillas without frying them?

Many people who are more conscious about calories want to know about softening tortillas without frying as I describe above.

Luckily, while frying is the best method, there are some alternatives.

You can gently steam the tortillas to get them softer by placing a stack in a clean kitchen towel and placing in a steamer bowl in a pot of water on the stove. Make sure the water level isn’t high enough to touch the tortillas.

Steam adds water, and too much water will make tortillas fall apart, so when steaming, less is more. Check them and maybe rotate which ones are in the top and bottom position after 30 seconds.

You could also place a stack in a damp (not soaking wet) towel and microwave for 1 minute.

I go into much greater depth in a post about alternatives to Frying the Tortillas for Enchiladas in this recent article, so definitely check that out for a lot more tips.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Are flour tortillas better than corn?

Here’s the million-dollar question.

It’s also subjective and a matter of taste. That being said, corn tortillas were here first, actually predating the Spanish invasion of Mexico.

So corn tortillas actually date back to the Mayans and Aztecs.

If we’re talking store-bought tortillas, in my opinion, there’s no question that flour tortillas are superior. Store-bought corn tortillas are tough and leathery. They crack and break easily and are chewy without a lot of flavor.

Flour tortillas, on the other hand, remain soft and pliable and can be rolled without splitting.

FRESH corn tortillas, on the other hand, are amazing!

If you’ve never had fresh-made corn tortillas, then you really haven’t had corn tortillas. Once you try a fresh corn tortilla, you’ll likely agree with me that they are, by far, the best tortilla.

Which tortilla press is the best?

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

Personally, I like the old school cast iron ones.

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 and focused on 4.5-star items only.

Then I excluded ones that had fewer than 100 reviews. Then I took it a step further and eliminated ones where more than 3% of the reviews were 1 star.

What I was left with was a clear winner.

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.

Did I cover everything you wanted to know about how to use a tortilla press?

In this post, I walked us through the world of fresh, homemade tortillas.

There’s nothing quite like a freshly made tortilla. Whether you’re a fan of corn, flour, whole wheat, or even some gluten-free options (corn is already gluten-free), homemade tortillas are worlds better than store-bought.

The tortilla press is the key to making them at home so my post was designed to take the fear and mystery out of learning how to use a tortilla press.

What’s your favorite kind of tortilla?

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

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 his wife & 3 daughters, he can usually be found practicing martial arts, making music, or blogging on his other sites. Click to learn more about me

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